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Fish Oil or Flax Oil – Know Your Omega-3 Facts

Chris Katheman

Routinely singled out for their health benefits, omega-3 essential fatty acids receive high marks for positive effects on heart health, coronary artery disease, skin health as well as mental health (including memory, acuity, depression and anxiety). Other studies have concluded omega-3 may also harbor anticancer properties. Specifically, a reduced risk for both prostate and breast cancer is correlated with regular consumption. For these reasons, omega-3 supplements continue to gain popularity among health-minded people.

Not naturally synthesized in the body, essential fatty acids must be obtained from food sources or supplements. With supplements, there are two popular choices: fish oil and flax oil. While both supplements are known for their omega-3 content, significant differences between the two will affect your decision. The most important distinction between the two oils is that flax oil contains ALA (alpha lineolic acid) - a precursor to the essential fatty acids and fish oil contains the essential fatty acids DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) themselves. As ALA is not an essential fatty acid, it must undergo a conversion process within the body that yields both DHA and EPA.

Flax Oil Facts

Flax oil is the most significant botanical source of omega-3 fatty acids, containing around 56% ALA per unit of volume in the oil pressed from the seeds. Derived from a plant, flax oil is considered the ideal choice for vegetarians or those on restricted diets.

However, there are potential pitfalls with getting all of your omega-3 from flax oil. As stated earlier, flax oil contains ALA, which technically isn’t an essential fatty acid. ALA is converted to EPA and then DHA through metabolic pathways in the liver. Currently, conversion efficiency is unknown, and likely varies by individual. On the other hand, recent studies have suggested potential benefits from ALA itself, especially with anxiety and depression.

It’s important to keep in mind that flax oil is sensitive to both light and heat. This not only affects the manner in which you store it, but also will affect your decision on which brand to buy. If you intend to use flax oil strictly as an omega-3 supplement, only purchase cold-pressed flax oil processed under low light conditions. Also, ensure the bottle is opaque or heavily tinted, sufficient to block ambient light. Pure liquid flax oil spoils quicker than oil rendered into capsules, and it’s always advisable to only purchase brands listing the manufacturer’s expiration or pressing date. Designed for long shelf-lives, most flax oil capsules remain stable at room temperature. However, keeping them in the refrigerator doesn’t hurt, especially in homes that lack good climate control in the summer months.

Fish Oil Facts

Although the important health benefits of fish oil are fairly well known, certain precautions should be taken in selecting an appropriate brand including finding a brand that uses an independent tester who can certify the oil contains safe levels of environmental toxins. Consumption of some fish oils can also lead to unpleasant odor and taste issues, however most brands available today are of the “odorless” variety that claim to solve this issue.

As with any supplement, it’s always wise to ask your doctor before using, especially if you have any surgery planned. Your doctor can help determine if there are drug interaction risks and can provide up-to-date research on its claimed benefits.

Health Disclaimer. Copyright ©2012. Published with permission.

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