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Published on June 17, 2021

Flaxseed Oil vs Fish Oil: Which Is Better?

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Flaxseed Oil vs Fish Oil: Which Is Better?

Both flaxseed oil and fish oil supplements are sources of Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have so many known benefits, such as having a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain types of cancer, glaucoma, and stroke. This nutrient is essential for the body’s function, but our bodies are unable to produce them on their own. That’s why you should get enough Omega-3 fatty acids from outside sources as well.

In this article, I’ll discuss flaxseed oil vs fish oil and their various benefits and drawbacks to help you quickly make a more informed decision about which one of these is right for you.

Are These Supplements Safe?

According to the National Institutes of Health, side effects experienced by users of fish oil supplements, if any, are usually mild. These side effects may include unpleasant taste, bad breath, headache, and gastrointestinal symptoms. This could include symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, or heartburn.[1]

In terms of possible medication interactions, it’s noted that fish oil supplements may interfere with medicines that many Americans take to prevent blood clotting. If you’re on one of these medications or if you have a seafood allergy, it’s important to speak with your doctor before deciding to start taking Omega-3 supplements.

Regarding the safety of flaxseed oil supplements, according to Mayo Clinic, these supplements are also generally considered to be safe. However, they report that if taken in excess and without sufficient intakes of water, users may experience various gastrointestinal symptoms. These symptoms include bloating, gas, and diarrhea.[2]

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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) also advise that these supplements should not be taken during pregnancy. This is because some studies suggest that taking flaxseed oil later in pregnancy may increase the risk of premature birth.[3]

Mayo Clinic notes that, like fish oil supplements, flaxseed oil may also have negative interactions with some medications. Specifically, it’s important to consult your doctor before starting these medications if you’re on medications to reduce blood clotting, lower blood pressure, or manage your diabetes as these may interact negatively with a flaxseed oil supplement.[4]

How Much Should You Take?

The tricky thing about these supplements is that there is no standard recommended dosage for any of them. To be safe, it is recommended that you read the label on the supplement you choose to buy and make sure to only take the recommended dosage.

Regardless of whether you’re taking a fish oil or flaxseed oil supplement, you may benefit from speaking with your primary care doctor to determine what dosage is right for you. They may be able to work with you to come up with an appropriate dosage, which may help prevent unwanted side effects.

If you are interested in researching a particular brand of Omega-3 supplement, you can use the Dietary Supplement Label Database from the National Institutes of Health.[5]

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Flaxseed Oil vs. Fish Oil

Before we get into the various benefits of Fish Oil and Flaxseed Oil supplements, it’s important to have some basic knowledge about Omega-3 fatty acids.

There are three types of Omega-3 fatty acids: Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). EPA and DHA come mainly from fish while ALA comes mainly from plant sources such as flaxseed and walnuts.[6] This means that if you choose to take a fish oil supplement, you’ll be getting DHA and EPA, and if you choose a flaxseed oil supplement, you’ll be taking ALA.

Fish Oil Benefits

Fish Oil supplements typically contain oil that has been extracted from fatty fish, such as herring, tuna, or anchovies.[7] The Omega-3 found in fish oil is very important for our heart health. It can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and blood clots.[8] It can also help to reduce high blood pressure, which is common among adults in the United States.[9]

They can also help to reduce high cholesterol and plaque formation in your arteries.[10][11] They can also help reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death, which occurs when the heart is either pumping irregularly or ineffectively, making it unable to pump blood as intended to the rest of your vital organs.[12]

These supplements may have non-cardiac benefits as well. Studies show that they can reduce your risk of glaucoma, certain cancers, and certain mental health disorders.[13][14][15]

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Some studies have also shown that including Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil in your lifestyle may lead to improved weight loss when combined with a healthful diet.[16]

Flaxseed Oil Benefits

As we’ve noted, flaxseed oil contains the third type of Omega-3 fatty acid, Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). What the body does with ALA is incredibly interesting. It actually converts it into DHA and EPA, which are the Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil.

Something important to note, however, is that the body is not all that efficient at converting ALA to DHA and EPA. This means that the benefits of ALA may not necessarily be the same as those that you would get from just taking DHA and EPA. Studies seem to be overall mixed on whether taking flaxseed oil provides the same cardiac benefits as fish oil does. Specifically, it’s unclear whether or not flaxseed oil supplementation can lower cholesterol or reduce your risk of heart disease.[17]

According to the National Institutes of Health, studies have shown that taking flaxseed may help individuals with type 2 diabetes to manage their blood sugar levels. However, it’s important to note that these findings are for flaxseed, no flaxseed oil. NIH does note that it is unclear whether flaxseed oil would provide such a benefit.[18]

One big health benefit of flaxseed oil is its possible cancer-fighting ability. Studies have shown that taking flaxseed oil can stop the growth of cancer cells as well as cause apoptosis or death of cancer cells in certain types of cancer. One study found that the types of cancer which saw benefits from flaxseed oil intakes included breast cancer, cervical cancer, leukemia, and melanoma.[19]

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Flaxseed Oil Vs Fish Oil: Which Should You Take?

