A lot of bodybuilders believe they’re getting all the good omega-3 fatty acids they need from flaxseed. Many take it in pill or oil form, and some even grind up flaxseed and put it in their protein drinks. The problem is, the omega-3 fat found in flaxseed is different from that found in fish oil.
According to Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., “The dirty little secret about omega-3s is that the two found in fish and the one found in flax are quite different and may be anything but equal in their effects on human health. The two omega-3s found in fish oil are like Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal—the one in flaxseed oil is a very talented young fellow who may or may not grow up to be a star.”
The omega-3 in flax is alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, while the two in fish are eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, and docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA. As Bowden says, the two in fish are the superstars with a lot of research supporting their health benefits. The ALA in flax doesn’t have a lot of data supporting it; however, new studies are being conducted to determine its function and benefits.
Some of the ALA from flaxseed is, of course, converted in the body to EPA and DHA. The question is, How much? Some studies show that taking in a lot of ALA improves blood counts of EPA but not DHA—and DHA is very important for brain function. Even more disturbing is that omega-6 fats, which are found in vegetable oil, derail the conversion of ALA in flax to EPA and DHA.
So if you’re using flaxseed as your only source of omega-3s, it’s time to supplement with some fish oil capsules as well. You want the full array of essential fatty acids so you get all the health, muscle-building and fat-burning benefits of good fat.