Preventing Metabolic Disorders through Early Nutrition

Maternal nutrition and early foal nutrition could impact the development of the organs and systems that control energy metabolism later in life, suggest the authors of a recent research report.

"In other species, it has been demonstrated that maternal diet has important implications on the metabolic status of the offspring," explained equine nutritionist and researcher Burt Staniar, PhD, of Pennsylvania State University. "We hypothesized that feeding high starch meals during gestation may predispose foals to metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance."

To test this theory, twenty pregnant mares were fed either a high (HS) or low starch (LS) diet during the last third of gestation. The researchers subsequently measured insulin and glucose dynamics in the resulting foals between 5 and 160 days of age.

They found higher glucose concentrations in the HS mares' foals from 5 to 80 days of age, but these were still within normal limits. No difference in insulin sensitivity was noted between the two groups of foals until day 160, at which point there was a trend for lower insulin sensitivity in the HS foals.

"More research needs to be done examining the impact nutrition of the broodmare on the metabolic status of her foals," Staniar said. "During gestation, the developing embryo receives cues from its dam about the nutritional environment it will be born in to, and sets its own metabolism to match this environment. If the cues are misinterpreted, a metabolism may be established that places that foal at a greater risk for the metabolic disorders we are trying to avoid.

"These findings suggest that if we can control or influence horses' metabolic systems via nutritional management early in life, we can potentially limit the development of metabolic disorders," he concluded.

The study, "Insulin sensitivity and glucose dynamics during pre-weaning foal development and in response to maternal diet composition," conducted at Virginia Tech's MARE Center in Middleburg, Va., will be published in the July 2009 edition of the journal Domestic Animal Endocrinology.

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