Healthy Horse Hints

Enzymes and Whole Foods for Your Horse

By Shari Frederick


HHH: DIGESTION is one of the most ENERGY-CONSUMING jobs your horse will perform.

Enzymes and whole foods are essential in the equine diet. Proper digestion assures assimilation and is key to the health of your horse. Enzymes, through the extensive pioneering work of Dr. Edward Howell, MD (originating in the1920's) were brought to my attention in 1992. I have since been a staunch advocate of their invaluable properties.

An enzyme is a protein whose activity increases the speed with which a reaction occurs. There are many different kinds of enzymes. Enzymes act as catalysts and are involved in every process of the body. They are involved in the regulation, growth, function, and behavior of all living matter. The fact is, life could not exist without enzymes! And the assimilation of your horse's food depends on enzymes.

A whole food is an unaltered natural food. Raw food has its enzymes intact and therefore aids in the digestive process by digesting itself as well as releasing all its own nutrients. Horses in nature eat uncooked foods (rich in enzymes) and therefore do not suffer as much as domesticated horses do from degenerative diseases (for example, joint problems and arthritis), because metabolic enzyme stores are not robbed for digestion.


HHH: Your horse is not what s/he eats, but rather what s/he ASSIMILATES!

By eating raw unadulterated foods, your horse can avoid many digestive disturbances and maximize the nutrition absorbed from his food. The more nutrients absorbed from your horse's food, the better the health of your horse.

Whole foods such as sunflower, flax, and pumpkin seeds contain their own enzymes for digestion and are a nutritious supplement to forage.


HHH: Any fresh, raw food naturally contains the exact ratio of enzymes to digest only itself. There are no extra enzymes to help digest other foods such as cooked or processed feeds. (To maintain the enzyme content, foods must be RAW, non-irradiated, and uncooked. Heat and processing DESTROY enzymes, at temperatures as low as 118 degrees F.)

There are over 5,000 different enzymes. The 3 primary groups of enzymes include:

  1. Food enzymes - from RAW, uncooked foods (fruits, soaked nuts, vegetables, sprouted grains, soaked seeds, dried foods (as long as no/low heat is used in preparation), hay, grass, herbs, etc. These are known as exogenous enzymes, coming from outside of the body.
  2. Digestive enzymes - secreted by the pancreas and other digestive organs. There are about 22 of these enzymes, which are known as endogenous enzymes because they are produced by the body.
  3. Metabolic enzymes - work in the blood, tissues, and organs. These too are known as endogenous enzymes, produced by and within the body. Among them is a special type of enzyme for antioxidant activity.

Let's look at the most common food enzymes, their functions, and the nutrients they yield (generally the suffix 'ase' designates enzyme):

Protease digests protein into amino acids.

Lipase digests fat into fatty acids.

Amylase digests starch into sugars.

Cellulase digests cellulose (fiber) into sugars.

Each enzyme has a specific temperature and pH at which it will function most efficiently, so its activity may be impaired by extremes of temperature (freezing doesn't harm them but heat does), or extremes of pH.


HHH: Food enzymes require coenzymes to do their job.

I would be remiss to not mention coenzymes, more commonly known as vitamins and minerals. Coenzymes are non-protein organic molecules that are required in the work of many thousands of food enzymes.

Protease requires calcium.

Amylase requires phosphorus.

Lipase requires chloride.

Cellulase requires phosphorus.


HHH: Adding enzymes to non-whole, processed feeds can help your horse utilize them.

Processed feed is devoid of enzymes and therefore causes the body to utilize its own enzyme stores for digestion. If you look at your feed label it will reveal the percentages of protein, fat, etc. Although this is not an exact science, even as a lay person you can assist your horse's digestion of processed feeds by adding to that feed an enzyme blend, at mealtime, proportionate to the nutrients in that chosen feed. Your horse cannot generally consume too many enzymes.

