A Natural Alternative: How Fish Oil Delivers Similar Benefits to NSAIDs in Horses
As Rio brings the 2016 Olympics to a close, athletes at home are grappling with re-awakened hopes for ourselves and our sports. For me as an eventer, watching Michael Jung take gold and Phillip Dutton take bronze only adds to my desire to improve and move up the levels. Yet, as we do this, we are demanding more of our equine partners’ minds and bodies. We owe it to them to make sure we supply them with the nutrition and balance they need to meet those requests.
Injuries happen, whether on course or, as one of my horses is a pro at, in the pasture the week before an event. We’ve all found ourselves reaching for a painkiller/anti-inflammatory at some point. My go-to is phenylbutazone, or “Bute” as we know it.
I have only had to utilize Bute for short term treatments in conjunction with my vet’s instructions. Other riders may not be so lucky and find themselves faced with issues like chronic inflammation that necessitate constant management and more frequent NSAID administration. While Bute can help with this, it can also increase the risk of ulcers, kidney damage and bone marrow suppression (1).
Giving NSAIDs to Eventing Horses
Bute is in a class of medications called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Even with the benefits that NSAIDs provide, overusing these drugs or using two together has been shown to cause harm. In 2011, the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF)’s single use NSAID rule went into effect, banning the use of any two NSAIDs together. Other regulations vary based on equine organizations.
Despite these rules, there is another option for delivering the anti-inflammatory benefits of NSAIDs to horses – and that is fish oil.
Fish Oil as a Natural Anti-Inflammatory Agent
Many of us have heard that omega-3 fatty acids are important for maintaining healthy hooves, skin, digestive systems and joints in horses. The broad benefits stem from the role of omega-3 as an anti-inflammatory agent in the body.
Researchers have suggested some reasons why omega-3 fatty acids have this benefit. The omega-3 molecules compete with the omega-6 fatty acids to produce the prostaglandin, the most important mediator of the body’s inflammation response (2). When there’s too much omega-6, the body’s inflammation response goes into hyper-drive, creating the foundation for chronic pain and stiffness. Adding omega-3 into the diet helps bring the inflammation response under control.
Because fish oil is nature’s most potent source of omega-3, it is regularly supplemented for its anti-inflammatory benefits. Numerous animal and human studies have shown fish oil generates similar effects to NSAIDs over an extended period of time. In fact, several studies have shown it can help replace anti-inflammatory drugs or cut down on the amount of NSAIDs needed (2, 3, 4).In addition, compared to using NSAID drugs, fish oil has no detrimental gastrointestinal side-effect (an important benefit for ulcer-prone horses).
Although it takes six to eight weeks for fish oil’s effects to become noticeable, there is a wide range of results from increased focus to better coat quality and reduced joint stiffness. Such changes can help horses stay on track both physically and mentally.
Using Wellpride and NSAIDs
Since the USEF has ruled that doubling up on NSAID treatments is not an option, owners may be looking for other ways to increase the effect of the treatment their athlete is already on.
Wellpride can help with this. Combining an NSAID with fish oil has been shown to be completely safe in animals and humans. Furthermore, there is no ban or limit on using fish oil in any breed or sport.
“Omega-3 makes up an important part of the cell membrane,” says Dr. Bo Martinsen, co-founder of Wellpride. “When used in combination with a medication, it will lower the side effects and potentiate the anti-inflammatory benefits. That means you will be able to use less medication to get the same kinds of results.”
By providing a more natural way to fight inflammation, Wellpride allows us to continue helping our horses’ bodies through the demands of our sports without putting them at too high a risk of complications.
1. Dangers of Bute in Horses. EquiSearch.com. Equine Network. September 30, 2005.
2. Waldridge, Bryan.Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Arthritis. EquiNews.com. Kentucky Equine Research Nutrition and Health Daily. December 10, 2010.
3. Martinsen, Bo. An Omega-3 Strategy for Pain Relief. Omega3Innovations.com. December 5, 2012.