By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness
September 18, 2017
- Are plant-based omega-3 fatty acids the same as those that come from fish?
- Here’s what flaxseed and Ahiflower® are missing
- The best source of omega-3s on earth
One of the supplements I recommend everyone take… every single day… is omega-3 fatty acids. Your body doesn’t produce them on its own, and it can’t function without them. So these essential oils have to come from dietary sources.
But surprisingly, choosing an appropriate omega-3 supplement isn’t nearly as cut-and-dried as you might think.
Part of the confusion arises when plant-based products, like flaxseed oil, claim to provide omega-3 benefits. It sounds good in theory, especially if you’re a vegetarian. However, plant-based omega-3s are not interchangeable with those that come from fish oil.
You see, the main omega-3 fatty acids your body needs are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These are the ones that come from fish… the ones that slash inflammation and help protect against heart disease, eye problems, nervous system disorders and mental decline.
Plant-based omega-3’s, on the other hand, contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). This fatty acid doesn’t have the same health benefits as EPA and DHA. And even though it’s a precursor to EPA, it’s not a very good one. Only very small amounts are converted to EPA. And conversion to DHA is nearly absent.
But today there’s a new plant-based product out that contains fourth type of fatty acid called stearidonic acid, or SDA. And it’s getting a lot of media attention for its omega-3 benefits.
Let’s see how it stacks up…
New Product Delivers EPA… But DHA is Still Missing
The product is called Ahiflower® oil. And I have to agree with their advertising claims on one point: You’ll probably get better results with it than you would from flaxseed oil.
The reason it works better than other plant-based omega-3’s is simple. Like ALA, SDA is an EPA precursor. And the conversion rate is somewhere between 20 to 30%. This is much higher than ALA’s measly 6% conversion rate.
Still, the amount of EPA is much less than you would get from fish oil. And you won’t get any DHA from it. So it doesn’t really stack up against omega-3’s from natural fish sources.
Plus, I feel some of the manufacturer claims may be debatable. To date, there is only one small human study on it. It shows that Ahiflower® oil boosts EPA and a few other fatty acid levels. It was also found to increases an anti-inflammatory cytokine known as IL-10.
But here’s the thing. The study was partially funded by the makers of the supplement. And the exclusion list for the study was lengthy. In particular, anyone who took an omega-3 supplement within a month prior to the study and anyone who ate fatty fish more than twice in the month was excluded.
This indicates the participants may have been somewhat deficient to start with. So any boost at all could make enough difference to skew the results. (This isn’t to say there are no health benefits to the product. I’m simply noting that further unbiased studies are warranted to determine just how substantial they might be.)
The Best Omega-3 Sources on Earth
If you absolutely insist on a vegetarian source of omega-3 fatty acids, your best bet is to choose one made from marine algae. Unlike land-plants, many microalgae produce high levels of EPA and DHA. In fact, these marine plants are the initial source of EPA and DHA found in the aquatic food chain.
Otherwise stick with the tried and true.
I generally recommended fish oil supplements. However, some of my patients are partial to cod liver oil. Others love the convenience of tiny krill oil capsules.
If you prefer one of these sources over the other, I won’t argue with you. But I will give you a few words of caution.
- Store-bought cod liver oils are usually highly refined and oxidized (rancid).
- The extraction of krill oil typically involves the use of solvents that can leave chemical residue behind.
- If your omega-3s come from farm-raised fish, they’re no good at all.
Because of these pitfalls, I find that most of my patients have a much easier time selecting a high quality fish oil supplement.
All you have to look for is one that contains oil from fresh, wild-caught, deep-sea fish that has been molecularly distilled for purity. I recommend looking for one that contains about 1200 mg EPA and 800 mg DHA for best results. Then, take between 2,000 and 4,000 mg daily.
Swanson D, et al. Omega-3 Fatty Acids EPA and DHA: Health Benefits Throughout Life. Adv Nutr. 2012 Jan; 3(1): 1–7.
Lefort N, et al. Dietary Buglossoides Arvensis Oil Increases Circulating n-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in a Dose-Dependent Manner and Enhances Lipopolysaccharide-Stimulated Whole Blood Interleukin-10-A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial. Nutrients. 2017 Mar 10;9(3). pii: E261.
Doughman SD, et al. Omega-3 fatty acids for nutrition and medicine: considering microalgae oil as a vegetarian source of EPA and DHA. Curr Diabetes Rev. 2007 Aug;3(3):198-203.
Adarme-Vega TC, et al. Microalgal biofactories: a promising approach towards sustainable omega-3 fatty acid production. Microb Cell Fact. 2012; 11: 96.