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The Value of Vitamin C

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Vitamin C is a wildly popular supplement for both people and horses.  As humans, it boosts our immune system and helps us stay healthy and we give it to our horses because they often don't get enough fresh greens.  But what does Vitamin C really do?  How does it work?

Free radicals can be very harmful to your horse's health and vitamin C is well known as an anti-oxidant.  Free radical damage contributes to many organ and tissue specific diseases, including allergies, arthritis, cancer, cataracts and infections.  In fact, researchers now agree that most common ailments, including virtually all chronic degenerative diseases, are either caused directly by or are closely associated with free radical damage.

In order to understand free radicals, it is important to start with a bit of basic chemistry.  Each atom in each cell has electrons which keep its positive/negative force in balance.  Molecules are formed when atoms seek to fill their outer shell of electrons by pairing with one or more other atoms, thus creating a stable molecule.  

When bonds are broken and leave molecules with odd unpaired electrons, free radicals are formed.  Free radicals will steal electrons from other molecules, causing those molecules to become free radicals, too.  These new free radicals then seek electrons to stabilize themselves.  This chain reaction continues until an antioxidant "donates" an electron to a free radical.  Antioxidants are still stable when they lose an electron so they are able to neutralize free radicals without becoming free radicals themselves.  

Stress, high level exercise, age and environmental factors such as air and water pollution and exhaust fumes can increase the number of free radicals in the body, making it impossible for the body's own, natural antioxidants to keep them under control.  

Vitamin C is a necessary component for a healthy immune system.  Unlike humans, horses can produce their own vitamin C, but they may need additional supplementation in cases of high stress, heavy exercise, injury, surgery, allergies, GI problems, liver disease or old age.  These situations can limit the amount of vitamin C their body can naturally produce and often means their needs are not being sufficiently met. 

The most common source of vitamin C for horses are fresh greens.  However, many horses do not receive enough turn out to obtain the necessary extra vitamin C needed to fight free radicals and may need supplementation.  Effective supplementation for horses can come in several forms, including ascorbic acid and rose hips.  Both of these provide excellent sources of vitamin C and can help normalize levels within your horse's body and prevent an overpopulation of free radicals.