Thursday, September 18, 2008

Fish Oil vs. Flaxseed - Who Wins?

Have you ever asked yourself this questions: Should I take flaxseed oil in addition to or in place of fish oil?

To answer this you should probably know a little about the two fatty acids that the body cannot biosynthesize, and are therefore considered essential: linoleic acid (an n-6) and alpha linolenic acid (an n-3).

These two fatty acids must be obtained from the diet because the body lacks the delta-15 and the delta-12 desaturases, which are needed to create double bonds and elongate fatty acid chains beyond 9 carbons to create these essential compounds.

Still with me?


As nutritionist and strength coach Alan Aragon has noted on several occasions:

“……based on estimates from archaeological and modern-day hunter-gatherer population research, human beings originally thrived on a diet whose ratio of n-6 to n-3 fatty acids was approximately 1:1, and unlikely to be greater than 4:1. It also contained far less trans fatty acids and than the present diet. Today, consumption of n-6 to n-3 fatty acids is roughly 25:1. A major cause for this is the predominance of n-6 oils (corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, refined packaged grain products) and a relative minority in n-3 sources (fatty marine fish, flaxseed oil, walnuts, and small amounts of canola oil).”

That being said, there is often a stigma associated with flaxseed products in general. It’s often been noted that ingesting flaxseed to increase levels of EPA/DHA (the omega-3’s) is pointless due to the poor conversion rate of ALA into the said omega-3’s.

However, in his book Girth Control, Aragon showcased a study in which a team recently observed 3g ALA/day (from 5.2g flaxseed oil) raise plasma EPA levels by 60% at the end of a 12-week trial.*

Flaxseed oil WILL convert to long chain omega 3s however not everyone can do it effectively as certain individuals lack delta-15 and the delta-12 desaturases, specific enzymes to aid in conversion.

I do however recommend adding ground flaxseed to your yogurt or protein shakes as a serving of about 1 tablespoon elicits roughly 3-5 grams of fiber (depending on the brand), and the lignans found in flaxseeds also serve as an antioxidant.

If you are going to choose one, go with fish oil, however I would include both as mentioned above about including ground flaxseed with yogurt or in a shake.

Other sources of omega 3 fats are: fatty fish (such as salmon, anchovies, sardines, mackeral), nuts (particularly walnuts), krill oil.


* The reference study is found in Alan Aragon's book "Girth Control" found Click here.

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