Understanding Fat and Fatty Acids

Fat is much more than a storage form of calories.  The membrane of all cells contains fat. Fatty substances form a waterproof barrier in skin and hooves.  Some classes of hormone are derived from fat/cholesterol.  Some fats help regulate the immune system.

Fats from your horses diet are digested and absorbed as fatty acids. Once inside the horse they are stored and transported as triglycerides which are three (tri) fatty acids attached to a backbone of glycerol.

Sn = stereospecific numbering and refers to the fatty acid’s location on the glycerol.

There are five major naming systems for fatty acids.  In one seen commonly, fatty acids are referred to by the number of carbons in their chain, the “c” designation, as well as how many double bonds they have, e.g. C18:3 = alpha-linolenic, a dietary plant source of omega-3.

A horse’s natural pasture diet is low in fat with about 4% on a dry matter basis (food consumed minus its water content is dry matter). Hay is much lower at 2% because the fragile omega-3 fats in grass are lost with curing. Most horses benefit from some fat supplementation when not on pasture.

No research has been done on dietary fat requirements of horses. The horse can manufacture all the fat it needs for vital functions but skin, coat and hoof quality may decline on low fat diets. The only fats considered a dietary necessity for any species are the essential fatty acids, omega-3 alpha-linolenic and omega-6 linoleic.  Again, there is no equine research but if we use the evolutionary diet, grass, as a guide the horse should optimally get a ratio of omega-3:omega-6 of about 4:1.

All grains and most readily available vegetable and seed oils are higher in omega-6  than -3.  The only choices with high omega-3:omega-6 ratio are flax or chia.  Chia and flax seed are typically supplemented at a rate of between 2 and 16 oz/day.  If using a liquid oil give approximately 25 to 30% of this amount.

The omega-3:omega-6 ratio is believed to be important because in other species it influences the balance between inflammatory and antiinflammatory cytokines in immune responses.  This makes it very difficult to avoid omega-6 overload in horses that need added fat for weight or control of EPSM.  There is now an option.

I avoid talking about specific products for the most part but this one is unique. Uckele has a new fat source called CocoSun, available in liquid or powder.  This combines extra virgin coconut oil with extra virgin, organic sunflower oil from a special strain high in  omega-9 (oleic acid).  Oleic acid is also the major fatty acid in olive oil.

You can feed this with flax without upsetting the omega-3:6 ratio.  Coconut oil is rich in medium chain triglycerides which the body prefers to burn rather than turn into fat stores and the monounsaturated oleic acid has metabolic benefits in other species.

Feeding fat optimally takes more thought than just grabbing some oil off a store shelf but armed with the facts you can maximize the benefits you get from adding fats to the diet.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

About Dr. Kellon

Graduate of University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School. Owner of Equine Nutritional Solutions, www.drkellon.com, industry and private nutritional consultations, online nutritional courses. Staff Veterinary Expert at Uckele Health and Nutrition.
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2 Responses to Understanding Fat and Fatty Acids

  1. Joanne says:

    This is just what is needed but where can we get this in Sydney Australia??? 😊

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