Study examines whether fish oil improves cattle fertility

Jan 30, 2009
by WLJ
Study examines whether fish oil improves cattle fertility

USDA recently awarded University of Northern Colorado biologist Patrick Burns a $98,000 grant to study whether fish oil improves fertility, in cows. The two-year research project may also have implications on human health, fertility and treatment without side effects for conditions like arthritis.

Burns will examine the effects of omega-3 fatty acids in blocking a hormone that regulates the heat cycle in reproductive tissues of nonpregnant cows. The hormone, prostaglandin, must be blocked by the embryo for a period of time for pregnancy to occur. Often, the embryo fails to block the release, resulting in failed pregnancies.

The fatty acids in fish oil have been shown to block the hormone in several non-reproductive tissues, Burns said. “It is anticipated these omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil may reduce prostaglandin secretion in reproductive tissues in the pregnant female and improve fertility,” he said.

Burns said fish oil, which research shows offers wideranging health benefits, potentially could work in the same way for human reproduction.

Also, because fish oil blocks prostaglandin in the same way that prescription drugs do in treating conditions such as arthritis, fish-oil supplements may be a treatment option without the side effects that can lead to heart disease or stroke.

Other potential human health benefits of fish-oil consumption include improved infant and child development and reduced heart disease risk. “The outcomes may potentially shed light on these areas,” Burns said. The study will be conducted in collaboration with Colorado State University scientists Dr. Terry Engle and Dr. Shawn Archibeque at the Agricultural Research, Development and Education Center in Fort Collins.

Sixteen cows will be fed fish meal, a rich source of fish oil, for approximately 60 days to allow the oils to become incorporated into reproductive tissues. The tissues will then be studied to examine the effects of fish oil on key enzymes that regulate prostaglandin synthesis.

Improving reproductive efficiency by 10 percent with fish-oil supplementation could potentially save the U.S. beef and dairy industries millions of dollars in lost meat and milk production, Burns said. Burns, a faculty member in Biological Sciences in the University of Northern Colorado’s College of Natural and Health Sciences, teaches biology and is the pre-health adviser. He has previously received more than $500,000 in external grants and published 25 peer-reviewed journal articles in the area of reproductive biology. This current project builds on his existing research.

The grant is funded by USDA’s National Research Initiative—Animal Reproduction program. The program provides grants to increase basic knowledge in reproductive biology with a goal of improving reproductive performance in agriculturally important animals. — WLJ