The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for horses are believed to be numerous: decreased inflammation in various tissues, increased immune response, maintenance of healthy membranes, and an upsurge in sperm production, to name just a few.
Flaxseed and flaxseed oil have been fed to horses for decades, primarily to improve coat condition of sales or show horses. Both flaxseed and flaxseed oil are rich sources of the essential fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is thought to convert to the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
For many years, the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA was believed to be efficient. Now, however, a summary of omega-3 research by the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids (ISSFAL) has questioned the ability of ALA to be changed in the body.
According to the summary, "conversion of ALA to EPA is very low, and to DHA is even less–essentially negligible. These very low conversion rates mean that ALA cannot meet the body's need for DHA."
Tom Brenna, MS, PhD, professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University and chairman of the ISSFAL committee that assembled the summary, said, "Each type of omega-3 has distinct functional properties. Seafood/algal omega-3s, also known as long-chain omega-3s, are more potent than terrestrial plant sources of omega-3s and boast certain functions that terrestrial plant-based omega-3s simply cannot perform."
The summary reported that DHA levels in the body were raised most markedly by consuming "preformed" DHA, such as that found in marine-derived oils.