A blend, rather than single enzymes, is needed to assist with the digestion of multiple food components, such as proteins, fats, starches, fiber, and supplements. If you add, for example, just bromelain, it will work to digest only the protein in feed. Any undigested food introduces toxins into the body, which can cause allergy symptoms and other problems.

If you give your horse non-whole food supplements - vitamins, processed herbs, and other isolated nutrients, etc. - enzymes are needed to assimilate them as well; otherwise your horse's enzyme reserves will be diverted to digest the supplement.


HHH: Enzymes require moisture (saliva begins the process), warmth (optimal at 92-104 degrees F), and the proper pH to do their job.

Moisture activates enzymes, so if you wet his food, your horse needs to consume the feed right away, especially in warm temperatures. Do not waste enzymes by putting them in the water bucket; once the enzymes are activated in the water, which would not be fully consumed at one time, they are soon lost.

The body draws from enzymes as needed for various tasks, including digestion and metabolic function. When enzyme supplements are added to cooked and processed food, the body is able to preserve the energy that would have gone into producing extra digestive enzymes and reserve it for other metabolic tasks the body must perform.


HHH: There are several sources of enzymes, which include (but are not restricted to) the following.


Vegetarian enzyme sources:

Fruits (e.g. pineapple, from which bromelain, a protein-digesting enzyme, is extracted; papaya, from which papain, a protein-digesting enzyme, is extracted; and fig, from which ficin is extracted)

Grains (i.e. barley, from which malt-diastase, a starch-digesting enzyme, is extracted)

Fungus (a superior class of enzymes, from which Aspergillus species are extracted; fungal enzymes can break down proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and fiber, and can also help control inflammation)


Animal enzyme sources:

Animals [may not be best for horses, who are in the herbivore category] (e.g. pancreatin and trypsin extracted from hog or cow pancreas; rennin and pepsin extracted from calf stomach; and lipase extracted from glands such as in an animal's tongue)

Non-toxic strains of Aspergillus nigeror A. oryzae have been studied extensively and are safe, whereas the A. flavus and A. parasiticus strains are aflatoxins (toxic food mold such as that which grows on moldy grains).

I am partial to fungal enzymes because they have a wider range of digestive ability even in the acid environment of the stomach (as compared to pancreatic enzymes, which are useful only in the alkaline environment of the small intestine). It is not completely understood how some enzymes stay intact until they reach their destination in the lengthy digestive tract, but it is important that all enzymes survive long enough to get to where they need to be to do the job.

Prepared enzyme blends for horses are available over the counter, for example the multi-digestive blend, Genuine N-Zimes Formula 10 powder, by Enzymes, Inc (, and developed by Dr. Edward Howell, the doctor who discovered the importance of food enzymes. It contains a balanced vegetarian blend of fungal-based protease, amylase, lipase, and cellulase, fed at the rate of 3-4 teaspoons per meal per 1000 lbs. to give your horse the supplemental enzymes he needs to relieve his body of the excess burden of digesting processed feed. Powder forms such as this one are probably the easiest to use. Avoid formulas containing preservatives and fillers.


HHH: In addition to assisting digestion, enzymes are called upon during illness, stress, strenuous exercise, and extreme hot or cold weather, to list only a few of their functions.

If supplementing enzymes 2 hours away from feed time (any feed devoid of enzymes), enzymes play a vital, yet non-digestive support role such as immune boosting, wound healing, and detoxification.


HHH: Enzymes assist in the detoxification process.

Enzymes are extremely important for horses on soils containing heavy metals, cribbing horses, and horses with any level of toxicity. Toxicity in the body creates disease.

Adding enzymes won't directly address toxins (preservatives, pesticide and herbicide residue, waste, fillers, aflatoxins, etc.) that may be in the feed. They do however assist indirectly, by supporting the detoxification process when given to your horse away from meals. Because of its higher levels of protease, the Genuine N-Zimes Formula 10 powder can also be used between feedings for specific health needs.


HHH: Feeding whole foods promotes health.

Whole foods, with enzymes intact, require very little help to be digested, freeing up the body's energy and enzyme reserves to do other important jobs like fight off invaders, improve immunity, and promote healing.

