What Is an n-3 PUFA? Why Horse Owners Should Care

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Recently, I saw the term “n-3 PUFA” used in an article about supplementing fat for insulin resistant horses. It discussed a study performed at Colorado State University where “n-3 PUFAs” were shown to significantly reduce insulin levels. Great news!  But what in the world is an n-3 PUFA?

First, PUFA stands for “polyunsaturated fatty acid.” All fatty substances contain a combination, in varying amounts, of three types of fatty acids:

Saturated—the kind you’d find in butter, beef, or coconut oil
Monounsaturated (abbreviated MUFA)—found in high amounts in olive oil and rice bran oil
Polyunsaturated (abbreviated PUFA)—more complex molecule found in most plants and in fish

Fats in your horse's diet

Fats in your horse's diet

While all fat is high in calories, foods that are high in n-3 PUFAs can lower blood insulin levels in your horse, which helps reduce fat storage and lessen the risk of laminitis. New window.

There are two main types of PUFAs, which are named based on their chemical structure—Omega 3 or Omega 6. The Greek letter, omega, is often symbolized in scientific literature by an “n” followed by the number.

The omega 6 PUFA, symbolized by n-6 and known as linoleic acid, is important because the horse cannot produce it; therefore, it is considered “essential” and must be in the diet. A problem occurs when the diet contains too much; high amounts of linoleic acid (an n-6 PUFA) can lead to inflammation. Oils from soybean, corn, safflower, sunflower, and wheat germ are very high in this specific fatty acid.

Omega 3 (n-3) PUFAs are found in three forms:

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)—found in fish oils
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—also found in fish oils
Alpha linolenic acid (ALA)—found in high amounts in flax, chia, and fresh grasses. ALA is also “essential” and can be converted to the other two n-3 PUFAs. 

Back to the good news… While all fat is high in calories, foods that are high in n-3 PUFAs can lower blood insulin levels, which helps reduce fat storage and lessen the risk of laminitis.

For more about fats, visit library at www.GettyEquineNutrition.com and read “Fat is Fat, Right? Check Your Omegas!” And keep learning by listening to the recorded teleseminar, “A Clear View of Fat – Types, Sources, and Benefits.”

Dr. Getty - Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D. is an internationally respected, independent equine nutritionist who believes that optimizing horse health comes from understanding how the horse’s physiology and instincts determine the correct feeding and nutrition practices. She is the Contributing Nutrition Editor for the Horse Journal, and is available for private consultations and speaking engagements.

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With more information regarding horse nutrition from Dr. Getty Whole Foods and Alternative Feeds (Spotlight on Equine Nutrition Teleseminar Series) this transcribed and edited teleseminar, discusses the many benefits of adding to the horse's forage foundation with nutritious, natural sources of protein, fats, vitamins and minerals including beets, berries, and bananas, pumpkins, peanuts, and more.

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About the author

Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D. is a specialist in equine nutrition whose philosophy is founded on feeding a horse in sync with his natural needs and instincts. Dr. Getty is the author of the comprehensive resource, Feed Your Horse Like A Horse, and her articles and interviews often appear in national and international publications.