FAQ: What is the difference between omega-3 fatty acids from flaxseed and those found in fish oil?



Flaxseed is very high in the omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). This is an "essential" omega-3 fat because our bodies are not able to produce it and we must consume it in our diets from sources like flaxseed. Other omega-3 fats, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), found in marine sources such as fish, krill and algae, are vital for health, but are not considered "essential” because our bodies can make them from ALA. All of these omega-3 fatty acids help decrease inflammation, which is a trigger for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and arthritis. Flaxseed is unique in that it also is a rich source of lignans, a type of phytoestrogen that may reduce the risk of cancer, as well as a rich source of fibre, which lowers cholesterol and maintains digestive health. Although fish does not have lignans and fibre like flaxseed, it is a good source of protein. Fish can contain traces of mercury, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Health Canada advise women who are pregnant, nursing, or may become pregnant, as well as young children, to avoid eating certain fish. As a plant food, flaxseed is also advantageous over fish sources of omega-3 fatty acids due to concerns regarding the limited global availability, high cost, allergenicity, and sustainability of seafood products.