Flaxseed Oil or Fish Oil – Which is Better?
A common dilemma that some consumers face is choosing between fish oil or flaxseed oil. Which is the best one for you?
Fish oil and flaxseed oils are both excellent sources of omega 3 fatty acids. Fish oils contain the omega 3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Flax seed oil contains the omega 3 fatty acid, alpha linolenic acid (ALA).
And while there are many reported health benefits from omega 3 fatty acids, scientists have learned that our bodies digest and utilize fish oils better than flaxseed oil.
So what exactly does the science show us?
What Happens When You Eat Flax Seed Oil?
When you swallow a fish oil supplement, your body can easily digest and use the EPA and DHA.
However, when you eat flax seed oil, your body needs to use special enzymes to convert the alpha linolenic acid (ALA) into the more usable forms of EPA and DHA.
Unfortunately, our bodies run into some problems doing this enzymatic conversion….
A study published in the International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research showed humans can efficiently convert ALA to EPA, but we have some difficulty converting the ALA into DHA.
In fact, some studies have shown that the conversion of ALA into EPA can be less than 5%, particularly if you eat a diet high in omega 6 fatty acids.
And to make matters worse, there’s apparently a difference between how men and women can effectively metabolize and convert ALA into DHA.
Studies Show Women Digest Flaxseed Oil Better than Men
Scientists believe the estrogen in women allows them to convert ALA to DHA more effectively than men.
Using radioactive substances, researchers were able to measure the conversion of alpha linolenic acid into EPA.
They found that men can convert about 6 – 8% of the available ALA into EPA, and only about 0.1% is converted into DHA.
Researchers discovered that the women can convert the ALA into DHA almost 90 times better than men.
Scientists believe the reason is due to the female body’s biological demand for DHA during pregnancy and breast feeding.
Research has shown that benefits from taking fish oils during pregnancy are primarily due to the fetus’ biological demand for the DHA which helps develop a stronger immune system and brain development.
So the science appears to show that women have a biological advantage over the male species when it comes to efficiently and effectively digesting and metabolizing flaxseed oils.
What’s the Verdict on Choosing Fish Oil vs. Flaxseed Oil?
When it comes to choosing between flax seed oil or fish oil, the research shows:
- Fish oils are a natural source of both EPA and DHA
- Flaxseed oils only supply ALA and your body must convert it into the more usable form of EPA and DHA
- Men can’t convert ALA into DHA very well (less than 0.1%)
- Men only convert a small amount of ALA to EPA (about 6 – 8%)
- Women’s bodies convert ALA to DHA almost 90 times more efficiently than men.
So if you’re a man, you may be better off using fish oils so your body gets the higher amount of DHA.
Women could use flaxseed oil as their bodies can apparently convert the ALA more efficiently than men.
This is theory is also supported by a study showing that fish oils were better than flax seed oil and olive oil for increasing omega 3 levels in adults with ADHD.
However, if you have an allergy to fish oils you can still use flax seed oil as a plant-source of omega 3 fatty acids.
Other food sources of omega 3 fatty acids include walnuts, tofu, soybeans and certain vegetables, like winter squash.