For vegans, the question of whether flaxseed oil is better than fish oil is a moot point. Their dietary restrictions eliminate the fish oil, so they consume flax seed oil to supplement their diets.
Most health authorities agree that eating fatty fish provides a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. Eating fish that are high in fat has been proven to lower triglycerides. It can cause high blood pressure to go down very quickly and it can lower the risk of heart disease. Eating fatty fish can also help reduce chronic inflammation. Recent research has suggested that chronic inflammation is the underlying cause of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure and other diseases. Eating fish, or taking supplements that contain the oils from fatty fish, however, are not without risks.
Pollution is a huge factor in weighing the pros and cons of flax seed oil over oil that has been extracted from fish. Over the last 30 years, toxic water contaminants have found their way into the bodies of fish that swim in the polluted water. Arsenic, dioxins, PCBs, DDT, mercury and other contaminants found in fish have varied by locale, species, whether the fish are farmed or wild. While swordfish are found to have the highest levels of mercury, salmon have been found to have very little mercury in their bodies, but have higher amounts of toxins such as arsenic.
Ironically, farmed salmon have more toxic contaminants than wild salmon, however. This has been attributed to contaminants found in the food they are given. Discovery of the high levels of contaminants in farmed salmon have spawned recent efforts to improve farming conditions, but there is insufficient data available to determine how widespread the efforts are.
Oils from fish contain two vital omega-3s, DHA and EPA. Fish feed on algae and get these omega-3s from that source. Vegetarian DHA supplements are made from the same types of algae. Taking supplements that contain the oils from fatty fish can guarantee that one’s body gets enough of DHA and EPA. However, the process by which the supplements are processed to remove the toxins and pollutants can also lessen the potency of the omega-3 acids.
Another omega-3 oil that the body needs is alpha-linolenic acid. The oil from flax seeds contains ALA. While the body cannot produce ALA itself, it can manufacture the other omega-3s that are needed if ALA is supplemented. The body is not very effective in converting ALA to other omega-3s, however, especially as people advance in age. Women’s bodies are designed to have a more efficient conversion rate than men’s because of women’s need to meet the nutritional needs of their babies during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
The best and most beneficial course of action is to eat modest amounts of fish, to either take oil supplements that derive from fatty fish, or supplement with vegetarian algae-based DHA supplements. This will ensure that one’s body receives the supplies of DHA and EPA that it needs.
However, caution should be exercised in not taking too many omega-3s. Adding flax oil ensures a necessary intake of alpha-linolenic acid that the oil from fish does not contain. Flax contains 8000 mg. of alpha-linolenic acid per tablespoon. ALA metabolically competes with the other essential acids that one’s body is unable to produce for itself.
The oil from fatty fish should be monitored to prevent too much omega-3 acid intake, while the oil from flax seeds helps the body produce those omega-3s without producing more than the body needs.
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