Flaxseed; The Perfect Base for a Horse Feed
By Dan Houdeshell
Sierra Gold® Supplements for Horses
Copyright ©2005 – All rights reserved.
Flaxseed (linseed) meal has been a popular feed for horses for decades. Fed largely for its imparting a lustrous coat, flax meal offers a host of other nutritional benefits that make it the perfect base for horse feeds and supplements.
Understanding the composition of flaxseed is critical in understanding its potential in the Animal Feed Industry. Flax is rich in protein, fat and dietary fiber, each contributing to its overall value in the diet. A typical analyses on Canadian flaxseed indicate a fat content of about 40%, 28% dietary fiber, 21% protein, 4% ash and
6% other carbohydrate which would include sugars, phenolic acids, lignan and hemicellulose. However flaxseed proximate composition can vary appreciably with genetics, growing environment, seed processing, and analytical methods.
The amino acid pattern of flaxseed protein is similar to that of soybean.
Flaxseed has traditionally been valued for its abundance of fat. Flax is low in saturated fat and high in polyunsaturated fat. Where flaxseed is unique is in its very high content of the omega 3 polyunsaturate, alpha linolenic acid (ALA). ALA is now widely recognized as essential and is of increasing clinical interest as a precursor of the longer chain omega 3’s in addition other hormone like substances which are involved in many important biological functions in the body.
The down side to this is that the fat will become rancid if not stabilized by some means. Rancid fat causes a number of digestive and immune problems and should
be avoided. When using any high fat ingredient care must be taken to add the proper anti-oxidants to keep this from happening. One of the best ways is to add mixed
tocopherols (Vitamin E) which protect the fat and are beneficial to the animal as well.
Flaxseed contains approximately 28% dietary fiber in which both soluble and insoluble fractions are present. The soluble portion can range between 30-40%. Flax soluble fiber (mucilage) has many interesting nutritional and functional properties including the ability to bind sand and other foreign material in the digestive tract.
Phytonutrients –Lignans and other Phenolic Compounds
Flaxseed is one of the richest sources of lignans, a type of phytoestrogen. Phytoestrogens are a diverse group of plant-derived compounds that can interfere with estrogen metabolism in animals and humans. Flaxseed contains high levels of the plant lignan, secoisolariciresinol diglycoside (SDG), and provides 75-800 times more plant lignans than most other plant sources. SDG is converted in the colon by bacteria to the mammalian lignans enterodiol and enterolactone. Other phytonutrients in flaxseed include several phenloic acids, flavonoids and phytic acid.
Vitamins and Minerals
Flaxseed contains essential vitamins and minerals. It is particularly rich in potassium, providing about seven times as much as banana on a dry weight basis. Flaxseed provides minor amounts of magnesium, iron, copper and zinc. The fat soluble
vitamin, tocopherol or vitamin E, is present in flaxseed primarily as gamma- tocopherol, which functions as a biological antioxidant.
The uniqueness of Flax – Nutritional Implications
Historically, human beings and companion animals lived on a diet that contained about equal amounts of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids. Over the past century there has been an enormous increase in the consumption of omega-6 fatty acids due to the increased intake of vegetable oils from corn, sunflower, safflower, cotton seed and soybean; and from eating animals raised on these grains.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are not inter convertible in humans and animals and are important components of practically all cell membranes. Contrary to the cellular proteins which are genetically determined, the polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) composition of cell membranes is to a great extent dependent on the dietary intake. Therefore appropriate amounts of dietary omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids need to considered in making nutritional recommendations. These two classes of PUFA’s should be distinguished because they are metabolically and functionally distinct and have opposing physiological functions. Their balance is important for homeostasis and normal development.
Today in many western human diets the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is about 20-30/1 instead of 1-2/1. Studies indicate that a high intake of omega-6 fatty acids shifts the physiological state to one that is prothombotic and proaggretory, with increases in blood viscosity, vasospasm, vasoconstriction and decreases in
bleeding time, whereas omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory, antithrombotic, anti arrhythmic, hypolipidemic and vasodilatory properties.
Clinical studies in humans have demonstrated the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids in renal, respiratory, cardiovascular, dermatological, gastrointestinal and immune- mediated diseases. Specifically the beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids have been shown in the secondary prevention of coronary heart disease, hypertension, and non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus, renal disease, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In animal models, high intakes of omega-6 fatty acids, particularly linoleic acid, are associated with tumorigenesis, whereas high intakes of omega-3 fatty acids diminish tumor development Studies with non human primates and human new-borns
indicate that docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is essential for the normal functional development of the retina and the brain. Because omega-3 fatty acids are essential in the growth and development throughout the life cycle, they
should be included in the diets of all humans and animals.
Lignans have numerous biological properties, including anti mitotic, anti fungal and antioxidant activities. Flaxseed lignans may have anticancer properties, particularly hormone sensitive cancers such as those of the breast, endometrium and prostrate, by interfering with sex hormone metabolism. Lignans have also been shown to stimulate hepatic synthesis of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), thus enhancing the clearance of circulating estrogen.
Several bioactive functions, such as antioxidant, anti microbial and anticancer have been attributed to phenolic acids. Flavonoids have been reported to exhibit a wide range of biological effects, including antibacterial, anti viral, anti-inflammatory, antiallergic, and vasodilatory actions. In addition, flavonoids inhibit lipid
peroxidation, platelet aggregation, capillary permeability and fragility, and the activity of enzyme systems including cyclo-oxygenase and lipoxygenase.
Phytic Acid is a natural plant inositol hexaphosphate commonly found in seeds and represents the principal form of stored phosphate. Phytic acid has hypocholesterolemic, anti oxidative, anti carcinogenic, and hypolipidemic effects. It also has physiological effects similar to those of high fiber diets and, as such, may be partly responsible for some of the health benefits attributed to high fiber foods.
The usage of flaxseed in the animal industry will focus on the following objectives. (i) The production of nutritionally enhanced human food products through the addition of flaxseed to feed rations.
(ii)Enhanced health, productivity and performance of animals.
Some of the reported benefits in the appearance and disposition of the horse are:
- Improved coat and hair appearance
- Decreased nervousness
- Improved hoof condition
- Reduction of sand colic
Flax meal is nature’s way of dealing with sand colic, constipation, poor elimination in older horses and “runny” manure. Ground psyllium husks and ground flax seed meal are two efficient, bulk- forming ingredients that help absorb up to eight times their volume in water. Flax meal will produce feces that are soft (but not runny) and easily excreted. Unlike wheat bran, flax meal will not cause nutritional deficiencies. For sand colic: flax meal forms a coating around the sand, like fruit embedded in jello, and helps to safely remove this foreign material from the body. Feed four ounces per day. DO NOT MOISTEN BEFORE FEEDING as it forms a slightly ‘slimy’ gel fairly quickly.
Flax Council of Canada, 465-167 Lombard Avenue, Winnipeg, MB, Canada, R3B 0T6
Cunnane, S.C. and Thompson, L.U. Flaxseed in Human Nutrition. AOCS Press, Champaign, Illinois, 1995, ISBN. 0-935315-60-8
Mazza, G. Functional Foods Biochemical and Processing Aspects. Technomic
Publishing Company Inc., Lancaster, PA, 1998, ISBN 1-56676-487-4
Pizzey’s Milling and Baking Company, Angusville, MB, R0J 0A0