All Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Are Not The Same
Plant vs Animal
Good sources of omega 3 fatty acids come from both plants and animals. Fish is the predominant animal source of omega 3’s in the form of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Omega 3 from plants sources like flax and walnuts come from ALA (alpha-linoleic acid).
Foods rich in Omega 3’s
Nuts and vegetable, nut and seed oils: ALA (alpha-linoleic acid)
• Flaxseed Oil
• Flax seeds
Fish: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
Fish vs Flax
So Which Is Better?
ALA found in flax, converts to the more physiologically active omega 3’s EPA and DHA found in fish but to a limited extent.
The conversion is not efficient with slightly more EPA than DHA being produced.
Further, the metabolism of ALA to EPA & DHA is inhibited by a diet high in Omega 6’s like Linoleic Acid (LA) found in many cooking oils and snack foods made with them:
There may be no known benefit of ALA other than it’s conversion to the more physiologically active EPA and DHA.
Plant sources of Omega 3 fatty acids may not be enough for most people. With adequate EPA and DHA intake you may not have to worry about dietary ALA intake.
Unless you avoid oily fish for a reason, eating fish or taking fish oil supplements seems like a sure way to get good levels of EPA and DHA.
More About Flax
Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil are great sources of the omega 3 ALA.
Flaxseeds contain the added benefits of having fiber and a group of chemical compounds called lignans that are not found in flaxseed oil. Lignans are a class of estrogen-like phytoestrogens that act as antioxidants and may be helpful for cancer prevention and reduction in cardiovascular disease.
Flaxseeds are very hard and may pass though the body. To get maximum nutrition you have grind the seeds. Flax also is easily oxidized and should be stored in the refrigerator to prevent it going rancid.
Flaxseed oil does not have the same effects as fish oil. It contains only ALA not EPA and DHA. The body converts ALA to EPA and DHA, but only a small amount is converted.
Getting The Most EPA And DHA
From Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Studies have looked at the tissue levels of the omega 3 fatty acids ALA, EPA, and DHA after giving people either flaxseed oil, olive oil, fish oil, or a placebo.
Basically people taking:
Olive oil or Placebo saw no changes in tissue levels of ALA, EPA or DHA
Flaxseed Oil saw an increase in tissue levels of ALA, little to no increase in EPA, and no increase in DHA
Fish Oil saw increases in both EPA and DHA.
Looks like all sources of omega 3’s are not the same. Unless you eat a lot of omega 3 rich fish you may need fish oil supplements.
Does That Mean Forgetting About Flax?
Absolutely not, you need a diet rich in omega 3’s from varying sources.
Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil are an important source of Omega 3 Fatty acids, include them in your diet wherever you can.
The American Heart Association
Recommendations For Omega-3’s:
No Coronary Heart Disease
• Eat a variety of fatty fish two or more times a week.
• Eat foods rich in ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) like flaxseed, canola and Soybean oils; flaxseed and walnuts.
People With Coronary Heart Disease
• 1 gram (1000 mg) of EPA + DHA daily from fatty fish
• 1 gram (1000 mg) EPA + DHA in capsule form in consultation with physician
Need To Lower Triglycerides
• 2 to 4 grams of EPA + DHA daily provided as capsules under a physician’s care.
Patients taking more than 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids from capsules should do so only under a physician’s care. High intakes could cause excessive bleeding in some people.
Getting More Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The best place to get omega-3’s is from your diet. However; if you have heart disease you may not be able to get enough omega-3’s by diet alone.
Fish oil supplements that are contaminant free, and have concentrated amounts of EPA + DHA help people that need larger doses.