Are there side effects of flax seed oil? Yes. But a better question to ask is – what are the real facts about flax?
Ever since flax seed oil hit the nutritional supplement market in the mid 80s, it’s been promoted as a cure-all for dozens of diseases and conditions. But, in reality, most of those “health claims” are unsubstantiated and, at best, shaky.
Flax is, without a doubt, an abundant plant source of omega 3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). But promoters, in an effort to hype their product, have long ignored or downplayed the negative aspects and have created multiple misconceptions.
For example, flax doesn’t naturally contain sufficient EPA and DHA, the two components ultimately responsible for the amazing health benefits of omega 3 oils. To produce EPA and DHA would require a complex conversion process in the human digestive system. In actual fact, only 1/2 of 1% of the ALA consumed can even be converted into EPA and DHA. And that’s under ideal circumstances. Considering the fact that Americans spend more money on digestive aids than they do on public school education, these ideal conditions are rare and far between.
So, to get the preformed EPA and DHA naturally found in a regular 3 to 4 oz. serving of omega 3 rich fish (salmon is the richest source), a person would have to drink gallons of flax seed oil. And that would be a very bad idea, since two of the side effects are flatulence and loose stools.
There’s much research which questions the nutritional effectiveness of flax seed oil and illustrates the difference between flax and omega 3 rich fish oil. Two important studies were recently published in the prestigious American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
In one of them, flax seed oil, being sold as an anti-inflammatory for reducing the pain and swelling of arthritis, was shown to be far less effective in treating inflammation than omega 3 fish oils. Flax oil, in most cases, increases inflammation. The other study found that while omega 3 fish oils decreased the risk of cancer of the prostate, flax seed oil actually increased the risk of prostate cancer.
On close examination, most of the “studies” used by the flax seed industry to support their product claims were either anecdotal evidence or small test tube and animal studies. There have never been any long term, double blind, placebo controlled, peer reviewed human studies that found any nutritional benefits for flax seed oil. It’s also interesting to note that the most aggressive promoters are from Canada, the world’s largest producer and exporter of flax.
To get the many benefits of omega 3 oils, rather than taking any chances with flax seed, it only makes good sense, both nutritionally and economically, to choose a high quality fish oil supplement with balanced EPA and DHA. Preferably, the source would be wild salmon from the cold, clean waters of the North Atlantic.
Moss Greene is the Nutrition Editor for BellaOnline.com and an authority on essential fatty acids, such as fish oil health benefits. Over the past 30 years, shes helped thousands of people to look better, think smarter and feel great naturally. Visit Moss at nutrition.bellaonline.com to learn more and subscribe to her free health and fitness newsletter.