Updated: Jul 9
If you were to take a look in most any feed room, finding rice bran in either an oil, nugget or granule form is commonplace and often given daily to horses young and old, across all disciplines. Rice bran products are widely available due to being cost effective and easy for companies to produce and offer on the market and being an ample source of fats, rice bran is fed by many horse owners to add calories, improve coat appearance or increase energy. However, despite the widespread marketing and touting that rice bran is a healthy feed supplement horse owners may be surprised to find out that it is an unhealthy source of fats. The fact that big brands do not advertise is the counterproductive nature of feeding rice bran solely due to the poor omega-3 to omega-6 ratio found within.
What is Omega-3 and Omega-6?
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are nutrients that horses are unable to create on their own and thus they must be supplemented. When most think of omega-3 fatty acids they may think of common sources of this nutrient such as salmon, mackerel and herring. Two of the most well-known types of marine-derived omega-3 fatty acids are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and the popular DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). The lesser known ALA (Alpha-linolenic acid) is an omega fatty acid found in plants like flaxseed and chia (rather than fish). In contrast, omega-6’s are found in highly processed crop sources such as corn, wheat, and soy. These mono-crops have become a staple in animal and human diet leading to a multitude of gastrointestinal and inflammatory complications i.e. omega-6’s are no good for the body. In a nutshell, omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory whereas omega-6 fatty acids are known to increase inflammation. The target ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 for a healthy fat supplement fed to a horse is 1:3 or 1:6 (the supplement must be higher in omega-3’s).
So, what is the issue with rice bran supplements?
The answer to this question is simple. As initially mentioned, the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 is incredibly off. The inflammatory omega-6 content found within rice bran is quite surprising and although a horse may appear shiny on the outside (any fat supplement will make a coat shine), inflammation is being promoted on the inside.
The healthiest horses often have diets that mimic what they’d naturally consume in the wild. A foraging horse would naturally have an antiinflammatory diet that is higher in omega-3’s. Unfortunately, today’s horse’s diet is much higher in omega-6 than omega-3 due to the amount of grain, corn, oats, soy, barley and rice products/ingredients which most feed supplements are laden with.
It is the performance horses who often have the worst omega-3 to omega-6 ratio because they are fed fat supplements for shine and energy. It is these horses especially who need the correct amount of omega-3’s the most as the antiinflammatory omega-3’s help their body to recover more quickly from strenuous exercise. Horses who are on high grain diets need to have a supplement high in omega-3 to counteract the omega-6 found within their feed regime.
In fact, there are many studies that have found that Omega-3 can:
-Increase synovial fluid (the fluid that lubricates joints)
-Protect the joints of young horses
-Improve recovery time
-Decrease airway inflammation
-Improve airway function
-Benefit broodmares colostrum production
-Improve memory and cognition in foals
-Improve breeding stallions overall semen quality
-Bolster the immune system following vaccinations
*Read our comprehensive blog covering omega-3 benefits and linked studies here.
So, what’s the best alternative?
Many people look to vegetable oil, corn oil, rice bran, fish oil or flax seed to supplement their horse’s diet. While all contain the essential fatty acids, they don’t all measure up the same with omega-6 to omega-3 ratios as follows: Vegetable oil (2:1), corn oil (53:1) and rice bran (20:1)...as you can see all contain more omega-6 than omega-3 and are not the ideal supplement for horses, especially those on high grain inflammatory diets. Fish oil ratios vary greatly depending on the type of fish and what the fish has consumed. While fish oil is a better source of omega-3 than those listed above, it does not include Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) which is one of the 3 major omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oil does contain Docosahexaeonoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), the other two major omega 3 fatty acids. Flax contains Alpha Nucleic Acid which the body can convert to DHA and EPA. Flax has a ratio of 1:4, which is within the ideal range but it can go rancid quickly.
When picking a fat supplement (or any supplement for that matter) it is important to read labels. Look into products, flip them over and inspect the ingredients. Are you paying for a lot of filler and minimal effective ingredients? What is the source of the omega fatty acids? These questions are important to consider when making the decision to purchase an omega supplement (or any supplement for that matter). We have made it our mission to make this decision easy. Twenty Four Carrots’ Inner Glow Omega Booster is a superior omega-3 supplement consisting of chia seeds (chia contains 2.7x more iron than raw spinach, 5.4x more calcium than milk, and 8.7 x more omega-3 than wild Atlantic salmon, along with all of the essential aminos, antioxidants - more than blueberries-, vitamins B, D and E!) and naturally has a shelf life of 2 years without any preservatives. Additionally, this product is free from fillers, byproducts, added sugars and any other naughty ingredients and serves as a comprehensive nutritional boost to your horse’s daily diet.
In summation, omega-3 is a [beyond] essential fatty acid which the horse is unable to produce on its own and as such, it must be supplemented through diet. Omega-3’s are anti-inflammatory, aid in joint and respiratory health and have bountiful health benefits for breeding mares and stallions as well as the foals born to mares supplemented with omega-3’s. Proper supplementation of omega-3’s can prevent symptom chasing (where one supplement is purchased to alleviate one symptom only for another symptom to arise causing the purchase of yet another supplement). Studies are continuing to be conducted researching the plentiful benefits from omega-3 supplementation and the results of the many studies already conducted display that omega-3 is incredibly beneficial and has a wide array of health benefits that help our horses feel and perform their very best, it is simply up to us to educate ourselves and offer them the best source of healthy fats possible.
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