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Flaxseed oil and fish oil are both advertised for their health benefits.
Both oils provide omega-3 fatty acids and have been shown to reduce risk factors for heart disease like high blood pressure (1).
You may be wondering how they differ – and whether one is an advantage.
This article examines the similarities and differences between flaxseed oil and fish oil so you can see which is the best choice for you.
The flax plant (Linum usitatissimum) is an ancient crop that has been cultivated since the beginning of civilization (2).
It was first used in the United States to make fabrics for clothing and other textiles.
The flax plant contains nutritious seeds commonly known as flax seeds.
Flaxseed oil is obtained by cold pressing ripened and dried flaxseeds. The oil is also commonly referred to as linseed oil.
Flaxseed oil can be used in a variety of ways. It is commercially available in both liquid and capsule forms.
Countless studies have linked flaxseed oil to powerful health benefits, likely related to its high levels of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids (3).
Flaxseed oil is made by pressing dried flaxseed. This oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and has been linked to numerous health benefits.
Fish oil is one of the most popular nutritional supplements on the market.
It is made by extracting oil from fish tissue.
Diet supplements are usually made with oil obtained from oily fish such as herring, mackerel, or tuna, which are particularly rich in omega-3 fatty acids (4).
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating a variety of fatty fish at least twice a week to reap the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for heart health (5).
Yet many people fail to make this recommendation.
Fish oil supplements can help you get enough omega-3s, especially if you’re not a huge fan of seafood.
Typical fish oil supplements contain 1,000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids, which is proportional to a 3 ounce (85 grams) serving of fatty fish (4).
As with flaxseed oil, many of the benefits of fish oil seem to come from its omega-3 fatty acids.
Numerous studies have linked fish oil to improved markers for heart disease (6, 7).
In fact, certain fish oil supplements are often prescribed by health care providers to help lower blood triglyceride levels.
Fish oil supplements are made from the oil extracted from fish tissue. Fish oil supplements are high in omega-3 fatty acids and can reduce the risk factors associated with heart disease.
Omega-3s are essential fats, which means that you need to get them with your food as your body cannot make them on its own.
They have been linked to numerous health benefits, such as a reduced risk of heart disease, less inflammation, and improved mood (8, 9, 10).
Fish oil and flaxseed oil each contain an impressive amount of omega-3 fatty acids.
The main types of omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (11).
A typical fish oil supplement contains 180 mg of EPA and 120 mg of DHA, but the amount varies by supplement and brand (4).
Flaxseed oil, on the other hand, contains the omega-3 fatty acid known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) (12).
EPA and DHA are found predominantly in animal foods such as oily fish, while ALA is primarily found in plants.
The appropriate intake (AI) for ALA is 1.1 grams per day for adult women and 1.6 grams per day for adult men (4).
In just 1 tablespoon (15 ml), flaxseed oil contains a whopping 7.3 grams of ALA, which far exceeds your daily needs (4, 13).
However, ALA is not biologically active and needs to be converted to EPA and DHA to be used for anything other than just stored energy like other types of fat (14).
While ALA is still an essential fatty acid, EPA and DHA are linked to many other health benefits (15).
In addition, the process of converting ALA to EPA and DHA is quite inefficient in humans (16).
For example, one study found that in adults only 5% of ALA is converted to EPA and less than 0.5% of ALA is converted to DHA (17).
Both fish oil and flaxseed oil are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oil is high in EPA and DHA, while flaxseed oil is high in ALA.
Although fish oil and flaxseed oil are different, they can offer some of the same health benefits.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide (18).
Many studies have shown that both flaxseed oil and fish oil can benefit heart health.
In particular, supplementation with these oils has been shown to lower blood pressure in adults, even in small doses (19, 20, 21, 22).
In addition, fish oil supplements have been strongly linked to decreased triglycerides.
In addition, supplementing with fish oil also improves HDL (good) cholesterol and can lower your blood triglycerides by up to 30% (23, 24).
Flaxseed oil can also have beneficial effects on cholesterol levels when taken as a supplement. Some studies have shown that flaxseed oil can be effective in lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol and increasing protective HDL cholesterol (25, 26, 27).
