Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Wisdom Wednesday: Flax Seed Oil

The oil extract from flax seed is comprised of both omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) is the primary omega 3 fatty acid in flax seed oil. As noted in previous blogs, the omega fatty acids are essential as we can not manufacture these oils from any other chemicals. We can however convert ALA to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the primary omega 3 fatty acids found in fish oil. ALA, EPA, and DHA all have health benefits, but most of the research on essential fatty acids has focused on EPA and DHA.

Conversion of ALA to EPA and/or DHA is often impaired in the human body. The chemical process is blocked by alcohol, saturated fats, trans fats, deficiencies of vitamins B3, B6 or zinc, some chemicals, and some viruses. The process is less effective as we age, under high stress, and in metabolic syndrome, especially diabetes.

In my practice I find patients who have a relatively clean diet, especially my vegetarians, often test for flax seed oil rather than fish oil. They don’t require the fish to make the conversion from ALA because they are quite capable of the chemical conversion themselves. Some patients will vacillate back and forth between the two sources as their health varies. A patient that moves from needing fish oil to flax seed oil is a sign of general improving health and/or a marked improvement in diet.

Flax seed oil is also called linseed oil. Linseed oil is commonly used to tan hides, stain wood, and is a common ingredient in paints. The name change is purely marketing, although commercial sources of linseed oil are likely rancid from lack of proper handing as a food or food supplement.

If you purchase flax seed oil as a liquid, please keep it in the refrigerator once the bottle has been opened. This will slow the onset of rancidity. You can eat the flax seed itself, which contain ligans that have additional health benefits. However, if supplementing omega 3 fatty acids, I recommend the pearl form as the gelatin covering will prevent rancidity until consumption.

Hemp seed and chia seed are also a good source of ALA. Again, conversion to EPA and DHA remain as an issue. All of these seeds are an excellent addition to the diet, sprinkled in a salad or added to a smoothie. However, it would be very difficult to consume enough of these seeds daily to make for the ever increasing deficiency of omega 3 fatty acids in our diet.

Just like fish oil, I use flax seed oil in my practice to reduce prostaglandin inflammation. When indicated in the QA protocol, it is generally much more effective than the fish oil. I believe that is because the patient that tests for flax seed oil is significantly healthier than one who tests for fish oil. The healthy diet that provides the chemistry to convert ALA to EPA and DHA is the base upon which good health is built.

Flax Seed Oil is a good alternative to fish oil but only if your diet is relatively clean.