The health benefits of flaxseed have been recognized as early as 3,000 BC in the lands of Babylon. Flaxseed was used for various medicinal purposes such as the treatment of gastric disorders, as a soothing balm for inflammation and as a laxative (Judd, 1995). Horsemen (who relied heavily on their equines) and trainers (who sought optimal performance from their charges through natural means) also used flaxseed as a way to supplement the diet with omega-3’s and adequate fiber to produce high quality proteins. Now, thirteen centuries later, we have research to substantiate the knowledge of our ancestors.
The immune system requires essential fatty acids, vitamins & minerals to maintain its high level of complex cellular activities. The renowned German researcher of ‘fats’ & pioneer in human nutrition, Dr. Joanna Budwig (1908-2003), as early as the 1950’s reported that “the absence of highly unsaturated fatty acids causes many vital functions to weaken". Dr. Budwig’s life’s work focused on the dietary ‘imbalance’ between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in humans which can lead to an increase of inflammatory substances in the body & the development of many diseases. But where do we find the necessary unsaturated fatty acids that Dr. Budwig advises and how do these work with other mammals, specifically equines?
Flax is the richest plant source of Omega-3’s (ALAs) in the diet, making it a great choice for vegetarians and omnivores alike. The small seed of the flax plant contains all sorts of healthy components. It is an excellent source of high-quality protein (exceeding that of soybeans and fish oils) and potassium (a mineral that’s important for cell and muscle function). But, the true power of flaxseed lies in three key components:
· Omega-3 essential fatty acids – Also known as "good" fats, omegas enhance the oxygen usage of cells and in combination with alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) are anti-inflammatory in their effect within the body.
· Lignans – Flaxseed contains 75 to 800 times more lignans than other plant foods. Lignans are a group of compounds with anti-oxidant properties which also contain plant oestrogen. Lignans are linked to a reduced risk of developing osteoporosis, heart disease and cancer.
· Fibre - Flaxseed contains both the soluble and insoluble types of fibre essential for maintaining ‘gut’ health.
In equines, adding flaxseed to the diet has the immediate benefits of a shiny, healthy coat & fewer skin allergies. Consistent use of supplemental Omega’s has multiple long term benefits including strong hoof quality, improved joint health, reduced muscle soreness, faster healing of ulcers (Sonali et al 2008) and significantly impacts inflammation associated with chronic skin conditions (commonly known as ‘sweet itch’). In breeding stock, increased Omega-3 levels in mare’s milk leads to boosted immunity in foals with higher stallion fertility & improved conception rates in broodmares documented (Holmes, 2015)
Optimal feeding of essential fatty acids has a significant impact on equine performances too. My own clients have experienced impressive successes with the addition of Champion Roasted Flaxseed to their equines daily feed regime on the racetrack, in the show ring and on breeding farms across Europe & the USA. Though many types of flaxseed are available on the market in the form of oils & milled linseeds, I have always stood over the feeding of ‘roasted’ flaxseed as the nutritional benefits (of both the dense oils and fibrous skin) of the flax plant are maintained to the highest standard and deterioration of the omega-3’s due to oxygenation or accidental contamination in processing is avoided. Roasted flaxseed too has a nutty flavour that is highly palatable to animals and does not need to be pre-ground prior to feeding as the gastric enzymes can adequately break down the roasted outer layer.
Irish based Trainer, Eddie Lynam can attest to the difference of adding Champion Roasted Flaxseed to his feeding regime on my veterinary advice. Within a few weeks. his horse SOLE POWER (IRE) began to perform to his genetic ability & won the Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes at York, England (August 20th, 2010) with odds of 100/1 beating into second place Starspangledbanner (previous winner of the 2010 July Cup (Gr. 1) at Newmarket and the Golden Jubilee (Gr.1) at Royal Ascot. Continuing in this top form almost a year later, (21st May 2011), Sole Power beat previous Group 1 winner Kingsgate Native by 3/4 length at Haydock Park in the Group 2 Temple Stakes.
SOLE POWER (IRE)
On the FEI Show-jumping circuit too, the Irish Army combination of DRUMILLER LOUGH (ISH) & Capt. Michael Kelly posted impressive Grand Prix performances in late 2014 & 2015 when fed on the Belmont ‘feeding protocol’ that included supplemental omega-3’s with the addition of Champion Roasted Flaxseed https://data.fei.org/Horse/Performance.aspx?p=DA3D7FE319FF40D0ECDDDCF06A1F2E60)
DRUMILLER LOUGH (ISH)
The margins among top performers in competitive equine sports is often small. Preparing and presenting your horse in ‘top form’ requires a fully functioning immune system. Optimal essential fatty acids in the diet is key to performance success.
For more information on how to supplement your equines diet to maximize performance, please contact Dr.Richard McCormick, MVB. Dip.Eq St. MRCVS. Licensed Veterinarian (Kentucky, USA, Ireland & united Kingdom) via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
· Budwig, Dr. J (1903-2008) https://www.budwig-stiftung.de/en/dr-johanna-budwig/her-research.html
· Judd A (1995) Flax - Some historical considerations. Flaxseed and Human Nutrition, S C Cunnane, L U Thompson. AOCS Press, Champaign, IL 1995; 1–10 [Google Scholar]
· Sonali Joshi, Sagar Mandawgade, Vinam Mehta & Sadhana Sathaye (2008) Antiulcer Effect of Mammalian Lignan Precursors from Flaxseed, Pharmaceutical Biology, 46:5, 329-332,DOI: 10.1080/13880200801887732
· Martinac, P (2018) What are the benefits of flaxseed lignans? https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/benefits-flaxseed-lignans-8277.html
· Holmes, R (2015) Feeding for stallion fertility.