There are really two types of 'calmer'
1. Those that impair nerve function
The products that impair nerve function include drugs like ACP, many herbal products
and magnesium (when given to excess).
A spooky horse when given this sort of calmer will have a dampened response. So it will still be spooked by a butterfly but the response is so mild you may barely notice
it. This may be fine for a hacking horse with a nervous rider but for competition horses such products will have an enormously detrimental effect on performance.
2. Those that assist nerve function
The majority of 'nutritional calmers' on the market work by supporting nerve function. Let us look very briefly at a number of commonly used ingredients:
The brain uses up a huge amount of energy. In humans it represents 2% of the bodyweight but uses 25% of the energy. Deficiencies in any nutrients that impair energy
metabolism will impair brain function. So it is not surprising that the B group vitamins are used in many calmers. This group of natural chemicals have a range of roles in converting energy in the form of fats and
sugars into the primary energy fuel of the cells - ATP. The biochemistry is very complex but well studied and understood.
Interestingly magnesium is also crucially important in the productsion of ATP.
There is a lot more about this on our Science page.
Nerve cells use a large number of chemicals to send a
message from one nerve cell to another. These are called neurotransmitters. Tryptophan is a precourser for the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter involved in mood and flight/fight
responses. However depending on the receptor it affects the effect of serotonin can be either positive or negative.
Many other neurotransmitter precoursers could be used. These include some B group vitamins and a
number of amino acids. Where these nutrients are deficient in diets their lack could cause behavioural problems so some are incorporated in existing calmers.
Nutrients involved in nerve impulse
Nerves are not like electrical wires. The message sent down the nerve fibre is a pulse at the surface where sodium ions and potassium ions swap places. See the 'science page' for more detail of this.
It is generally assumed that the only time horses will become sodium or potassium deficient is when they sweat a lot so electrolyte
products have been in widespread use to deal with this.
However sodium and potassium don't do their little dance until told to by a significant change in the calcium content of the cell cytoplasm. This is where V
CAL comes in because calcium deficiency is - in our opinion - incredibly common in horses and indeed many other mammals and birds.
Nutrients involved in neurotransmitter
Both the release and absorption of neurotransmitters is also controlled entirely by calcium release in the nerve cell. Again VCAL is critical.
Calcium fits firmly into the category of nutrients that support effective nerve function.
Whch of these nutrients is most important?
There is no right answer
to this question. The nervous system is only as good as its weakest link. So all are qually important.
Having said that we believe that calcium deficiency (at a level that impairs nerve function and hence animal
behaviour) is the most common of these nutrient deficiencies.
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