Skin health skin
Flaxseed oil and fish oil benefit your skin mainly because of their omega-3 fatty acid content.
Numerous studies have shown that fish oil supplements can improve a number of skin conditions, including dermatitis, psoriasis, and skin damage caused by ultraviolet (UV) exposure (28).
Likewise, flaxseed oil can help treat several skin conditions.
For example, a small study of 13 women found that taking flaxseed oil for 12 weeks improved skin properties such as skin sensitivity, moisture, and suppleness (29).
Chronic inflammation is linked to an increased risk of conditions like diabetes and Crohn’s disease.
Controlling inflammation can reduce the symptoms associated with these diseases.
Research studies have shown that fish oil has anti-inflammatory properties due to its omega-3 fatty acid content (30).
For example, fish oil has been linked to decreased production of inflammatory markers called cytokines (31, 32).
In addition, numerous studies have found the beneficial effects of fish oil on inflammation associated with chronic conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus (33).
However, research on flaxseed oil and its effects on inflammation is mixed.
While some animal studies have identified flaxseed oil’s anti-inflammatory potential, the results in humans are mixed (34, 35).
Ultimately, more research is needed to fully understand the anti-inflammatory effects of flaxseed oil in humans.
Both oils can help lower blood pressure and improve triglyceride and cholesterol levels. Flaxseed oil and fish oil both promote skin health. Fish oil has been shown to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties, while research for flaxseed oil is mixed.
In addition to the common fish oil health benefits listed above, flaxseed oil can also be beneficial in treating gastrointestinal symptoms.
Studies have shown that flaxseed oil can be helpful in treating constipation and diarrhea.
One animal study showed that flaxseed oil had both laxative and antidiarrheal effects (36).
Another study showed that taking 4 ml of flaxseed oil daily in dialysis patients with end-stage renal disease helped improve stool regularity and consistency (37).
While these two studies hold promise, more research is needed to fully understand the effectiveness of flaxseed oil in treating constipation and diarrhea.
Flaxseed oil can be beneficial for both constipation and diarrhea, but more research is needed.
Fish oil has been linked to a handful of other health benefits.
For example, fish oil has been shown to improve symptoms of certain mental disorders, including depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia (38, 39, 40).
In addition, fish oil can help treat behavioral disorders in children.
Numerous studies have linked fish oil supplements to improvements in hyperactivity, alertness, and aggression in young children (41, 42).
Fish oil can be beneficial in improving symptoms of certain mental illnesses in adults and behavioral disorders in children.
Both fish oil and flaxseed oil are health benefits and have high quality research to back up their respective health claims.
However, while each oil has its individual benefits, fish oil can have an advantage when it comes to common benefits.
This is likely because only fish oil contains the active omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA.
Also, ALA is not efficiently converted to EPA and DHA. Since only a very small amount of ALA is converted to DHA and EPA, it is likely that ingesting fish oils rich in EPA and DHA will provide more clinical benefits than ingesting flaxseed oil.
Also, there is more quality research backing the anti-inflammatory effects of fish oil and its effect on improving heart disease risk indicators, such as lowering triglycerides and improving cholesterol.
However, fish oil supplements may not be suitable for everyone.
For example, some fish oil supplements may contain small amounts of fish or shellfish proteins.
Therefore, many fish oil supplements have a warning on the bottle that says “Avoid this product if you are allergic to fish or shellfish”.
Therefore, flaxseed oil may be a more suitable choice for those who have a fish or shellfish allergy.
In addition, flaxseed may also be better suited for those on a vegetarian or vegan diet.
However, there are other more effective vegan omega-3 supplements available, including seaweed oil.
While flaxseed oil and fish oil both have individual benefits, fish oil may be more beneficial in terms of their common benefits such as heart health and inflammation.
Flaxseed oil and fish oil offer similar health benefits, including for skin and blood pressure control.
Only fish oil contains the active omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA and may be more helpful in improving overall heart health, inflammation, and mental symptoms.
However, flaxseed oil has its own gastrointestinal health benefits and can be a great way to increase ALA omega-3s for people with a fish allergy or vegan diet.
If you want to try flaxseed or fish oil to improve your health, definitely speak to your doctor first.
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