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While beer may be an excellent source of bioavailable silica for humans, a new round of dietary supplements may be a better way to provide horses with this essential trace mineral.

According to the sixth edition of the NRC Nutrient Requirement for Horses, a need for silica in the ration likely exists for the equine but determining a minimum requirement is difficult. That’s because silica is present in high levels in many of the things horses eat–such as cereal grains, alfalfa and beet pulp—but these environmental sources of silica are not as easily absorbed by the body as some others, such as orthosilicic acid.

The country’s leading research institution on silica supplementation in horses, the Department of Animal Science at Michigan State University, has recently published the paper “Mineral balance in horses fed two supplemental silicon sources.” While both sodium aluminium silicate (SA) and orthosilicic acid (OSA) were able to alter calcium retention and bone metabolism, only OSA was able to alter silica retention, digestibility and plasma concentration.

The bottom line: scientific studies have shown that certain types of silica are more bioavailable in the horse than others and that concerns over potential mineral imbalances are unfounded. Research in horses has proven the benefits of silica on bone growth and development while research in other species has shown that dietary deficiencies of silica can lead to deterioration of connective tissue strength and integrity.

O’Connor CI, Nielsen BD, Woodward AD, et al. Mineral balance in horses fed two supplemental silicon sources. J Anim Physiol Anim Nutr (Berl). 2008 Apr;92(2):173-81.

Spooner HA, Nielsen BD, Turner KK, et al. Mineral balance in horses fed sodium zeolite. 7th International Conference on Equine Exercise Physiology, 26-31 August 2006, Fontainebleau, France.

Nielsen BD, et al. Training distance to failure in young racing quarter horses fed sodium zeolite A. J. Equine Vet. Sci. 1993. 13(10):562-567. AND Proc. 13th ENPS p.5