A reader asked about an article she read that said “Not all omega-3′s are created equal. Those from flax (called ALA) don’t have all the benefits (such as helping with heart health) when compared with the omega-3′s derived from fatty fish such as salmon and tuna (called DHA and EPA).”
Reed Mangels, PhD, RD responded:
Thanks for your note. The article that you read wasn’t quite the whole picture. While the kind of omega-3 fatty acid found in flax (alpha-linolenic acid) does not have the same effect in terms of lowering triglyceride levels as EPA and DHA do, it has other benefits that are similar to those of DHA and EPA. Higher intakes of alpha-linolenic acid are associated with a reduced risk of heart attacks and fatal heart disease.
Our bodies are able to make some DHA and EPA from alpha-linolenic acid. The rates of production of DHA and EPA are quite low, however, so some people who do not have dietary sources of DHA and EPA choose to take supplements of these fatty acids. Vegan DHA and EPA supplements are available from vegan stores like The Vegetarian Site, Vegan Essentials, and Pangea. The supplements are made from microalgae.
The jury is still out as to whether or not vegans need to use supplements of DHA and EPA. One expert has said, “It is important to note the absence of reported adverse health effects in this population [vegans] that consumes no fish.” Vegetarians, including vegans already have very low rates of death from heart disease.
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