The Benefits of Beta-Glucans for Horses

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The Benefits of Beta-Glucans for Horses

Beta-glucans for horses have been shown to positively impact performance and immunity. Learn all the benefits of beta-glucans here!

Keeping your horse’s immune system strong is an important part of maintaining health and optimal performance. This is best done through nutrition and good management practices. On the nutrition end of things, there are a variety of nutrients to be aware of and include in your feeding program. However, one you may not be as familiar with is beta-glucan. 

Beta-glucan is a soluble fiber that comes from the cell walls of bacteria, fungi, yeast, and some types of plants. It essentially acts as a prebiotic, feeding the beneficial bacteria within the gut. In doing so, beta-glucan provides a range of health benefits from insulin regulation to supporting stomach tissue health.

Beta-glucans are probably best known for their heart health benefits in people. Studies suggest that they help to absorb cholesterol from food, lowering the risk for heart disease. However, beta-glucans have also been found to stimulate the immune system in both humans and animals. 

The great news is that equine studies have shown them to be both effective and safe as a feed supplement. For horses, beta-glucans are often derived from highly palatable forms of yeast, barley, and/or oats.

Some benefits of beta-glucans for horses include:

  • Maintaining normal digestion
  • Regulating the release of sugars from the digestive system (helpful for conditions such as insulin resistance)
  • Stimulating the immune system
  • Reducing LDL cholesterol in blood
  • Counteracting pathogenic microbes that can cause disease

Exercise and the Immune System

Researchers have recognized an association between exercise and immune function. They’ve found that high-performing race horses are more prone to respiratory infections due to the amount of physiological stress they are under. Stress hormones such as cortisol are released during exercise and can inhibit immune response. 

A variety of factors can affect an exercising horse’s immune function, including but not limited to the following:

  1. Intensity, duration, and type of exercise
  2. Age
  3. Gender
  4. Fitness level
  5. Breed

It’s important to note that not all exercise is bad for horses. In fact, routine training can be beneficial for the immune system. However, overtraining or intense exercise can do just the opposite and suppress the immune system. 

For example, one study showed that horses participating in an 80 km endurance race experienced prolonged suppression of immune response that lasted for several days after the race (1).

How Beta-Glucans Help Performance Horses

Beta-glucans have been found to be beneficial for horses undergoing exercise stress because they can activate both the innate (responds to any antigen) and adaptive (responds to specific antigens) immune system. 

Once processed by white blood cells, beta-glucans can be transported to the lymph nodes, spleen, and bone marrow where they enhance the expression of several immune-related genes (2).

Studies in human marathon athletes show that oral supplementation of beta-glucans can reduce the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections when compared to a control group. Additionally, maintenance of post-exercise immune function was found to be associated with improved mood, reduced fatigue, and increased energy (1).

Similar results were observed in a study where race horses were supplemented with beta-glucans. Researchers found higher levels of V200 (the speed reached by the horse when his heart rate reaches 200 BPM) and V4 (the speed associated with a blood glucose level of 4 mmol/l) in those horses when compared to a control group. 

Research also suggests that beta-glucans may be beneficial for pregnant mares and their foals by significantly increasing antibodies in colostrum (1).

How Do Oat Beta-Glucans Help Prevent Ulcers?

Due to the amount and intensity of exercise they undergo, as well as management conditions such as frequent stall confinement, performance horses are highly susceptible to gastric ulcers. This type of ulcer forms when stomach acid eats away at the lining of the stomach, creating painful lesions. 

However, beta-glucans support the stomach lining by suppressing excessive inflammation. They may be able to play an important role in preventing gastric ulcers in horses since they are known to stimulate the immune system to mount an attack on pathogenic microbes, fight infection, and heal damaged tissue. 

According to one study in human gastritis patients, beta-glucan supplementation from oats led to reduced stomach mucosal damage and increased healthy changes in short-chain fatty acid fecal concentrations, blood serum glutathione metabolism, and antioxidant defense parameters (3).

Beta-Glucans for Horses Dosage

Beta-glucans do not need to be supplemented in large amounts in order to have beneficial effects for horses. With this nutrient, a little can go a long way. The 6666 Complete Gut Protection contains 2 g of beta-glucans in each scoop, along with other beneficial nutrients for the gut including probiotics, prebiotics, postbiotics, and L-glutamine. 

However, it’s important to note that the effects of beta-glucans are more notable after a prolonged period of supplementation (2).


Beta-glucans are a lesser known nutrient, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that they can provide important health benefits for our horses. If you have performance horses, broodmares, or any horse at risk for ulcers, specifically, supplementation is often a good idea. 

However, beta-glucans can provide benefits for nearly any horse. Keep in mind that you may or may not find beta-glucans in the list of ingredients of gut support or other types of supplements, so always check labels before purchasing!

Read More:

  1. Race Horses Perform Better With Beta-Glucans
  2. Beta-Glucan Improves the Immune System
  3. Oat Beta-Glucan Treatment for Gastritis

Photo by Gilles Seguin on Unsplash

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