Just like humans, horses require omega-3 and 6 fatty acids in their diet. This is typically met by consuming large amounts of fresh pasture. However, dry hay contains very little of these important fats because they are not heat stable. This requires that horses be provided with supplemental sources such as flax, camelina oil and chia. Plant based sources do not provide the most potent forms of omega-3 which are EPA and DHA.
While your horse can convert the plant based sources of omega-3 into EPA and DHA this conversion may not be very efficient especially in the face of diets providing large amounts of omega-6 fats. The conversion of the plant based omega-3 fats to the EPA and DHA forms uses the same enzymes as necessary for converting Omega-6 fats to their end products. Given most diets contain higher amounts of omega-6 fats and the fact that this conversion is preferred, conversion of omega-3s to EPA and DHA may be reduced. For this reason providing EPA and DHA directly can be beneficial. EPA and DHA are found in animals, transgenic plants, fungi and many microorganisms. Most commonly they are extracted from oily fish.
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for many body functions including maintaining proper cell structure, reducing inflammation, and supporting a healthy immune system. While your horse can convert plant based sources of omega-3 into EPA and DHA, this conversion may not be very efficient, especially in the face of diets providing large amounts of omega-6 fats. For this reason, providing EPA and DHA directly can be beneficial especially for horses that are struggling with various inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, asthma, allergies, and colitis.
While omega-3 fats tend to get the majority of the positive attention with omega-6 versions being scorned as causing inflammation, in reality both are essential. Omega-6 fatty acids are important for many body functions including maintaining proper cell structure and supporting a healthy immune system. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in plant oils such as soybean oil, corn oil, and sunflower oil. While horses need both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, it is important that they maintain a proper balance. Some inflammation is an important response to such things as wounds. The key is not to encourage excessive inflammation as this can lead to a number of health conditions.
This balance and requirement for both omega-3 and 6 in the horse’s diet is the reason for our use of soybean oil combined with fish oil. Of the common plant based oils, soybean oil, unlike corn oil, provides a small amount of omega-3 fat. When this is combined with the EPA and DHA provided by fish oil, the result is a product that provides a beneficial combination of omega-3 and 6 fatty acids that supports numerous health functions.