When deciding whether to take flaxseed oil vs fish oil supplements, there are some important things to consider. As I’ve discussed, fish oil supplements are a great source of DHA and EPA. In contrast, flaxseed oil supplements provide ALA, which the body ends up converting back to DHA and EPA, although inefficiently.

Additionally, the benefits of fish oil seem to be more deeply studied and more overall conclusive than the benefits of flaxseed oil. Fish oil supplements have been shown to provide so many benefits, including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, glaucoma, certain cancers, and various mental health disorders.

In contrast, the research regarding the benefits of flaxseed oil supplementation is lacking. While these supplements may have anti-cancer properties, the findings on further benefits are overall mixed.

In terms of safety, these two supplements come out relatively even. They’re both regarded as generally safe. However, both have interactions with various medications that need to be taken into consideration before starting supplementation.

If you’re trying to settle on an Omega-3 supplement, I recommend trying a fish oil supplement over a flaxseed oil supplement. Fish oil has so many proven benefits while the research on flaxseed oil is significantly less convincing. Fish oil also has the benefit of providing EPA and DHA directly, so your body does not need to do any extra work to convert it.

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If you choose to take a fish oil supplement, know that you’ll be quickly reducing your risk of various chronic diseases with overall very minimal effort on your part. As always, make sure to check with your doctor before starting any supplementation to prevent negative side effects or drug interactions.

Featured photo credit: New Food Magazine via newfoodmagazine.com

Reference

[1] National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: Omega-3 Supplements: In-Depth
[2] Mayo Clinic: Flaxseed and flaxseed oil
[3] National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: Flaxseed and Flaxseed Oil
[4] Mayo Clinic: Flaxseed and flaxseed oil
[5] National Institutes of Health: Dietary Supplement Label Database (DSLD)
[6] Harvard School of Public Health: Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution
[7] Healthline: What’s the Difference Between Cod Liver Oil and Fish Oil?
[8] Cleveland Clinic: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
[9] PubMed.gov: Moderate consumption of fatty fish reduces diastolic blood pressure in overweight and obese European young adults during energy restriction
[10] ResearchGate: Omega-3 fatty acids in health and disease and growth and development
[11] PubMed.gov: Effect of omega-3 fatty acids supplementation on endothelial function: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials
[12] Mayo Clinic: Ventricular fibrillation
[13] TVST: Oral Omega-3 Supplementation Lowers Intraocular Pressure in Normotensive Adults
[14] PubMed.gov: Dietary fatty acids and colorectal cancer: a case-control study
[15] PubMed.gov: Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids for indicated prevention of psychotic disorders: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial
[16] PubMed.gov: Randomized trial of weight-loss-diets for young adults varying in fish and fish oil content
[17] Mount Sinai: Flaxseed oil
[18] NIH: Flaxseed and Flaxseed Oil
[19] NCBI: Treatment with flaxseed oil induces apoptosis in cultured malignant cells

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Samantha Klig, RD

Registered Dietitian

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Published on October 19, 2021

13 Fish Oil Benefits For Women And Men

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13 Fish Oil Benefits For Women And Men

Fish oils are great sources of omega-3 and -6 fatty acids. Omega fats are essential, meaning that they can’t be synthesized in your body and have to be eaten in your diet. Omega-3 is synthesized by microalgae—not by fish—but accumulates in the tissue when they are eaten by fish and shellfish further up the food chain. Oily fish contains about 30% fat in their tissues, and this is where the omega fatty acids are found. There are many claims about omega-3 fatty acids in fish oils. But what is the evidence of the real benefits of fish oil for men and women? Can fish oils really improve your brain health, reduce your cholesterol, or help your heart?

Learn about the role of omega-3 as signaling molecules, in cell membranes, arthritis, and even eye disease. Find out the main benefits of fish oil for men and women and how to get enough.

What Are Omega Fatty Acids?

There are two types of fats or fatty acids that are essential and can’t be produced in our bodies: omega-3 and omega-6. Omega-3 can be broken down into three main forms: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Fish oils contain DHA and EPA omega fatty acids and are a good source of these essential fats.

13 Benefits of Fish Oil (Omega Fatty Acids)

There are several different health benefits of omega fatty acids. Below are the 13 most common fish oil benefits for men and women.

1. Structural Role in Cells

Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids have an important structural role, as they are needed for cell membranes. You have an estimated 724 trillion cells in your body, and that is a lot of cell membranes to keep healthy.

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2. Energy Source

Both omega-3 and -6 are sources of energy, just like any other fat source. This means they can be used alongside energy from carbohydrates to power your body, providing energy for essential functions and exercise.

3. Signaling Molecules

Omega fatty acids are used to form signaling molecules called eicosanoids, comprised of prostaglandins, thromboxanes, and leukotrienes that have extremely important functions within our bodies.

