Fish Oil May Help Young Pigs
By David Elstein
March 18, 2003
Consuming fish such as salmon and tuna, which contain omega-3
fatty acids, appears to lower the risk of cholesterol and heart disease in
humans. Now Agricultural Research
Service scientists are finding that fish oil also can improve the health of
ARS animal physiologist Jeff Carroll evaluated the use of
omega-3 fatty acids in young, weaned pigs as a better means of developing their
immune systems and thus helping the animals fight deadly diseases. At the ARS
Physiology Research Unit in Columbia, Mo., Carroll fed one group of
18-day-old pigs a traditional diet that included 7 percent corn oil. The other
group received 7 percent menhaden fish oil, which--like tuna and salmon--
contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
After 14 days of feeding, the pigs were immunologically
challenged with an endotoxin. Tests showed that the pigs given the fish oil
were eating more feed after the challenge and that the fish oil helped them
better prepare to fight the toxin.
Carroll has performed other research using different
concentrations of fish oil. Each study showed that the fish oil diet was better
than the control diet at helping build up the pigs' immune systems. The omega-3
fatty acids are absorbed through the intestine and help the immune cells cope
In the United States, pigs usually get some antibiotics in their
feed, but other countries may phase out this procedure. Adding fish oil should
help U.S. producers if they are required to eliminate antibiotics in the pigs'
diet. In addition, fish oil will probably be less expensive than
Carroll worked on his studies with collaborators from the
University of Missouri as well as
with scientists from China Agriculture University and the
University of Tennessee.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.