Fish Oil or Flaxseed Oil?

by Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN
Author, Eating for Energy


What's better - fish oil or flaxseed oil?   Well, I guess the answer depends on why you're taking either one. If you're turning to these oil for their omega-3 fatty acids then you might be better with fish oil. But let's look at this in more detail.

The truth of the matter is that fish oil offers you a much better omega-3 “bang for your buck”. Why? It all boils down to two important compounds known as EPA and DHA.

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.


Can I Get Enough Omega-3s From Flaxseed Oil?

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 very sophisticated studies are showing that this is even rare.

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

    * Aging

    * Menopause (menopausal women have been found to have an inactive enzyme)

    * Alcohol

    * Smoking

    * Arachidonic acid

    * Saturated fat

    * Trans fatty acid consumption in the diet

    * Nutrient deficiency of Zinc, B6, vitamin C


DHA is Good For Your 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 intended)!




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