Prostaglandins

There are many different prostaglandins with wide-ranging roles, such as the sensation of pain, inflammation, regulation of pregnancy and birth, control of blood pressure, secretion of stomach acid, contraction, and relaxation of smooth muscle.

Thromboxanes

Thromboxanes regulate blood clotting by causing constriction of blood vessels and the aggregation of platelets (so they stick together), which are early steps in blood clotting.

Leukotrienes

Leukotrienes are involved in immune function by attracting immune cells, such as neutrophils, to sites of inflammation. They also constrict bronchioles in the lungs and make capillary walls permeable.

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4. Prevent Heart Diseases

Cardiovascular events are diseases related to blood vessels, such as clots, rhythm problems, and heart attacks. Studies have found that ALA may reduce the risk of cardiovascular events.[1][2]

5. Decrease Cholesterol and Triglycerides

Triglycerides are part of your cholesterol profile. Higher levels are associated with an increased risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease. Studies have found that there is an inverse relationship between omega-3 and triglyceride levels.[3] This means that an increased intake of omega-3 led to a decrease in triglycerides and that higher doses of omega-3 led to a greater effect. This effect was stronger in people who already had raised triglycerides.

One of the ways of decreasing your risk of cardiovascular disease is by lowering your cholesterol. One study found that EPA and DHA decreased triglycerides by about 15% and reduced the risk of coronary artery death and coronary events, which are illnesses of arteries supplying the heart.

6. Improve Brain Health

A grouped meta-analysis has not found any link between omega 3 and dementia, but more information is needed to see if omega-3 can prevent cognitive decline. Learn more about this here: How Fish Oil Boosts Your Mental Clarity And Brain Power

7. Help With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Omega-3 supplements have been found to benefit the clinical outcomes of rheumatoid arthritis and may even delay the need for medications.[4][5]

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8. Decrease Progression of Osteoarthritis

A large prospective study in patients with wear and tear (osteoarthritis OA) found that a higher intake of total and saturated fat was associated with an increased risk of worsening OA, whereas a higher intake of unsaturated fats was associated with decreased progression of OA measured via X-rays.[6]

The current opinion is that the metabolic products of omega-3 fatty acids are less inflammatory than those produced from omega6 fatty acids. Western diets are associated with an imbalance of omega-3 and -6 such that instead of levels of omega-3 being higher than omega-6, the reverse is more commonly seen.

9. Prevent Autoimmune Diseases

There is also limited evidence that omega-3 supplementation may benefit people with other types of autoimmune arthropathies like systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), but more research is needed.

10. Good For Eye Health

The macula is part of the retina at the back of the eye, and although it is tiny—only about 5mm across—it has a very important role in vision. It is responsible for our central vision, most of our color vision, and the fine detail of what we see. Getting enough omega-3 is linked to a reduced risk of macular degeneration, one of the world’s leading causes of permanent eye damage and blindness.[7][8]

11. Boost Your Mood

It is suggested that omega-3 may play a role in the prevention and treatment of depression. However, meta-analyses of the data have not confirmed clear benefits. Instead, more research looking at the effect of supplementing omega-3 in people with depression is needed.[9]

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12. Lower Blood Pressure

The evidence of the benefit of omega-3 fatty acids on high blood pressure (hypertension) is mixed with large-scale studies showing either no effect or a small reduction in risk of hypertension.[10][11] Omega-3 fats do have other health benefits, though. They are unlikely to do harm and are easily incorporated into your diet by eating oily fish twice a week and seeds, such as chia seeds, flaxseeds, and nuts.

13. Help With Fertility

Omega-3 appears to have a role in a healthy gamete (eggs and sperm) formation with consumption associated with increased probability of pregnancy and live birth rate.[12][13][14]

Where Are Omega Fatty Acids Found?

If you are allergic to fish or don’t eat it, how can you get enough omega-3? There are other sources of ALA is found in plant oils, such as flaxseed, soybean, and canola oils. DHA and EPA are found in oily fish, fish oils, and krill oils. DHA and EPA are synthesized by microalgae, not by the fish, but they accumulate in the tissue when they are eaten by fish and shellfish further up the food chain.

Final Thoughts

While there is evidence of the benefits for eye health, arthritis, improved cholesterol, and heart health, evidence to support the benefits of fish oil in helping high blood pressure, protecting brain health, and preventing dementia are less convincing.

Studies have found a “whole food effect” where eating oily fish appears to be more beneficial than supplementing with a fish or cod liver oil. There are also other plant-based sources of omega-3. Although some of these studies suggest that the more omega-3 the better, there is a limit to the recommended dose of supplements unless prescribed by your doctor.

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Omega-3 supplements may interfere with warfarin, due to its anti-platelet role in clotting, so it’s best to check with your doctor before starting a supplement.

Featured photo credit: Louis Hansel via unsplash.com

Reference

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