Balancing Omega 6 with Omega 3 to promote broiler heart health

Apart from infections, sudden death syndrome, or ‘flip overs’, accounts for some broiler mortality during production, particularly for male broilers. It is thought to be a metabolic disorder associated with rapid growth rates, which leads to an imbalance in cardiac physiology and, consequently, heart failure. As male broilers generally grow faster than females, a metabolic disorder seems a likely cause for sudden death syndrome.

Poultry CRC Honours Student, Ms Nicky-Lee Wilson, is looking to optimise the ratio of linoleic acid (Omega 6) to alpha-linolenic acid (Omega 3) in an attempt to promote cardiovascular health in broilers. Nicky-Lee’s project, under the supervision of Dr Rebecca Forder at the University of Adelaide, follows on from a larger scale validation trial conducted last year.

Specifically, Nicky-Lee will use some of the data and tissues from the previous trial to:

1) determine whether an increase in alpha-linolenic acid, in the form of flaxseed oil, increases levels of long chain Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the heart, and

2) see whether this increase improves markers of cardiovascular health in broilers.

Nick-Lee outlined the concept behind her project. “Omega 3s have received much attention, and have been shown to have cardio-protective effects in other species including humans, dogs and rodents. At the moment I am doing some general histology, looking for any signs of myofibre degeneration. We will then run some ELISAs for creatine kinase activity within the heart, to see if there are any changes between the diets. We will combine this with the fatty acid and morphometric data from the previous trial to determine whether there have been any improvements in cardiovascular health” she said.

Preliminary results indicate an increase in Omega 3 levels in the heart in response to the increase of flaxseed oil in the diet. “We will combine this result with general histology, looking for mild pathological changes (vacuolated sarcoplasm, interstitial oedema, changes in myocardial fibres etc). We have seen some mild indications of some of these changes in some of the sections we have stained, however, I am currently in the process of scoring these to determine whether this is associated with treatment or just a general population finding” said Nicky-Lee.

If the results from this experiment indicate Omega 3s have the potential to improve cardiovascular health in modern broilers, then there is good reason to include it in future feed formulations. In turn, this may help industry improve the overall health and welfare of broiler chickens and, potentially, reduce the incidence of sudden death syndrome.

Nicky-Lee has a degree in Animal Science from the University of Adelaide. “I originally enrolled with the intent to transfer into the Veterinary Science program, but found the further I got into my degree the more my interest in research grew” explained Nicky-Lee.

(image: Honours student Nicky-Lee Wilson with Professor Phil Hynd)

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