Oils are a great source of energy and when fed correctly, they have whole raft of added health benefits. To achieve these benefits however, it is extremely important that horse owners recognise the difference between an oil high in omega 6 and an oil rich in omega 3.
Then, if you look further into this, there is a distinct difference between short chain and long chain omega 3’s (DHA). When fed correctly these omega 3’s have some seriously good health and performance benefits that will affect your horse directly, read on to find out more…
DHA Rich Oils – A Horses (and mans) Best Friend
Results from ongoing studies around the world have provided a wealth of evidence to show how omega 3 fatty acids alter biochemical and molecular processes. The data shows consistent and reproducible beneficial effects for man and animals of omega-3 fatty acids on bone metabolism, bone/joint diseases, gene expression, immuno-competence and disease resistance. Omega 3 fatty acids therefore have a central role to play in maintaining health and also in the management and prevention of many ‘modern’ diseases.
Omega 3 oils alter cell wall flexibility, support immune function, control the body’s response to inflammation and provide an additional source of anti-oxidants. When omega 3 oils are returned to the diet, a reduction in cholesterol, clotting abnormalities and blood pressure have been reported in clinical studies in animals and in man. Other studies highlight the importance of Omega 3 fatty acids in reducing pain and inflammation in human patients with degenerative joint disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoarthritis..
Omega 3 oils provide an important source of omega 3 fatty acids. Fatty acids form a crucial role in the body, being part of the lipid bi-layer in cell membranes throughout the body.
The relative amounts of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids found in these cell membranes has been shown to be influenced by their relative abundance in the diet.
As the Omega 3 content of the diet increases, so does the structural content of cell membranes, which helps mediate their positive physiological effects. Importantly for performance or competition horses, omega 3 oils have been shown to have an impact on the membrane structure of red blood cell walls –increasing their flexibility and fluidity. This is an advantage during exercise as the cells can pass more easily through the narrow capillaries in the lungs and muscles, making oxygen uptake and delivery as well as waste product removal, more efficient. This may also help to reduce pressure in the fine capillaries of the lungs, reducing the chance of exercise-induced haemorrhage (bleeding). Human athletes with omega 3-supplemented diets report improved performance and less delayed muscle soreness with this being attributed to improved oxygen delivery, and anti-oxidant status in association with the protective affect omega 3 oils have against inflammation.
Sub optimal dietary intake of micronutrients such as zinc, biotin and methionine are well known to contribute to poor hoof quality. It may be less widely known that omega 3 fatty acids also have an important role to play and an insufficient dietary omega 3 intake has been linked to hoof defects such as shelly feet. Whilst other nutrients can be easily provided through the normal concentrate feed, omega-3 oil needs to be specifically supplemented.
Omega 3 fatty acids are also noted for their beneficial effect on maintaining skin health. Inflammation and the severity of itching was reduced in horses with Queensland itch when supplemented with omega 3 oils for just 6 weeks. The omega 6 content of the hair was also found to be reduced during the corresponding period.
Omega 3 oils are particularly beneficial during the breeding cycle with beneficial effects noted in mares in terms of conferred increased immunity and resistance to infection via mares milk following supplementation with omega 3 oils for 6 weeks. In addition, in stallions, a study presented at the Convention of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) in 2003 showed that raising the intake of specific omega 3 fatty acids improved the motion characteristics of cooled-stored and frozen-thawed semen. Spermatozoa from all species have a high omega 3 fatty acid content, in particular docosohexanoic acid (DHA). A high ratio of DHA to omega 6 fatty acids results in enhanced fertility, whereas the reverse can result in diminished fertility. Horses like other animals are unable to synthesize the omega 3 fatty acid building blocks needed to form the long chain omega 3 fatty acids such as DHA and these must be acquired from the diet. Unfortunately, most proprietary horse feeds are very high in omega-6 fatty acids, whereas the building blocks for omega-3 fatty acids, such as DHA, are found at very low levels. Concentration of dietary fatty acids into semen has been shown to occur in humans, poultry, pigs and rams.
A study, in Quarter Horses, found that after 48 hours of cooling and storage, both total and progressive motility were improved when a DHA-rich omega 3 supplement was fed. Without supplementation, progressive motility was reduced by 48% compared to fresh semen, whereas after just 14 weeks of DHA supplementation, decline in motility was limited to only 32% compared to fresh semen.
Vegetable oils, such as corn and soybean oil, contain a high level of omega 6 fatty acids, which will ultimately be converted into longer chain omega 6 fatty acids in direct competition with the formation of analogous omega 3 fatty acids.
Corn and soya oil will therefore favour the incorporation of these omega 6 fatty acids into cell membranes throughout the body, at the expense of comparable omega-3 fatty acids. This may have a negative impact on some physiological processes including semen viability following freeze thawing for artificial insemination.
Oils such as Canola (rapeseed) or linseed have a higher omega 3 fatty acid content compared to corn or soya oil and can be incorporated easily into proprietary feed. However, they have a minimal content of the longer chain physiologically active omega 3 fatty acids such as DHA. So whilst rapeseed or linseed may increase the incorporation of short chain omega 3 into, for example sperm cell membranes, they will not necessarily deliver the desired physiological benefit of increased semen stability or quality.
The tissues of wild horses contain relatively higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids compared to domesticated horses. So where have the omega-3 fatty acids gone? Domestication brought a change in diet including reduced grazing, increased use of conserved forage as well as increased consumption of grains, and omega 6 rich oils e.g. corn and sunflower oils. These modern equine diets are in general higher in omega-6 fatty acids and access to good grass, which is a reasonable source of omega 3 fatty acids, is often severely reduced.
Data from both scientific research and clinical studies support dietary supplementation with omega 3 fatty acids, in particular DHA. It takes a long time for the body to catch up with dietary change and it is essential, in the process of returning Omega-3 fatty acids to the food supply, that the balance of Omega 6 : DHA in the diet is maintained. Importantly, for an omega 3 oil to be effective it must contain three critical fatty acids: α-linolenic, Eicosopentanoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexanoic acid (DHA). DHA is the physiologically active end point of omega 3 metabolism in the body.
Today’s horse diets contain very few direct dietary sources of DHA, and so it must be synthesised from a building block present in the diet in the form of α-linolenic acid. Whilst flax or linseed oil is a rich source of α-linolenic acid and will be of some benefit, unfortunately the conversion of α-linolenic acid to either EPA or DHA is a very slow and inefficient process. It is much more efficient therefore to provide a supplementary direct source of EPA and DHA in the diet.
A Keyflow® Approach to Feeding Omega 3
When we add oil to a Keyflow® feed, we don’t use solvent extracted soya oil. We use virgin cold pressed rapeseed oil, the exact same oil that you might use at home as a salad dressing. We use this oil because it has a far better omega 3: omega 6 ratio than soya oil. This positively adjusts the omega 3: omega 6 ratio in the overall ration and in your horses total diet. It is however more expensive to use, but that comes as part of being super-premium.
To get the maximum benefit of short chain and direct source long chain omega 3/DHA, top dress your horses feed with Keyflow® Key-3 Oil. This blended equine specific oil is an ideal supplementary source of α-linolenic acid, but more importantly of DHA and EPA.
Key-3 is reasonably priced to feed and is available from your local feedstore with an RRP of £29.50 for a 5 litre, or £10.95 for a 1 litre click here for a list of stockists or buy online from Amazon.