What is Omega 3 Alpha-Linolenic acid?

Alpha-linolenic acid is an essential omega-3 fatty acid that can be obtained from the diet and supplements.

Although fat has received a bad reputation over the years, we do need some as it is an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet. In particular, the ‘good’ or ‘essential’ fats we need to incorporate into our diet are called omega-3 fatty acids. These fats are considered essential because the body cannot make them1.

One such omega-3 fatty acid is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which is found in plant oils such as flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, and walnut oils. Seed oils are the richest source of ALA.

What are the benefits and sources of omega-3 fats? How do you know if you are deficient and how much do you need?

I will answer all these questions and more, to tell you everything you need to know about omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid.

What is Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA)?

Alpha-linolenic acid is one of three different types of omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

Alpha-linolenic acid is mostly found in plant sources such as flax, chia, and linseeds. Whereas DHA and EPA are mainly found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herrings.

Alpha-linolenic acid is a type of essential fat because the body cannot make it. Therefore, it needs to be obtained through food or supplementation.

If you have a deficiency then you may experience symptoms such as scaly skin, brittle fingernails, and dandruff.

You may not know this, but fat also helps the body absorb Vitamin A, Vitamin D, and Vitamin E. These vitamins are known as fat-soluble, which means they can only be absorbed with the help of fats, which is another reason why they are so important.

chia seeds
British Heart Foundation statistics reveal that 60% of the UK adult population have high cholesterol

Benefits of Omega-3

Some of the health benefits of omega-3 fats within our body include improving cognitive and brain health, supporting low mood, reducing joint pain and inflammation2.

However, the most commonly known benefit of omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid is that it supports the maintenance of healthy cholesterol levels which is obtained with a daily intake of 2g3,4.

Sources of Alpha-Linolenic Acid

Now we have a greater understanding of how important alpha-linolenic acid is for our bodies, where can we find it, and which foods are rich in alpha-linolenic acid?

The good news is that alpha-linolenic acid is readily available in many fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods, such as nuts and seeds.

One of the richest sources is chia, flax, and hemp seeds. Walnuts have high levels and surprisingly, Brussels sprouts are also an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, and they have the added benefit of containing Vitamin C and fibre.

Optibac For Cholesterol is a natural supplement containing live cultures and omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid which supports the maintenance of healthy cholesterol levels. It is gluten-free, dairy-free, and suitable during pregnancy.

For cholesterol probiotics
Optibac For Cholesterol live cultures

Should I take an Omega-3 supplement?

If you are vegan, vegetarian, or do not consume fish in your diet then taking an omega-3 supplement could be considered essential and is an effective way to incorporate this fat into your diet.

It is safe to take omega-3 supplements alongside statins or other cholesterol-lowering medication, however, always speak to your doctor about taking a supplement first. They may have specific guidance, depending on your health and other medication you take.

When should I not take an Omega-3 supplement?

Although omega-3 fats are considered essential in our diet, there may be some situations when due to certain medical conditions and medications they are not suitable.

If you suffer from a serious health condition or take prescription medication, you should always speak to your doctor or health care team for further guidance before taking any supplements.

What are the signs of Omega-3 deficiency?

You may find that if you’re not eating a balanced diet, you may experience some of the signs and symptoms associated with omega-3 deficiency such as dry skin, low mood, dry eyes, fatigue, joint pain, and stiffness2.

As these symptoms can be quite common if, in any doubt, you should always speak to your doctor to rule out any underlying factors.

 How much Alpha-Linolenic Acid do I need?

To support your body and avoid deficiency of alpha-linolenic acid, how much do you need to take daily?

The National Institute of Medicine has set daily adequate intake (AI) levels for alpha-linolenic acid for anyone over the age of 14 are as follows:

  • 1.6g for males
  • 1.1g for females

Some supplements may contain much more than these amounts; however, these are the minimum recommended daily allowances. The AI levels are established when there is insufficient evidence to develop a recommended dietary allowance (RDA) and AI is assumed to ensure nutritional adequacy4.

Optibac For Cholesterol is a live cultures supplement that contains alpha-linolenic acid and live cultures. It is gluten-free, dairy-free, and suitable during pregnancy.

Please be mindful that if you are taking other vitamin and mineral supplements you might want to consult with your doctor or health care professional before starting any new supplements.

Can I take Alpha-Linolenic Acid every day?

As we are now aware of the benefits that omega-3 fatty acids have on the body, most people would benefit from consuming foods that contain alpha-linolenic acid or taking a supplement to avoid deficiency, as we know they are essential for the body to function well. 

However, it is not always advisable to supplement, due to potential interactions with certain medications. If you have a chronic health condition or are taking medication you should always speak to your health care team or doctor for further guidance before taking any new supplement.

This FAQ was answered by Claire Foss DipION mBANT mCNHC

If you have enjoyed this article, then you may like to read the other articles in this series: Added Nutrients.

You might also enjoy the following articles:

Five Holistic Heart Health Tips

Health Experts’ Advice on Having Your Happiest Summer Yet

Additional articles can be found on the Probiotics Learning Lab:

Best Probiotics for Cholesterol and Heart Health

Microbiome, Body Fat & Cholesterol

References

  1. Spector A; Kim H. (2015). Discovery of essential fatty acids. Journal of lipid research. 56 (1), 11-21.
  2. Weylandt K et al., (2015). Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids: The Way Forward in Times of Mixed Evidence. Biomed Research International . 2015 (Article ID 143109), 24 pages. https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/143109
  3. Zhao et al. (2004) Dietary Linolenic Acid Reduces Inflammatory and Lipid Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Hypercholesterolemic Men and Women. The Journal of Nutrition; 134: 2991-2997
  4. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Micronutrients). Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2005. Available at: www.nap.edu/books/10490/html/.
  5. Bresson JL et al., (2009). Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to alpha-linolenic acid and maintenance of normal blood cholesterol concentrations (ID 493) and maintenance of normal blood pressure (ID 625) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 . European Food Safety Authority. 7 (9), 1252.