Kerry Marsh, B. Ed., B. Ag. Sc., is a leading expert in equine hTMA. She is a popular lecturer, and a contributor to several Equine publications. Ms. Marsh provides hTMA consultation services to horse owners and elite trainers worldwide. We are greatful for her contribution and advocacy efforts furthering the awareness and appreciation of the value of hTMA for equine health and performance.
Author: Kerry Marsh, B. Ed., B. Ag. Sc.
Toxic heavy metals, are abundant in Australia (and the rest of the world). They are found in soil, air, feeds and water supplies and can be absorbed by plants, grasses and herbage. Heavy metals are known as such due to their high atomic weight. Small (trace) amounts of some heavy metals are beneficial to horse health, but when they are not metabolized they accumulate in the tissues causing significant health problems. This article is not about poisoning due to heavy metals but about how continued low-level exposure affects mineral balance and ultimately causes symptoms. The observations are from some of the many horse's hair tissue tested over the last five years.
Elemental toxic metals and their chemical relationships are illustrated on the periodic table of elements. Also identified is the symbol, atomic number, and mean atomic mass value for the natural isotopic composition of each element. The table has wide application in chemistry, physics, biology and provides a useful framework to systematize and compare different forms of chemical behavior.
Toxic heavy metals come from industrial exposure such as coal smoke, metal smelting, exhaust fumes, land fill, chemicals, chemical fertilizers used in agriculture, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, old lead or metal water pipes, old metal water tanks, mining and most commonly from water supplies particularly bore water.
Many horse owners do not consider the health of their soil in relation to the health of their horse. Increasingly, horse owners fail to conduct regular soil tests and therefore fail to apply regular applications of lime. The lower pH soils have difficulty coping with heavy metals particularly aluminium.
Horse feeds and hay grown on such soils or soils that are constantly treated with chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides etc., contain varying levels of toxic metals such as cadmium, lead, aluminium, mercury, arsenic, and nickel. Heavy metals prevent the absorption of nutritional elements such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, cobalt, sulphur and trace minerals making the soil sick and the feed grown on them nutritionally deficient.
Based on the analyses of hair tissue samples from hundreds of horses, we find many of the metals listed below are usually present in differing levels. Symptoms of heavy metal toxicity in horses may take years to develop. Once exposure to a significant amount of a toxic metal has occurred, it stays in the system until an antagonist removes it and the minerals it displaced are replaced. Most heavy metals cross the placental barrier and affect the foetus (fetus).
Hair Tissue testing is the only accurate method for detecting heavy metals as toxic metals are not found in blood except immediately after acute exposure. Toxic metals accumulate in soft tissues not blood or urine. Once the source of toxicity is identified, a mineral balancing program is recommended and it takes between five to seven months to bring elevated heavy metals to an acceptable level.
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