Study Shows Horses Able to Absorb Fatty Acid Supplements

Illinois researchers studying the effect of nutritional supplementation with essential fatty acids (EFAs) reported that EFAs are absorbed systemically after oral administration and alter the normal pool of fatty acids in the bloodstream of horses.

Administration of EFAs, including the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docohexaenoic acid (DHA)--the two acids most commonly found in EFA supplements--is known to have beneficial health effects in humans, particularly influencing blood pressure and heart disease.

According to study co-author Sheryl S. King, PhD, professor in the Department of Animal Science, Food, and Nutrition at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, the effects of EFA supplementation are less well-known in horses.

King said that scientists hypothesize that EFAs have anti-inflammatory and other properties that could be used to manage such conditions as equine osteoarthritis, lung inflammation, exercise-induced hypertension, lung bleeding, and breeding issues.

In this study 16 horses were fed a particular marine-derived EFA-containing supplement designed to deliver a combined dose of 0, 10, 20, or 40 grams of EPA and DHA per day.

"Results revealed that blood plasma levels of both EPA and DHA were significantly increased in supplemented horses compared to the control horses after only three days of supplementation," said King. Peak concentrations occurred after seven days of supplementation and EPA and DHA levels decreased rapidly by Day 9 after the supplement was discontinued.

In addition to changes in EPA and DHA blood levels, administration of the supplement significantly altered circulating levels of a variety of other fatty acids normally found in horses' blood.

According to King, "Orally administered EFA supplements are clearly absorbed and result in widespread alterations in fatty acid levels found in the circulation."

Additional research is essential to determine the overall impact of EPA- and DHA-containing supplements in horses and appropriate doses.

The study, "Circulating fatty acid profiles in response to three levels of dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in horses," was published online on Jan.11 and will appear in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Animal Science.

About the Author

Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she's worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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