Rough hair shaft before mineral supplementation

Mineral deficiencies are often linked to poor hair and coat condition.   Under a microscope poor quality hair is visibly rough in texture, flattened or twisted in shape.  The inside of the hair shafts will likely have visible structural defects.  The exterior keratin cuticle cells are uneven and ruptured.  To the naked eye we see and feel a rough, dry coat lacking lustre and softness.

Split ends on dry brittle hair

Why nutritional supplementation works

Skin is the largest and most visible organ of the mammal’s body. The skin together with the hair coat act as a mirror reflecting general health or internal pathological dysfunctions.

It has been long assumed low zinc concentration could be responsible for structural hair cuticle and medulla defects. It is well known from the field of veterinary and human medicine that diet has a great impact on quality and morphology of the skin and its most apparent appendages – hair.

A Polish clinical trial of twelve thoroughbred yearlings was conducted to see if the above assumptions were correct.  The 12 yearlings were divided into 2 groups of 6, one group fed a quality feed supplement of 44 nutritional ingredients, notably high in organic chelated copper(Cu) and zinc(Zn), plus hay ad libitum, the other group were fed only hay and oats, both for 110 days.

At the beginning of the experiment 20 hairs from mane, 20 from tail and 20 from trunk were collected from each horse and analysed to make reliable comparison. At the end of the 110 days, there was significant improvement in the supplemented group of complete structure and diameter of hairs. Medulla cells were now regularly distributed along the hair shaft, reflecting in a visually smoother hair coat appearance.  The skin epidermis also was thicker at the end of the experiment. The hair’s elemental composition significantly improved compared to before in the experimental group.  Pointing at the positive impact of high-quality organic chelated Zn and Cu has on hair coat quality.  No positive alterations were observed in the un-supplemented control group.

Horses short of dietary minerals can show unusual behavioural symptoms. These deficiency indicators can include licking wood and stones, eating soil or bark. There are seven trace elements that have shown to be needed to be supplemented for healthy hair and coat. These elements are Copper(Cu), Cobalt(Co), Zinc(Zn), Iodine(J), Iron(Fe), Manganese(Mn) and Selenium(Se).  In Australia Iron supplementation is unnecessary due to the high levels naturally occurring in our soils. Lewis 1995. Equine Clinical Nutrition: Feeding and Care, Wiley-Blackwell, 25.

Hair shaft after mineral supplementation in Polish clinical trial

It’s reported that organic chelated minerals are more effective in meeting the needs of horses and that retention of copper and zinc are improved when organic sources of these minerals are fed.  Naile T.L., Cooper S.R., Freeman D.W., Krehbiel C.R., 2003. Effects of Trace Mineral Source on Growth and Mineral Balance in Yearling Horses, Animal Science Research Report.

Global studies have demonstrated that correct ratio balances influence absorption from the gastrointestinal tract and conversion by the animal to a usable form.  Minerals are ratio dependent to their co-dependent other(s) minerals.  Providing minerals in their correct ratios makes all the difference to visible outcomes.

Interestingly suboptimal zinc levels induce greying of hair. Zinc is known to regulate the activity of sebaceous glands, necessary for healthy follicle activity

Before and after mineral supplementation

Proteins required for hair growth

A single strand of hair is made up of protein fibre; hair requires an adequate dose of certain proteins to grow. Keratin is a protein, which is made up of cysteine disulfide. Of the amino acids used to make proteins in the hair, only methionine and cysteine contain sulphur. Methionine is involved in the production of cysteine, hence methionine supplementation is essential to healthy hair growth.  Committee on Animal Nutrition, National Research Council, Nutrient Requirements of Horses, Fifth Revised Edition, 1989, 14.

Correcting bleached coats

Correcting bleached coat through mineral supplementation

Protein forming amino acids tyrosine and tryptophan are essential to the synthesis of the melanins responsible for hair pigmentation: pheomelanin (red, brown) and eumelanin (black). Copper is a vital component of melanin synthesis, it is precisely copper that catalyses this enzymatic reaction.  A dietary deficiency of copper and protein leads to a bleaching of the coat or the reddening of black hairs.  Lupins offer the highest tyrosine and tryptophan content compared to other potential base feeds for horses.

Omega 3 to 6

Re-balancing the Omega 3 to 6 ratios is shown to trigger hair growth, promote hair strength and nourish hair follicles.  Omega 3 acids are typically plentiful in grass, however uptake of green grass is likely limited during drought conditions.  Supplementation of Omega 3 is considered necessary when no grass is available.  Optional supplements high in Omega 3 in preferred ratios of 1:3-4 to Omega 6 are hemp oil, fish oil and flaxseed (although only 5-10% of flaxseed is converted to usable Omega 3).

Research studies conclude changes in nutritional regimes have a direct impact on hair quality, growth and pigmentation. Feeding a comprehensive, fully balanced feed supplement, co-dependently matching each mineral in organic and chelated forms where available, along with a quality protein base feed especially lupins and the addition of Omega 3 will assist in healthy hair growth and a more desirable coat colour.

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