Choosing products to help optimize the health of our horses is a complicated process. There are so many supplements on the market, so how do you decide which option is the best and most cost effective?
When it comes to omega-3 supplements for horses, there’s a lot to choose from, including many blended omega-3 products. Some of these contain multiple sources of omega-3s. Others advertise that they deliver omega-3s, omega-6s, and omega-9s. In spite of all the options, there’s an easy way to make a good judgement call about the effectiveness of the product: Examine the product’s nutrition facts and analyze exactly what nutrients (and how much) it will provide your horse.
Let’s take a look at the different types of omega-3 blends and talk about what to search for on the label.
Multi-Source Omega-3 Supplements
Multi-source omega-3 supplements may contain omega-3s from a variety of sources, including flaxseed or chia seeds, algae, and/or fish oil.
Each of these sources contain different members of the omega-3 fatty acid family. Flax and other plant-based sources provide alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), while algal sources produce docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Fish oil delivers DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), along with ALA and several less well-known omega-3 varieties.
The type of omega-3 in the supplement determines a lot about its effectiveness. To date, almost all research on the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for human, as well as animal health, have concentrated on the EPA and DHA varieties. As for the ALA omega-3 found in plant-sources, studies suggest it has a limited value. For the ALA to be beneficial, the horse must convert ALA into EPA and DHA. The problem is that the conversion rate is very poor (possibly as low as 8-10% for EPA and only 4% for DHA). In other words, if a blended omega-3 supplement contains predominantly flax or other plant-based sources of omega-3, relatively little will convert into the effective EPA and DHA molecules and becomes usable to the horse.
To determine if a product is going to be effective, read the nutrition facts and determine the amount of EPA and DHA your horse will receive in each serving.
The omega-3 efficacy level for humans in almost all worldwide research is set at 2000 to 4000 mg EPA/DHA per day. Many equine supplements offer considerably less EPA/DHA, with some omega-3 supplements featuring as little as 100 mg of both EPA and DHA. With doses this low, the product is not capable of providing the touted health benefits since studies have found that health benefits related to EPA and DHA are dose dependent.
This dose-dependency is why Wellpride designed its fish oil to contain effective doses of omega-3s for horses based on research and the advice of a veterinarian- and researcher-based advisory board. To put the dose in perspective, Wellpride fish oil for horses delivers 4,500mg of EPA and 3,000mg of DHA per one ounce serving.
To summarize, while it may sound great to include a variety of sources in one product, to “cover your bases” so to speak, this is usually not necessary. If you are concentrating on providing your horse with the benefits associated with omega-3, focusing on a product that contains predominantly EPA and DHA is often the most cost effective and beneficial.
Blends of Fatty Acids
Now let’s take a look at blended products that contain various essential fatty acids: omega-3s, omega-6s, and omega-9s. Omega-6 fatty acids come from products such as corn, canola, safflower, sunflower, soybean and even flaxseed oils. Omega-9s are found in oleic acid and erucic acid, the main components of olive oil and canola oil, respectively.
We know that omega-3s and omega-6s should maintain a healthy ratio in order to balance the pro-inflammatory mediators (omega-6s) and anti-inflammatory mediators (omega-3s) that are produced. There is nothing in print from experts regarding what that balance should be for horses. However, several articles have cited a 1:5 ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s.
When horses consume too many omega-6s, this throws the balance off kilter and can lead to chronic inflammation in the body. And in today’s management of horses, many horses are already consuming too many omega-6s in their diet. It’s also important to note that omega-6s and omega-3s compete for the same enzymes and the same position within cells. Unfortunately omega-6s will edge out the beneficial omega-3s. Therefore, providing large amounts of omega-6s in a supplement doesn’t add to your horse’s health.
Over the past few years, there has also been more interest in omega-9 fatty acids. It’s important to note that horses can already naturally produce omega-9 in their body from unsaturated fats in the diet, which makes them a nonessential fatty acid. In addition, omega-9s do not produce the same byproducts that lead to a reduction in inflammation or other benefits shown by omega-3s. As long as the horse receives the proper amount of fat in his diet, as determined by a veterinarian, equine nutritionist, or feed specialist, then supplementing omega-9s is not necessary. And if any company tells you that it is necessary to supplement omega-9s, then run the other way.
Ultimately, when looking at fatty acids advertised in supplements, it comes down to the saying, “More is not always better.”