Volume 3, Issue 37
September 30, 2010

Does flaxseed lower your cholesterol and triglycerides better than fish oil?

As you may know, I'm a huge fan of ground flaxseed. I showed you last week how eating ground flaxseed is far better than eating flax oil or whole flaxseed. The benefits of flaxseed are so strong, some are wondering whether you should take flaxseed instead of fish oil. A new study gives a very clear answer on whether this is a good idea or not.

The study looked at the effects of eating either flaxseed or flax oil. They wanted to know if flax would lower cholesterol and triglycerides better than fish oil. Flax oil is very high in the omega-3 oil alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). However, ALA is not a metabolically active fat. Our bodies have to convert ALA to the active fats eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) or docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). We do this through the action of an enzyme called delta-6-desaturase.

But, as I've mentioned in the past, many people do not have a very active delta-6-desaturase enzyme system. So for these people, eating flax is not all that great an idea. Instead, they should eat foods that contain EPA and DHA, such as high EPA/DHA eggs and fish and grass-fed beef and poultry. For maximum effect, they should take supplements of EPA and DHA fish oil. And this new study really underlines this fact.

In the study, the researchers gave three groups of people either 30 grams of whole flaxseed, 30 grams of ground flaxseed, or 6 grams (about 1« tsp.) of flax oil every day for three months.ÿ Then they measured how high the levels of ALA, EPA, and DHA increased as a result. Here's what they found.

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The whole flaxseed did not raise the level of any of the fats. Both the ground flax and the flax oil did raise the blood levels of ALA. But the significant fact is that no matter how they ate the flax, it did not increase their blood levels of either EPA or DHA in any of these healthy men and women. And, as a result, there were no changes in plasma cholesterol or triglycerides or in platelet aggregation. That's because it's the EPA and DHA that are active, not the ALA.

So once again, if you want to get the maximum benefits of the omega-3 fats (and I know you do), don't expect that much from flax oil or flaxseed. Instead, be sure to eat the foods and take the supplements I just mentioned that contain EPA and DHA. Don't get me wrong. I still love ground flax. It is a great source of important fibers. And it can be very helpful for many people who need extra fiber for regularity. But it's not a good source of EPA and DHA — the omega-3s proven to reduce cholesterol and triglycerides — for most people.

Finding your Real Cures,

Frank Shallenberger, MD

REF: Austria JA, Richard MN, Chahine MN, Edel AL, Malcolmson LJ, Dupasquier CM, Pierce GN. Bioavailability of alpha-linolenic acid in subjects after ingestion of three different forms of flaxseed. J Am Coll Nutr. 2008 Apr;27(2):214-21.

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