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Alpha-Linolenic Acid and The Health Benefits

Written by OmegaXL on May 12, 2014

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is one of the three Omega-3 fats that are known as “essential fatty acids” (EFAs). These polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are essential because the body needs them, however cannot synthesize them in adequate quantities. These fats must come from an outside source, preferably your diet.  Along with Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the other two omega-3 EFAs are: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and (docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).  EPA and DHA come from cold-water fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring, while ALA comes from plant sources such as certain seeds and nuts such as flaxseed, sunflower, soybean, etc.

The problem is that your body can only utilize DHA and EPA.  It cannot use ALA; it has to be converted by the body into DHA and EPA for it to be of any benefit.  Plant sources, such as flax oil, contain only ALA. It contains absolutely no DHA or EPA. The most recent studies done by the U.S. National Institutes of Health show that almost none of the ALA from flax seed converts to DHA and EPA, the only forms the body can use.  So, if you think you’re getting your omega 3s from flax or flaxseed oil, you’re not. Scientists from the National Institutes of Health concluded that flaxseed oil is simply not a viable source of EPA or DHA and should not be considered as a substitute for fish and fish oils in the diet.  The only recommended source of dietary omega-3s comes from either cold-water fish or fish oil supplements.