Flaxseed Oil vs. Fish Oil: The Showdown

By Anthoney J. Andersen – Steroidal.com

When it comes to maintaining a proper diet and healthy lifestyle, it can often be a complicated and discouraging task, due to the plethora of diet plans, supplement choices and exercise routines.

Not only is it vital to know which supplements and diets to endure, but also you have to know exactly what the health benefits and risks are, and whether it’s a match for the kind of lifestyle you engage in.

When going on any diet plan, one of the main goals is to not only reduce your daily caloric intake, but to also reduce your fat content. However, there is one kind of fat that you do not want to cut back on: omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids can be found naturally in many food sources, but it can also be taken in supplement form. Two of the most popular forms of omega-3 supplements are flaxseed oil and fish oil. But which of these two supplements produces the best results?

Let’s find out.


As it was mentioned earlier, when it comes to cutting down on fat content, you do not want to skimp on the omega-3 fatty acids. According to WebMD, two crucial ones – DHA and EPA – are primarily found in certain fish. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), another omega-3 fatty acid, is found in plant sources – such as nuts and seeds.

Not only does your body require these fatty acids to function properly, but they also deliver some great health benefits.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the omega-3 fatty acids – docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are orthomolecular, which means that they are essential nutrients that are aimed at enhancing the quality of life and lowering the risk of premature death.

These omega-3s function exclusively through cell membranes. DHA is proven essential to pre-and postnatal brain development, whereas, EPA seems more influential on behavior and mood.

When combined, DHA and EPA have been shown to benefit attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD), autism, dyslexia and aggression.

Fish oil supplements can assist in the reduction of triglyceride levels (blood fat), which helps reduce your chances of heart disease. Fish oil supplements can also help decrease stiffness and joint pain, which can cause rheumatoid arthritis.

Some researchers have found that cultures that eat foods with high levels of omega-3s have lower levels of depression. Fish oil also appears to boost the effects of antidepressants, and may help those individuals suffering from the depressive symptoms of bipolar disorder.


Flaxseed oil and fish oil both provide omega-3 fatty acids, but only fish oil contains the omega 3s – EPA and DHA, and has been shown to be helpful for conditions such inflammatory bowel disease and depression, as well as lowering the body’s triglyceride levels.

Flaxseed oil, on the other hand, contains the omega-3 fatty acid – ALA – a very small percentage of which is converted into EPA, and to a lesser extent, DHA in the body. For this reason, it may be a useful dietary supplement for people who do not obtain enough EPA or DHA from fish/marine oils; however, because such diluted amounts are converted, it will not provide the clinical benefits shown for oils containing EPA and DHA.


Taking 2.4 grams of flaxseed oil per day for 12 weeks can increase your blood levels of DHA and EPA, according to a study published in “The American Journal of Clinical Medicine,” in September 2008. However, for large increases in your DHA and EPA, you may need to supplement with fish oil, according to another study published in “Reproduction Nutrition Development” in 2005, which compared the effects of fish oil and flaxseed oil supplementation.

People suffering from schizophrenia or diabetes may not be able to convert ALA to DHA and EPA very well, and may need to obtain their omega-3s from fish and fish oil, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.


According to WebMD, James Friel, PhD, of Canada’s University of Manitoba, and his team of researchers, studied 62 male firefighters in the Canadian city of Winnipeg.

Why firefighters?

Friel’s researchers explain that firefighters tend to have risk factors for coronary heart disease, including high stress levels, high-fat diets, little exercise while in the fire hall, and being older than 40.

Friel’s researchers gave the firefighters either flaxseed oil supplements (in various doses), fish oil supplements or a placebo, to take daily for 12 weeks. As expected, the blood levels of DHA and EPA rose in the fish oil group, and ALA rose in the flaxseed oil group. EPA levels also rose in the flaxseed oil group, but only at the higher doses (2.4 to 3.6 grams per day). The researchers found that it’s “quite attainable” to receive that much ALA from foods without taking supplements.

Since flaxseed oil doesn’t contain EPA, the firefighters’ bodies must have converted some of the ALA into EPA. However, that did not appear to happen at the lower doses of flaxseed oil.

The researchers found DHA to be a different story. The flaxseed oil group didn’t receive any increase in DHA levels; DHA only rose in the fish oil group.


While flaxseed oil is generally safe, consuming more than 30 grams per day may upset the stomach and cause diarrhea, according to MedlinePlus. Pregnant women should avoid taking flaxseed oil because it increases the risk of premature birth, and those with bleeding disorders should also avoid flaxseed oil, since it may have a blood-thinning effect.

Both flaxseed oil and fish oil may decrease the absorption of medications if you take them at the same time, and may interact with cholesterol medications, diabetes medications, topical steroids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.

So, when it comes down to it, even though flaxseed oil and fish oil can provide extensive health benefits, they can also have damaging side effects, if not taken properly.

Be sure to always consult your physician before starting a new supplement regimen.

Stay healthy.