Flaxseed Oil: The New Fish Oil

Flaxseed oil capsules are a plant-based alternative to fish oil for boosting healthy omega-3 levels, study says.

October 6, 2008

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Fish oil supplements boost your body’s level of omega-3 fatty acids, which could lower heart-disease risk, ease heart-disease symptoms, promote better brain function, and ward off Alzheimer’s disease and depression. But some people find the aftertaste off-putting—fish burps anyone?—and capsules use oil from fish farms that are environmentally unfriendly. A new study shows that oil from flaxseed is a healthy alternative.

THE DETAILS: Canadian researchers put 62 firefighters on a daily regimen of flaxseed-oil capsules or fish-oil capsules. The firefighters took them every day for 3 months, and the levels of beneficial omega-3s in their blood were measured every 2 weeks. As expected, the fish oil boosted levels of the omega-3 subtypes EPA, DPA, and DHA. The flaxseed oil produced a similar bump in EPA and DPA, as well as a significant boost to another type, ALA (two capsules a day was enough to do the trick). However, there was not a boost in DHA, and it’s still not clear if ALA provides the same health benefits as DHA.


WHAT IT MEANS: Fish are often contaminated with mercury and other pollutants, and are sometimes harvested when species’ numbers are perilously low. Also, farmed-fish operations can harm wild fisheries through genetic contamination and spread of parasites and pollution. This study suggests that another choice, flaxseed oil, can also give you a boost of at least some omega-3s. And flax is likely better for the environment. “There are not that many sustainable fisheries, so flaxseed might be a good alternative,” says Laura Pagano, staff lawyer for Natural Resources Defense Council’s oceans program. Look for a flaxseed-oil brand that’s organic; add an algae supplement for that missing DHA boost. If you don’t want to take capsules, add flaxseed oil to your salad. And if you prefer to stick with fish oil, check the label to see if the oil comes from a sustainable fishery certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or is listed “green” on the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch.