• ALA, Alpha-linolenic Acid, Linseed Oil
Flaxseed oil is derived from the hard, tiny seeds of the flax plant. It has been proposed as a less smelly alternative to fish oil. Like fish oil, flaxseed oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, a type of fat your body needs as much as it needs vitamins.
However, it's important to realize that the omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseed oil aren't identical to what you get from fish oil. Flaxseed oil contains alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), while fish oil contains eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The effects and potential benefits may not be the same.
Flaxseed oil contains both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are essential to health. Although the exact daily requirement of these essential fatty acids is not known, deficiencies are believed to be fairly common. 2
The essential fatty acids in flax can be damaged by exposure to heat, light, and oxygen (essentially, they become rancid). For this reason, you shouldn't cook with flaxseed oil. A good product should be sold in an opaque container, and the manufacturing process should keep the temperature under 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Some manufacturers combine the product with vitamin E because it helps prevent rancidity.
A typical dosage is 1 to 2 tablespoons of flaxseed oil daily. It can be taken in capsule form or made into salad dressing. Some people find the taste pleasant, although others would politely disagree.
For whole flaxseed, a typical dose is 1 tablespoon of the seed (not ground) with plenty of liquid 2 to 3 times daily.
The best use of flaxseed oil is as a general nutritional supplement to provide essential fatty acids. There is little evidence that it is effective for any specific therapeutic purpose.
Flaxseed oil has been proposed as a less smelly alternative to fish oil for the prevention of
. However, there is as yet no consistent evidence that it works. One double-blind study of 56 people failed to find that flax oil improved
One study found that a diet high in ALA (from sources other than flaxseed oil) was associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.
It has been suggested that flaxseed oil may have
5. Singer P, Jaeger W, Berger I, et al. Effects of dietary oleic, linoleic, and alpha-linolenic acids on blood pressure, serum lipids, lipoproteins and the formation of eicosanoid precursors in patients with mild essential hypertension. J Hum Hypertens . 1990;4:227–233.
8. Nordstrom DCE, Honkanen VEA, Nasu Y, et al. Alpha-linolenic acid in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. A double-blind, placebo-controlled and randomized study: Flaxseed vs. safflower seed. Rheumatol Int . 1995;14:231–234.
14. Maillard V, Bougnoux P, Ferrari P, et al. N-3 and N-6 fatty acids in breast adipose tissue and relative risk of breast cancer in a case-control study in Tours, France. Int J Cancer . 2002;98:78-83.
15. Fritsche KL, Johnston PV. Effect of dietary alpha-linolenic acid on growth, metastasis, fatty acid profile and prostaglandin production of two murine mammary adenocarcinomas. J Nutr . 1990;120:1601–1609.
18. Knudsen VK, Hansen HS, Osterdal ML et al. Fish oil in various doses or flax oil in pregnancy and timing of spontaneous delivery: a randomised controlled trial. BJOG. 2006 Mar 27 [Epub ahead of print].
20. Paschos GK, Magkos F, Panagiotakos DB, et al. Dietary supplementation with flaxseed oil lowers blood pressure in dyslipidaemic patients. Eur J Clin Nutr . 2007. (advance online publication 31 January 2007)
Last reviewed April 2009 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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