Insulin resistance and hyperinsulinaemia increase the risk of laminitis and horse owners and veterinarians should attempt to enhance insulin sensitivity in at-risk groups. In obese animals this may be achieved, in part, by promoting weight loss and increasing exercise, but such intervention may not be appropriate in non-obese insulin-resistant animals, or where exercise is contra-indicated for clinical reasons. An alternative approach to controlling insulin sensitivity in obese and non-obese horses may be the use of certain herbal compounds that have shown promise in humans and laboratory animals, although little is known of the effects of these compounds in horses. The herbs can be grouped according to their primary mechanism of action, including activators of the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors, anti-obesity compounds, anti-oxidants, compounds that slow carbohydrate absorption, insulin receptor activators and stimulators of glucose uptake, with some herbs active in more than one pathway. Certain herbs have been prioritised for this review according to the quality and quantity of published studies, the reported (or extrapolated) safety profile, as well as potential for efficacy, all of which will hopefully motivate further research in this field.
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