Omega Fatty Acid Balance Is Essential to Good Health
Omega fatty acids are known as essential fatty acids because they cannot be synthesized in the body and must be provided in the diet.
Omega fatty acids are split into two categories: omega-6 and omega-3. It is the amount of both of these acids relative to each other that is important for overall health. When properly balanced, the two types of fatty acids work in concert to keep your horse healthy.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are metabolized by cells in the body and used in the synthesis of hormone-like substances called prostaglandins. The primary function of these prostaglandins is the regulation of essential bodily functions such as blood clotting, blood pressure, immune and inflammatory response.
Prostaglandins produced from the omega-6 series typically have a pro-inflammatory effect, while omega-3 series tend to have an anti-inflammatory effect.
Both the omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids compete for the same enzymes in the production of these prostaglandins, so it is the ratio of the omega-6 to omega-3 that has the greatest influence over the inflammatory response and other vital bodily functions.
When omega-6 acids are consumed in abundance, relative to the amount of omega-3, cells increase the production of prostaglandins from the omega-6 series, leading to an increase in inflammation, which, over time, leads to multiple health problems.
Horses have evolved to consume diets that contain more omega-3 than omega-6 fatty acids. In an effort to support the increasing energy demands made on modern horses, grains that are very high in omega-6 fatty acids are often fed. Grains throw the critical 6 to 3 ratio out of whack. Bringing the diet back into balance by adding high-quality omega-3 fatty acids will help maintain good health.
Sources of omega-3 fatty acids:
- Forages (pasture and hay) contain more omega-3 than omega-6 fatty acids. Even though forages are low in total fat, horses consuming adequate forage (especially fresh pasture) consume a significant amount of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Oils that contain more omega-3 than omega-6 are flaxseed, linseed oil, and fish oils. Fish oils provide the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Oils moderately high in omega-6 are soybean and canola oils.
- Oils high in omega-6, but low in omega-3, are corn oil, sunflower oil, and safflower oil.
- Cereal grains contain almost no omega-3 fatty acids and are very high in omega-6 fatty acids.
Equine nutritionists and veterinarians agree that providing high-quality omega-3 fatty acids in a horse’s diet helps to maintain a healthy balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.