We often hear the words 'essential fatty acids.' But what are they really?
The kinds of fats usually referred to as 'essential' are those nutrients which the body does NOT produce and which must be supplied through the diet. The two most significant of these are omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Both use enzymes to produce important hormone-like substances which are vital for several different regulatory mechanisms throughout the body. Omega-6 and omega-3 also are major components of all cell membranes; they help to keep the membranes strong, fluid and pliable.
Omega-6 provides some of the raw materials for our horses' defense system. When your horse strains a muscle or becomes infected with nasty bacteria, the immune system leaps into action by creating redness, swelling, heat, and pain. Sometime, however, these defense signals don't get turned off and chronic inflammation becomes a problem. That's when omega-3 is really important, providing the chemicals our horses need to fight or reduce this kind of inflammation.
Since omega-6 and omega-3 often work opposite each other in the same physical processes, the balance between these two fats is critical to good health. Unfortunately, our horses' diets provide an excess of omega-6 oils, which are typically available in commercial feed products, and which come from cheap vegetable oils such as corn oil. And, all too often our equines are starved for adequate amounts of omega-3 oils. This can lead to greater inflammatory reactions than might otherwise be experienced by a horse and to such inflammatory disorders such as arthritis, allergic lung disorder, various skin conditions and laminitis.
The best ratio for omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in humans and other mammals has been found to be around 3:1.
Omega-3 fat molecules can come from different sources - animal and vegetable - so their chemical structures are different, the way sheep genes are different from carrot genes.
The two most important health-related compounds the body needs from omega-3 fatty acids are eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These can help reduce symptoms of overactive inflammation, assist in improved joint function, and increased fertility, and help protect the heart and breathing systems. This is why the best omega-3 fatty acid you can get is characterized by the most efficient delivery of these two compounds, EPA and DHA.
Flaxseed oil and fish oil are two of the best known sources of omega-3 fatty acids. But omega-3 from flaxseed oil is not the same, and is not nearly as good as omega-3 from fish oil, because only 3 to 4 percent of the flaxseed oil gets converted in the horse's body into EPA or DHA.
In contrast, fish oil has ready made, fast acting EPA and DHA. In the case of Wellpride, which is made of fish oil, EPA and DHA make up fully 30 percent of every ounce.
Because only fish oil delivers so much EPA and DHA, it's the only truly PHAT omega-3 fat for your horse.