Due to the potential beneficial effects of omega 3 on inflammation there has been much interest in supplementation of horses.
A study was designed to evaluate the efficacy of an algae-based omega 3 supplement rich in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in horses affected by chronic lower airway disease.
Supplementation (in a low dust environment) resulted in greater improvement in cough scores, lung function and bronchoalveolar lavage fluid compared to a placebo.
The effect was noticeable during the first 2 weeks of treatment and reached maximal benefit between weeks 2 and 5 for coughing, weeks 5 and 6 for respiratory effort and weeks 3 and 5 for poor performance. In contrast, horses that received a placebo tended to improve only after week 5 and the effect never reached statistical significance. The authors noted that a dusty environment would likely diminish any potential benefit of supplementation.
The researchers suggested that a low-dust environment along with omega 3 DHA supplementation of horses with chronic airway disease for 8 weeks may offer similar clinical benefits as a 3-week course of dexamethasone administration without dietary modification proposing it's use as an additional management tool.
Because inflammatory airway disease may be an important component of EIPH (bleeding), it has also been suggested that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help to prevent and reduce EIPH. An unpublished study demonstrated a reduction in EIPH in horses fed a diet rich in both DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) (Erickson and Poole, 2007).
Omega 3's (especially marine-based DHA and EPA) are likely to have anti-inflammatory and immune benefits for both performance and breeding horses. This is an exciting area of equine nutrition that may offer additional benefits to current management practices.