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Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to influence reproductive processes in sows, starting from ovulation to embryo development.

Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fats that play crucial roles in various physiological processes. They are classified into three main types: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). EPA and DHA are primarily found in fatty fish and algae, while ALA is found in plant sources like flaxseed.

These health issues are becoming even more critical as soya and corn are gaining importance in every countries diet increasing the level of Omega 6 (soya and corn is very rich in Omega 6). Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids compete for the same enzyme called delta-6 desaturase (D6D). This enzyme is responsible for converting both Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids into their respective long-chain forms, which are important for various physiological processes in the body.

The competition between Omega-6 and Omega-3 occurs at the level of this enzyme due to their structural similarity. Both types of fatty acids have a carbon-carbon double bond at the sixth carbon position from the methyl end of the fatty acid chain, which is the target site for D6D.

When the diet is rich in Omega-6 fatty acids, such as those found in soya and corn, the increased levels of Omega-6 fatty acids in the body can saturate the D6D enzyme, leading to a higher conversion of Omega-6 fatty acids into their long-chain metabolites. This can result in an imbalance in the Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio.

In contrast, when the diet contains a higher proportion of Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in fatty fish (e.g., salmon, mackerel), flaxseeds, or walnuts, the increased levels of Omega-3 fatty acids compete with Omega-6 fatty acids for the limited availability of the D6D enzyme. This competition can lead to a lower conversion of Omega-6 fatty acids and a relatively higher conversion of Omega-3 fatty acids into their long-chain metabolites.

Maintaining an appropriate balance between Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids is important for overall health. While Omega-6 fatty acids are essential and play important roles in the body, excessive intake of Omega-6 relative to Omega-3 fatty acids may promote inflammation and contribute to chronic disease development. On the other hand, a higher intake of Omega-3 fatty acids relative to Omega-6 fatty acids is associated with anti-inflammatory effects and potential health benefits.

It is recommended to achieve a balanced Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio in the diet, ideally within a range of 4:1 to 1:1, to optimize health outcomes and maintain a proper inflammatory response in the body. Today, most diets present ratio of 15:1 to 20:1. That is the main reason why it is recommended for thousands of years to eat fish at least once week. That is also one of the reasons why old persons living on an island and eating fish regularly live longer.

Food multinationals are promoting these concepts for years already through the marketing of infant formulas or Omega-3 enriched eggs and meat. The benefits of Omega-3 on humans are well documented and illustrated in kids and elders, particularly on brain and heart functioning.

Similar principles apply as well to Swine and Poultry. Studies have suggested that supplementing sow diets with Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA, can improve ovulation rates, enhance oocyte quality, and support healthy embryo development. These fatty acids are known to play a role in regulating hormone production, reducing inflammation, and promoting optimal cellular function in reproductive tissues.

Hormone Production and Regulation:

Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), play a crucial role in hormone production and regulation. These fatty acids are incorporated into cell membranes and influence the release and activity of reproductive hormones, including follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). Optimal levels of EPA and DHA support the normal secretion of FSH and LH, which are essential for follicular development, ovulation, and the subsequent survival of embryos.

Anti-Inflammatory Effects:

Omega-3 fatty acids have potent anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation in the reproductive tract can adversely affect ovulation and embryo survival. By reducing inflammation, Omega-3 fatty acids create a more favourable environment for optimal follicular development, ovulation, and subsequent embryo implantation. This anti-inflammatory effect helps maintain the health and functionality of the reproductive tissues, facilitating successful ovulation and supporting embryo survival.

Improved Cellular Function:

Omega-3 fatty acids support the proper functioning of cells, including those involved in follicular development and embryo survival. They enhance cellular integrity, membrane fluidity, and receptor signalling. This optimal cellular function promotes the development of healthy follicles, ensures efficient hormone signalling, and supports the survival and development of embryos.

Omega-3 fatty acids can also impact boar fertility by improving sperm quality and viability. Research suggests that incorporating Omega-3 fatty acids into boar diets can enhance sperm membrane integrity, motility, and overall sperm function. This improvement in sperm quality can increase the likelihood of successful fertilization and improve litter size.

Regulation of Gene Expression:

Omega-3 fatty acids can modulate gene expression in reproductive tissues, influencing various physiological processes. They have been shown to regulate the expression of genes involved in follicular growth, steroidogenesis (the production of steroid hormones), and embryo development. By modulating gene expression, Omega-3 fatty acids contribute to the fine-tuning of hormonal regulation, promoting proper ovulation and supporting embryo survival.

Oxidative Stress Reduction:

Omega-3 fatty acids possess antioxidant properties and can reduce oxidative stress in the reproductive tract. Oxidative stress, caused by an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants, can impair follicular development, ovulation, and embryo survival. By reducing oxidative stress, Omega-3 fatty acids help maintain the integrity of reproductive tissues, support healthy follicular development, and improve the chances of successful ovulation and embryo survival.

Moreover, during pregnancy, Omega-3 fatty acids are transferred from the sow to the developing piglets through the placenta. These fatty acids are essential for various aspects of piglet development, particularly brain and nervous system development. DHA, in particular, is a key component of neuronal membranes and is vital for the growth and function of brain cells.

Research suggests that the level of omega-3 fatty acids in the sow's diet can impact the amount of DHA available to the developing piglets. Sows that are fed diets enriched in omega-3 fatty acids, such as those containing fish oil or flaxseed, have been found to produce piglets with higher levels of DHA in their brain tissues.

After parturition, Omega-3 fatty acids can be transmitted to piglets through the milk of sows. Sows that are fed diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as those containing fish oil or flaxseed, have been found to produce milk with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), are then passed on to the piglets during nursing.

Studies demonstrated that piglets born from sows fed with Omega-3 are more active and found the tits 4 to 5 minutes faster for the large intake of colostrum. That would result in higher survival.

In 2005, INRA (France) demonstrated that piglets fed with Omega-3 enriched milk present heavier pancreas, a better intestinal mucosa/muscularis ratio and improved lactase activity leading to a more effective digestive activity.

The enrichment of omega-3 in sow diets is gaining popularity in several countries, namely in the USA, Canada, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Spain and Australia. Several studies confirmed that such practices can improve litter size by 0.2 to 0.8 born live piglets and shorten the interval to estrus by 1 day.

It's important to note that the use of omega-3 supplementation in sow diets is not limited to these countries alone. Large Swine organizations in China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam are exploring these applications and we should see the incorporation of Omega 3 in sows and boars diets becoming more popular soon in our markets.


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