It all boils down to two important compounds known as EPA and DHA. Omega-3 fatty acids are ultimately broken down into these two fatty acid derivatives - but primarily only if fish oil is the omega-3 source (more in just few lines).
Is Fish Oil Really Better Than Flaxseed Oil?
Fish oil or flaxseed oil?
That is the question posed by millions of health-conscious people each
day. But what is the main reason why millions of people are reaching
for either fish oil or flaxseed oil? If you said omega-3 fatty acids then
But what if I told you that one of these oils doesn’t present us with a
viable or usable source of omega-3s in the body? Pretty shocking, eh!
Well the truth of the matter is that fish oil offers you a much better
omega-3 “bang for your buck”.
It all boils down to two important compounds known as EPA and DHA.
Omega-3 fatty acids are ultimately broken down into these two fatty
acid derivatives - but primarily only if fish oil is the omega-3 source
(more in just few lines).
We need EPA and DHA to protect our heart, for healthy brain
and eye development, prevention and treatment of skin
diseases, arthritis, for immune function and more.
Why Not Just Eat Flax?
For decades a debates have been fought about whether flaxseed oil
could provide adequate levels of EPA. The verdict - flaxseed should
never be used for its EPA producing ability.
Flaxseed oil is a wonderful healing oil but it is not a source of EPA.
Having said, I will often add flaxseed oil to many of my salad dressings
and other foods but it is not the oil I use for EPA and DHA.
Research shows that flaxseed oil is poorly converted to EPA and
that it provides absolutely no DHA. One study published in the
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition evaluated 45 healthy men and
post-menopausal women (18 to 65). They all had normal cholesterol
and were asked to eat olive oil as their oil source. They were divided
into 3 groups. One got ALA (alpha linolenic acid - from flax) and the
other two with a supplemental form of EPA.
Each was given 750mg for 3 weeks and then 1,500mg for 3 weeks in a
supplement. Both the EPA groups had significant increases in EPA in
red blood cells however there was no increase in EPA in the ALA (flax)
group. Neither the ALA nor EPA group showed significant increases in
DHA; which, means that we should also supplement with DHA.
The reason why the flax ALA group did not witness an increase in EPA
in red blood cells is because of an enzyme in the body that is needed
to convert ALA to EPA.
This enzyme called the Delta-6-desaturase, if not working
properly, stops the conversion of ALA to EPA.
The Flax Council of Canada states that flaxseed has a limited
conversion to EPA in healthy people of up to only 8%! However,
new sophisticated studies are showing that this is even rare.
Here's a chart that depicts the pathway followed by omega-3 (alpha
linolenic acid) and omega-6 (linoleic acid) fatty acids into their final
Ideally, we are looking for the creation of prostaglandins 1 and
3 which are fast-acting anti-inflammatory hormone-like molecules, and
The reasons why the Delta-6-desaturase enzyme does not work
as well as why we can't convert ALA to EPA are as follows:
* Anyone with diabetes has a faulty delta-6 enzyme
* Viral infection
* Allergic disease
* High cholesterol
* Stress hormones
* Menopause (menopausal women have been found to have an
* Arachidonic acid
* Saturated fat
* Trans fatty acid consumption in the diet
* Nutrient deficiency of Zinc, B6, vitamin C
DHA for the Brain
Perhaps you may have seen recent commercials promoting “white
bread” now infused with DHA and then claiming that this “white bread”
is now essential for the healthy development of our children’s brains
and nervous systems.
Well, besides the fact that these artificially-enhanced foods provide no
nutritional value whatsoever, the point still remains that DHA is
essential for the proper functioning of the brain, and for the
development of the nervous system and visual abilities. It is essential
for smart babies too. DHA research has also shown it reduces the risk
of heart disease.
The human brain is about 60% fat, and DHA is one of the crucial
structural fatty acids in both the brain and the retina. Many
vegetarians, vegans, and raw foods dieters are also at risk of
insufficient DHA unless they supplement with DHA.
Studies have also shown that North American babies have much lower
levels of DHA than babies born in Asian countries. DHA plays a role in
our babies IQ. So if you want
a super smart and healthy child you may want to consider
supplementing with fish oil (not flaxseed oil) for its high content of
readily available DHA and EPA.
But what about vegans who are adamant about getting their omega-3s
from plant sources? Well, for the answer you’ll just have to stay tuned
for the next article where I’ll talk about one of the world’s most
incredible superfoods that even blows fish oil out of the water (no pun