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Is Flax Seed Oil better for my health than taking Fish oil?

Why take Flax oil over Fish Oil?

Until recently the promoters of fish oil would have said you only need fish oil to get all the Omega-3 your body needs, but the competitive rivalry between Omega-3 sources is on the wane as the science becomes clearer.   In a recent interview, Adam Ismail, executive director of GOED (Global Organization for fish oil Omega-3) said, "the fact of the matter is that we need more ALA (plant Omega-3) in our diet" (as well as fish oil (EPA & DHA), goes without saying for them).

The story so far:

  1. You only get the increased energy effects of better oxygenation and reduced allergies from membrane integrity from the ALA in flax seed oil – not from fish oils 
  2. You only get the healthier skin benefits from the ALA in flax seed oil – not from fish oils 
  3. Your body needs to have roughly equal amounts of Omega-3 and Omega-6 , so taking a gramme or two of fish oil in capsules is going to do little to change this.
  4. Conversion rates are higher than initial studies suggested and the latest research is suggesting that the body is capable of making the amount of secondary Omega-3s (EPA & DHA) it needs from the primary Omega-3 (ALA) delivered to the site where the body needs it. 

To recap on the conversion story - many argue that humans can only convert limited amounts of ALA to the long chain Omega-3 EPA and even less to DHA.

A recently published review of all the research on the subject showed that the conversion of ALA to EPA, as measured in the blood, is in the order of 8 – 20% and the conversion to DHA is 0.5 – 9%.1

What do these numbers mean for me?

Our suggested serving size for flax seed oil is 15 ml per day, which provides you with 8600 mg of ALA, which your body could potentially convert to 688 to 1720 mg per day of EPA and 43 to 774 mg of DHA.

The National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia and New Zealand (NHMRC) suggest that we need an absolute minimum (AI – Adequate Intake) of 90 mg/day for Women (145 mg/day if breast feeding) and 160 mg/day for Men.   These AI values are only to protect against Omega-3 deficiency, whereas the higher SDT (Suggested Dietary Target) values are needed for reducing chronic disease risk and to achieve "wellness".

What you NEED and what you COULD make

So calculating the potential conversion of ALA to EPA + DHA shows that our suggested serving size of capsules will likely be covering your body's minimum requirements for EPA and DHA.   If you are using the liquid oil, your body can make all the EPA and DHA it requires and still have plenty of ALA left to carry out the functions listed in 1. – 3. above (ie. energy levels, skin health and the balance of omegas in your body).

What are your options for getting more omega-3 in your body?

Flax seed oil

Flax seed oil is the richest source of ALA (see "What-are-the-omega-3-fats") and as the above calculations show; regular intake can provide your body's need for the long chain Omega-3s EPA and DHA as well as the direct benefits of ALA.

Fish oil

  • In the Northern hemisphere, in particular, fish stocks are seriously contaminated with pesticides, heavy metals, and radioactivity.
  • "Fish oil – huge shortage looming".   Since volumes of fish oil in the future are likely to remain static or decrease, the growing sales of omega-3 pills are on the brink of turning into a huge problem for aquaculture.   By 2020, fish oil supply for the industry will be short by 744,000 metric tonnes, says a 2011 report

David Musgrave