Atypical myopathy is a disorder that affects a horse’s muscles and is caused by ingestion of seeds, seedlings, or leaves of some plants in the Acer family. Not all trees in the Acer family contain the toxin, but horse owners and caretakers should be cognizant that the disease is fatal to nearly three quarters of horses that become affected. Some horses are more susceptible to the toxin than others.
If a mare becomes affected by atypical myopathy she may transfer the toxin to her foal. This also places humans who drink mare’s milk at risk of contracting the disease. Some Central Asian cultures prefer mare’s milk to cow’s milk.
In a study published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Dr. Johannes Sander investigated a case of atypical myopathy that affected both a mare and newborn foal in Germany. The mare had been grazing in a field next to Acer pseudoplatanus trees (known in the United Kingdom and Europe as a “sycamore” or “sycamore maple” in the States). Upon testing, Sander found that the mare’s milk contained hypoglycin A, the toxin implicated in atypical myopathy, as well as significant metabolites.
The research team also examined samples of six different brands of frozen mare’s milk available for human consumption across Germany. One of the samples contained metabolites of the toxin. The authors concluded that the toxins can pass through mare’s milk to foals or to humans who ingest it. They caution that the same toxins can be found in seeds and unripe fruit from the ackee or lychee, which could potentially harm breast-fed children, and suggest more investigation into the human health implications.
Read the study here.
Read more at Equine Science Update.
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