Flaxseed Oil - Benefits and Nutritional Role

The typical Western diet has too high of a ratio of omega-6 fatty acids as opposed to omega-3s. This may be the cause of the currently epidemic incidence of heart disease in Western and Western-aligned nations. While flaxseed certainly contains one of the important omega-3 fatty acids, it may not be as effective as fish oil supplements.

The main fatty acid in flaxseed is alpha-linolenic acid, although for the sake of my typing and your sanity, I'll henceforth refer to it as "ALA." The ALA fatty acid breaks down in the body into two other omega-3s, DHA and EPA (again, for the sake of your own sanity, you don't need to know what they stand for). However, it has been shown that ALA breaks down very inefficiently.

The amount of ALA in flaxseed that breaks down into DHA and EPA may be as low as 15%. Why is this important?

DHA and EPA are the acids that benefit the human body; the acids that balance the effect of omega-6. So it isn't just a matter of needing more omega-3s in your diet. It's a matter of trying to add more DHA and EPA.

You can get an omega-3 supplement that already has large amounts of these two fatty acids, so your body doesn't have to try to extract it form ALA. Fish oil supplements are a much, much more beneficial source of omega-3 fatty acids than flaxseed oil.

At this time, we do not recommend using flaxseed oil as a nutritional source of omega-3, however, before completely discounting it, please see our article on breast cancer. While ALA breaks down slowly and incompletely into the more beneficial DHA and EPA, ALA by itself it may have its own positive health effects.

For a better omega-3, we recommend fish oil.