According to nutritionists from Penn State, increasing your daily omega-3 fat intake, whether you get it from marine or plant sources, will very likely lower your risk of getting heart disease. There’s plenty of evidence to support the heart healthy benefits of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), both of which are marine-derived omega-3 fats. However, much less evidence exists about the positive effects of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a plant-based omega-3 fat.
Naturally, the health benefits reported for EPA and DHA are stronger because when supplements of EPA and DHA were tested, EPA and DHA was the only difference between the treatment and control groups. On the other hand in the ALA studies, there were dietary differences between the treatment and control groups that went beyond ALA itself.
ALA is found in flaxseed and its oil, vegetable oils and in some nuts including walnuts and almonds; and it’s available in supplement form. In general, omega-3 fats are considered essential for human health, but our body does not produce them, therefore we must consume them regularly to take advantage of their many health benefits.
In reviewing existing scientific data on the subject, the Penn State researchers have come to the conclusion that ALA is likely to be just as effective in preventing cardiovascular disease as EPA and DHA have proven to be in the past. In fact, health experts now believe that dietary recommendations should be amended to increase the amounts of ALA consumed. However, they also note that randomized controlled clinical trials need to be conducted in order to determine the exact amount to be consumed.
Given that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., it makes sense that learning what can be done to prevent heart disease is important and relevant for all of us.