There is confusion for consumers that want to learn about omega 3 with reference to the better source of this essential fatty acid. Some claim that flaxseed oil is the answer while others say that fish oil is still the best. Both are well-known rich sources of omega 3 so which oil is the better choice to spend your dollars on?
If we have to make this a contest, the greatest criteria will be the nutrients taken from each source. What follows is the information that differentiates them. Technically, both oils actually contain different components of omega 3. Fish oil has two long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA) called eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA). Flaxseed oil has alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
EPA is an essential fatty acid that has anti-inflammatory properties. It is the reason omega 3 is prescribed to patients suffering arthritis, eczema, heart disease and others. DHA plays an important role in the functioning of our brain which is probably the reason more researches are being done on the effects of omega 3 to dementia, clinical depression, etc. On the other hand, ALA is the mother component of the two mentioned fatty acids.
In layman’s terms, if you take flaxseed oil, your body needs to convert it to EPA and DHA for you to be able to use it. Problem arises as there are some people who cannot process ALA into the useful LCPUFA. There’s also a limit to how much ALA your body can process on a daily basis. This limit is usually sufficient for your needs and it’s interesting to point out that women can convert on average much more ALA into it’s components. Also, as you age your body slowly becomes more inefficient at this conversion. Now, think it over if you prefer to let your body do the conversion (with the risk that all of your ALA intake will not be converted) or take something that is ready to use.
So far the benefits of fish oil looks potentially better but the next condition is the risks that come with it. Fish oil side effects are for the most part not very important besides one which is due to ithe increased concentration of mercury in our bodies of water. Food authorities in response recommend eating fish twice a week only and nothing more. Some bigger fish species like swordfish or sharks are especially dangerous for pregnant women because they contain dangerous amounts of mercury that could cause brain damage to the developing fetus. The paradox is that omega 3 is needed for good brain development so it’s essential to take fish oil in whole fish or supplement form during pregnancy, just be careful to not take any of the “big fish” who by virtue of living longer and eating other fish usually end up with a high concentration of mercury in their body. Although FDA stated that the benefits of consuming fish still outweighs the risks, the flaxseed oil gets the point here as it can be grown organically and with no danger in any way as dramatic as mercury.
What about their availability? Flaxseed oil is taken from the seeds of flax, a flower bearing plant abundant in the eastern Mediterranean but is now being cultured in other places for its health benefits which go beyond simply providing omega 3. Some of the other benefits of flaxseed oil is that it’s very useful as a fiber and hormone stabilizer for women. Still, there is fish wherever you may be. Whether you live near the ocean (mackerel, salmon, etc) or not (trout), there are fishes that supply the needed essential fatty acids. There’s also the benefit of if you decide to take fish oil in supplement form a good brand will most likely have removed the mercury from the capsules/tablets.
Now, it boils down to the dilemma on which oil is better. Fish oil is still at lead according to many doctors but there is nothing wrong with consuming flaxseed oil. Flax seed has the advantage of easily being mixed daily with foods and drinks such as smoothies or yogurt. A personal recommendation would be to mix both. Take a few meals of fish a week, while paying attention to not eating big fish with high mercury concentrations, and add flax seed to daily snacks for added taste and health benefits. Another alternative is to research to find the best fish oil supplement that will have ample quantities of DHA/EPA with all the mercury refined out of it.
Another article with more information on this topic can be found on mark’s daily apple website.