Horse and jockey racing right to left on a countryside race track.

Osteoarthritis is a very common cause of lameness in horses. Traditionally thought of as a disease of articular cartilage, it has been shown that the soft tissue lining of the joint, the synovial membrane, is an important contributor to the protracted inflammation that accompanies the disease. The cells of the synovial membrane produce a wide variety of substances which contribute to the progression or resolution of the characteristic imbalanced and destructive environment in a joint with incipient or established osteoarthritis. Among these substances are products of fatty acids that reside in the cell membranes of the synovial tissue called oxylipids. These metabolic products of cell membrane metabolism can enhance or diminish inflammation, depending on the specific blend of oxylipids released. It has been shown that for a number of diseases, the makeup of the membrane of cells involved in an inflammatory process materially influences the overall profile of oxylipids in the tissue environment.

It is increasingly evident that the specific composition of dietary fatty acids can lead to changes in the makeup of cell membranes, thereby favorably or unfavorably influencing the array of oxylipids produced by the cells. Specifically, omega-3 fatty acids, such as alpha linolenic acid, can be preferentially incorporated into cell membranes leading to an oxylipid profile that favors resolution of inflammation, compared to the omega-6 fatty acids, such as arachidonic acid, that are generally associated with inflammation. Thus, appropriate modification the omega-6: omega-3 ratio in tissues can result in considerable health benefits. Based on the relatively sparse literature on the topic and our preliminary experiments, we hypothesize that synovial cells exposed to omega-3 fatty acids will preferentially incorporate them into their cell membranes. Subsequently, when an inflammatory stimulus is encountered, the overall biological effects of the oxylipids generated will favor an anti-inflammatory or resolving state, thereby diminishing the duration and severity of inflammation that is a hallmark of osteoarthritis.

We will test this hypothesis by exposing synovial cells in culture to a number of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Following this exposure, we will use established methods to quantify the relative amounts of a number of key fatty acids in their membranes. Once doses that result in optimal incorporation are established, we will repeat these incubations and then stimulate the cells with a molecule that is known to be central in establishing the chronic inflammatory events in osteoarthritis. Subsequently, we will identify and quantify the oxylipids produced by the cells and assess if the overall mix of oxylipids is favoring inflammation or its resolution. In addition, we will quantify the expression of genes of known non-lipid pro-and anti-inflammatory molecules to see if an omega-3 supplemented oxylipid environment influences their synthesis. We anticipate that omega-3 incorporation will have favorable effects in this model. These studies are an important first step in establishing science-based nutritional recommendations that can be used to optimize the omega-6: omega-3 ratio in the joint tissues of horses. The long-term goal of this research is to reduce the need for conventional symptomatic therapies for osteoarthritis in horses by generating information that will be useful in establishing ideal levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the ration that would serve as a means to treat and, perhaps more importantly, prevent or significantly delay the onset of the disease in the equine athlete.

At Belmont Equine Product we intend to follow this research closely and report back on it's findings. In the meantime we recommend our Roasted Flaxseed to ensure your animal is getting sufficient fatty acids and nutrition to maintain healthy blood counts!


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