Is flax seed oil the best source of Omega 3 fats? The flax seed oil vs fish oil debate.

There’s now little doubt that we all need more Omega 3 fats in our diets, but where is the best place to get them? There’s a big flax seed oil vs fish oil debate going on, so we’ll have a look at flax seed oil versus fish oil to see which one wins.

To do so you have to dig a little deeper into why Omega 3 fats are good for you. You see it’s not just that Omega 3 fats are good for you, it’s that specific components of Omega 3 fats are good for you.

More specifically there’s 2 important components of Omega3 fats. EPA and importantly DHA.

Now we won’t go into the chemical reasons why EPA and DHA are good for you, it gets complicated. It’s probably sufficient to say that DHA is a major component of our brain, and for this reason alone DHA is an essential fat for brain function.

However we will look at a couple of specific facts that bear on the fish oil versus flaxseed oil debate. The first is that EPA and DHA are not the only Omega 3 fats. There is another Omega 3 fat called ALA, (Alpha-linolenic acid). (Sorry for all the chemical stuff.)

ALA is present in a higher degree in plant oils like nut oils and flax seed oil, and is not as important to the body as either DHA or EPA. However it is still an Omega 3 fat.
Flax Seed Oil Vs Fish Oil

The reason why flax seed oil is considered to be a good source of Omega 3s is that it is high in ALA, however ALA isn’t so important to our body. However it was also considered that ALA is converted to DHA in our body, so ultimately works well.

For this reason there are various flaxseed oil supplements and the benefits of flax seed oil have been spruiked.

However the argument that ALA converts to DHA in the body has been debunked here, and it is now considered that it doesn’t convert to DHA in the body much at all.

So whilst there are benefits of flax seed oil they aren’t sufficient to justify taking flax seed oil in place of fish oil. You won’t be getting much DHA, the most important Omega 3 oil.

So whilst the benefits of flax seed oil are there the fish oil versus flaxseed oil debate falls on the side of fish oil. The best fish oil supplements are high in DHA. By all means take a flaxseed oil supplement, but in conjunction with a good fish oil supplement.

Flaxseed oil capules are available, so don’t ignore the health benefits of flaxseed oil, but fish oil ought to be your primary emphasis in your diet.
Of course it can’t hurt to take both.

Update on ALA July 2011

We have just been reading a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, published in September 2008. This study attempted to ascertain further how well ALA, being a precursor to EPA and DHA, converted in the human body into these 2 more important Omega 3 fats.

In this study a group of 62 firefighters from Winnipeg in Canada were given, variously, flax seed oil, fish oil or sunflower oil for the placebo group.

Firefighters were chosen for this study because they tended to have higher levels of coronary heart disease, possibly because of their high fat diets, and higher levels of stress.

Each of the firefighters took the supplements for 12 weeks, every day.

In the group who took the fish oil levels of EPA and DHA rose. In the levels who took the flaxseed oil ALA levels rose as you would expect. However these people also had a rise in level of EPA. This would suggest that the ALA found in the flaxseed oil was converting to EPA in their body, because there is no EPA in flax seed oil.

However there was no increase in DHA in the firefighters who took the flaxseed oil, only an increase in EPA.

This would suggest that in fact taking flax seed oil does result in some conversion in the body of ALA to EPA, though how much is not well understood.

And of course if you wish to increase your levels of EPA and DHA it’s much better to do so taking fish oil supplements which have both these Omega 3 fats included. However if you’re a vegetarian who doesn’t eat fish then you’re unable to take these supplements, and for those people flax seed oil supplements may result in an increase in EPA in their body.

To read the study click here.

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