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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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. 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. It can also help to reduce high blood pressure, which is common among adults in the United States.
They can also help to reduce high cholesterol and plaque formation in your arteries. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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