Rider Health: Making Every Number Count
Athletes who compete in equestrian sports understand the importance of numbers. Whether it’s counting strides into a fence, the beats per minute after a cross country or endurance test, or earning a dressage score percentage, every number counts towards the best interests of their horse.
But are American riders the best stewards of their own health?
Leading omega-3 expert Dr. Anne-Marie Chalmers, co-founder with Dr. Bo Martinsen of Omega3 Innovations for people and Wellpride fish oil for horses, says the latest research suggests that our omega-3 index could be a more helpful indicator of various health risks than previously appreciated.
An omega-3 index describes the amount of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids in red blood cells. Since 2004, scientists have suggested that the omega-3 index be used as a way to measure a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease, much as cholesterol levels are being used today.
Simply put, the higher the number, the more EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids you have in your body. Having a low omega-3 index number is considered a higher risk factor for developing coronary heart disease and other cardiovascular health issues. Researchers have also found a direct correlation between one’s omega-3 index level and brain function.
Because Americans as a rule consume too few omega-3s from fish or fish oil, Dr. Chalmers cites, it’s no surprise that the majority have low (under 4%) or “undesirable” omega-3 index levels; the “desirable” level is above 8%.
Drs. Chalmers and Martinsen haven’t been the only ones looking at optimal omega-3 levels. The results of a collaborative research effort among nine educational institutions, supported by the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dieticians Association Research Award and entitled, Dietary and Biological Assessment of the Omega-3 Status of Collegiate Athletes: A Cross Sectional Analysis, was published in April on the digital research journal, PLOS.org. It offers fresh insight in this postponed Olympic year regarding sub-optimal omega-3 levels in NCAA Division I athletes, and the importance of nutrition to athletes, including consumption of fish and seafood to build a desirable omega-3 index.
Do riders, who faithfully supplement their horses’ diets, need to take a closer look at their own nutritional programs? Maybe.
The global pandemic hit the reset button for athletes chasing an Olympic dream in 2020, but this latest cross-sectional analysis of omega-3s in collegiate athletes may be the leg-up riders need to ensure they’re eating and supplementing for maximum performance, too.
The collegiate analysis began with identifying omega-3 fatty acids (ω-3 FA) as being associated with cardiovascular health, brain function, reduction of inflammation, and other physiological roles of importance to competitive athletes. The omega-3 status of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I athletes had not been previously well described, and so the purpose of the study was to evaluate the omega-3 status of NCAA Division I athletes using dietary and biological assessment methodology.
Athletes from nine NCAA Division I institutions from throughout the U.S. took a blood test to evaluate their omega-3 levels and completed a food frequency questionnaire to assess omega-3 sources from diet and supplements.
None of the study participants had an omega-3 index level in the “desirable” range. Furthermore, only 6% of athletes achieved the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics’ recommendation to consume 500 mg of DHA+EPA per day! Overall, sub-optimal omega-3 status was observed among a large, geographically diverse group of male and female NCAA Division I athletes, representing 21 different sports.
To date, says Dr. Chalmers, over 300 published papers have measured and discussed the omega-3 index levels of participants. She hopes more researchers will follow suit: “I would like to see studies looking at the omega-3 status of equestrians in particular. Especially because this group is at a higher risk for traumatic brain injuries, and since we know that omega-3s have protective and beneficial effects for brain health.”
For riders, it’s time to watch another number while training: the omega-3 index.