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Flax Seed Vs. Fish Oil

I was recently asked this question by a patient in my office so again I would like to share this dialogue with the readers of the Gardner News.


What is the difference between Flax Seed Oil Supplements and Fish Oil Supplements? Since they both contain Omega 3’s, which should I take?


You are correct that both Flax and Fish oil’s contain Omega 3 fatty acids, but they contain drastically different Omega 3 fatty acids.  There are several different kinds of Omega 3’s but by far the most common forms are those found in Flax seeds and Fish oil.  Fish oil contains the Omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA while Flax seeds contain the Omega 3 fatty acid ALA.  This is the difference between them:

The only common Omega 3 fatty acids that are know to produce positive health effects are EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA from our diet ultimately help to form the outer structure of our cells.  When these Omega 3 fats are broken down in our bodies they produce anti-inflammatory chemicals that are know to help with a variety of conditions ranging from arthritis to heart disease, and pretty much every other inflammatory disease in between.  EPA and DHA again, are found in Fish Oil supplements.

ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is the Omega 3 fatty acid found in flax seeds or flax seed oil supplements.  ALA is also the primary Omega 3 fatty acid that is added to the foods that we buy in the grocery store with “ADDED OMEGA 3’s”.  The the problem with ALA or flax for that matter is that when we consume ALA our bodies must biochemically break it down to form EPA and DHA mentioned above.  Our bodies are not very efficient at this conversion and it is estimated that less than 10% of the ALA that we consume is converted to EPA or DHA.  ALA does not possess the know health promoting properties that are found with EPA and DHA from fish oil.

So if you are taking a flax oil supplement for its added Omega 3 content you should strongly consider switching to a Fish Oil supplement as you will gain a 90% increase in the usable portion of this supplement.  Please speak to your medical or chiropractic physician before deciding to take omega 3’s.

Dr. Mexico is a Chiropractic physician and owner of Synaptic Chiropractic Center, which is a private practice with offices in Baldwinville, MA. He can be reached at (978) 939-8700 or at drmexico@synapticchiro.com.

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