Flaxseed oil is the world's richest source of omega 3 fatty acids, containing more than double the amount of omega 3 found in an equal quantity of fish oils. Flaxseed oil also contains omega 6 fatty acids.
The omega 3 fatty acids in flaxseed oil are not identical to those found in fish oil. Flaxseed oil contains Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA), while fish contains Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA). The body is able to convert ALA into EPA and DHA.
Although DHA and EPA have been studied in greater detail than ALA, research is beginning to show that ALA is important to health.
The American Heart Association (AHA) has released a scientific statement and dietary guidelines for healthcare professionals in which it notes the beneficial effects of adding Linolenic Acid to an individual's diet.
The AHA publication states that "There is some evidence from epidemiological studies that omega 3 fatty acids, Alpha-Linolenic acid, reduces risk of myocardial infarction and fatal ischaemic heart disease in women.
Several randomized controlled trials recently have demonstrated beneficial effects of both Alpha-Linolenic Acid and marine omega 3 fatty acids on both coronary morbidity and mortality in patients with coronary disease. Because of the beneficial effects of omega three fatty acids on risk of coronary artery disease as well as other diseases such as inflammatory diseases, the current intake, which is generally low, should be increased. Food sources of omega 3 fatty acids include fish, especially fatty fish such as salmon, as well as plant sources such as flaxseed and flaxseed oil, soybean oil, and nuts."
This is borne out of a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Vol. 69, No 5, 890-897, May 1999) that found that, after adjustment for age, standard coronary risk factors, and dietary intake of Linoleic Acid and other nutrients, a higher intake of Linolenic Acid was associated with a lower risk of fatal ischemic heart disease (IHD) in women. The study concludes that "This study supports the hypothesis that a higher intake of Alpha-Linolenic Acid is protective against fatal IHD." There has also been at least one study looking at ALA and it's relation to breast cancer. In this study, it was found that women with high levels of Alpha-Linolenic Acid in their adipose breast tissue have a 60 percent lower risk of breast cancer than women with low levels of the nutrient. (Eur J Cancer 2000; 36:335-340.
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