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There is a massive industry based upon non-pharmaceutical remedies for lameness.

The question is, do they work? Many of these remedies and supplements have never been properly tested.

Scientists in New Zealand decided to take a look at the extract of a shellfish called the green lipped mussel, which is widely sold as a remedy for arthritis.

They designed a study to see if the extract had any beneficial effects on horses with proven fetlock arthritis.

Twenty-six horses with the condition were given the extract in their feed and others were given an inactive placebo for 56 days.

The horses were randomly assigned to either the extract treatment or the placebo group.

The study was double-blinded, which means that neither the people giving the medication, nor the people assessing the effects, knew which horses were in which group.

The horses were examined for the degree of lameness and pain in the affected joint before and after the course of the study.

There was a significant improvement in soundness and a reduction in joint pain in the horses given the green lipped mussel extract compared with the horses given the inactive placebo.

There was also a crossover element of the trial, in which some horses were swapped from one treatment to the other without the researchers knowing.

This indicated that when the lame horses received the extract they appeared to improve as compared to those given the placebo.

So it seems that green lipped mussel may contain an ingredient that could help to treat the clinical signs of arthritis.

What is it and can it be refined? And will it work in other, larger trials?

For the full veterinary article on the latest research and development, see the current issue of Horse & Hound (13 October, 2011)

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Find out more about alternative equine therapies