We are all born with a limited number of endogenous enzymes, which are used up as we go through life. Research shows that humans and animals have pancreatic hypertrophy when sustained on a diet deficient of enzymes. It is clear the body compensates for the lack of enzymes, and disease occurs.

Whole food supplements include nutrient-rich seeds such as flax, an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. Horses naturally free graze grasses high in omega-3 fatty acids, so when grass is scarce, flax can help supply some of the missing nutrients. Sunflower seeds contain some omega-3 as well.

An excellent equine whole food product called Missing Link® is high in flax, and is prepared without heat, preservatives, or stabilizers ( Another prepared flax product is Omega Horseshine, a high-quality, economical, proprietary-stabilized flax seed supplement ( Missing Link is also packed full of other whole, enzyme-laden foods such as dried carrot, alfalfa, apple, primary yeast, kelp, barley, spirulina, yucca, sunflower, garlic, nettle, and more. (Most equine processed feeds contain only omega-6 fatty acids, typically made from processed, compressed corn and sorghum pellets, devoid of enzymes; these products get fats out of balance, increasing Type 2 prostaglandins that contribute to inflammation.)

Enzymes, as well as whole foods, require careful storage in a dry, dark, cool location to maintain integrity. To slow down rancidity of whole foods, a good tip is to store small doses in sealed containers to minimize air exposure, which is a huge factor in deterioration. Enzymes need to be protected from moisture and excess warmth.


HHH: The oral cavity is often one of the most neglected areas concerning the health of the horse. Regular dental care is essential to good health.

Chewing food completely contributes significantly to full digestion by mechanically breaking down the food and moistening it with warm saliva to start the enzyme action. Since enzymes can only work on the surface of food particles, the more thoroughly chewed the food is, the more surface area is exposed for enzymes to act on.

In a typical grazing environment, continuous feeding and browsing show normal wear and tear on teeth. Stabled horses eat during only a small part of the day and their feedstuffs of processed grains are softer than normal grass, allowing teeth (especially the front grass-ripping teeth) to grow long and wear unevenly.

Do not forget to maintain the oral health of your horse!


HHH: Feces should be examined to determine if food particles are over one-quarter to 3/8-inch (or over 0.6cm) in length. If so, the horse is having occlusal (chewing-contact surface of the teeth) problems indicating that the molars cannot adequately grind.

In conclusion, I urge you to free graze your horses and feed and treat them with whole foods whenever possible, but when you can't, incorporate enzymes into your horse health regime to assure MAXIMUM nutrient assimilation through proper digestion. Your horse's quality of life depends on it! Consult your veterinarian for further expertise, especially in specific cases of ill health.


© 2005 Shari Frederick



About the author:

Shari Frederick BS, NMD, LE began her love of horses in 1975, showing quarter horses at the Fort Worth, TX stockyards. She graduated Summa Cum Laude with a BS from the University of Texas, holds an NMD, and is a licensed aesthetician. As a nutritional educator in over 15 countries worldwide over the past 25 years, Shari is uniquely qualified to present a variety of natural health topics to assist horse caretakers in making healthier, more natural choices in horse care. Shari has a regular column in "Equine Times" and continues to be an advocate of natural prevention and support for overall health, healing and stronger immune systems - for humans and animals. She also is a staunch supporter of 'Truth in Labeling' for ALL manufacturers. Shari is a Safety-Certified Riding Instructor from the American Association for Horsemanship Safety. She and her horse have proudly served as the Bugler for annual cattle drives at the legendary ( Texas) YO Ranch for over 15 years!


Shari will be a featured speaker at the March 19-20 th, 2005 Natural Equine Expo, , in McKinney, TX (near Dallas) - contact or 469-556-5862 for details. Shari can be contacted at


For more information:

"Enzyme Nutrition: The Food Enzymes Concept" by Dr. Edward Howell

"Food Enzymes for Health and Longevity" by Dr. Edward Howell (research text; out of print)