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Omega-3 Competition: Fish Oil vs. Flaxseed Oil

We've all heard about how omega-3s are so important for our health. These fats have anti-inflammatory and mood stabilizing properties, and they have been found to reduce the risk of heart attacks, stroke, and can lower cholesterol.

They can be found in fish (mostly oily, cold water fish like salmon, tuna, herring, and sardines), flaxseeds, omega-3 enhanced foods, walnuts, and lamb. Since many people are a little concerned about the mercury levels in fish, taking fish oil capsules is an option. Another popular option is flaxseed oil. In the omega-3 competition which oil is the victor? To find out


For starters there are three kinds of omega-3s relevant to the question. They are:

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA): Necessary for physical and mental health. Found primarily in fish and fish oil.

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): Especially important to your body and necessary for various bodily functions involving your brain, blood vessels, and immune system. They are also found in shellfish, fish, fish oil, and enhanced foods (like baby formula).

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): This is the only omega-3 found in plants like flaxseeds, canola, soy, hemp seed, English walnuts, and enhanced foods. When you consume ALA, your body converts it into EPA and then eventually into DHA.

Pregnant women and infants need DHA for proper brain and nervous system development, since their bodies can't usually get enough of it from foods that contain ALA. Adults can benefit from all three omega-3s since they each have heart-protecting properties. It's uncertain though whether ALA has as many health benefits as the other two, since the benefits of EPA and DHA have been studied more. It also isn't known if the health benefits of flaxseed oil come from the ALA, or from the two omega-3s (EPA and DHA) derived from it. So for now, it would seem that fish oil capsules are better sources of omega-3s. If you like flaxseed oil, I wouldn't give up on it, but you might consider fish oil too.

caligyrl caligyrl 9 years
I agree with Michael G. It is also very important to take into account the DHA to EPA ratio of the Omega 3 supplement you choose to take while also making sure it is high quality pharmaceutical grade. Studies have shown that this is imperative for full benefits. I personally like the supplement from Neurovi, the same people who made Animi-3, because the capsules contain no pollutants like mercury. Their research page at has some awesome info if you want to check it out. "...Live to Love, and Love to live.."
michael-gross michael-gross 9 years
Comparing fish oil to flax oil is worse than comparing apples to oranges!!! Indeed, comparing ALA to EPA and DHA is an even greater stretch. ALA is a parent Omega-3 but humans have long ago lost most of their enzymatic capability to convert ALA to the only two Omega-3s that have significant therapeutic activity, EPA and DHA. There are numerous scientific studies confirming the limited conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA. Accordingly, EPA and DHA MUST come from a fish source although there are some genetically modified algae that produce DHA (but who knows the result of this process?). Furthermore, almost all fish oil products are in a synthetic ethyl ester form which are poorly absorbed. This is why we get the burping and repeating!!! As ethyl ester fish oils are much cheaper to make, this is why we see most fish oil products in this form. Get your fish oil in the same natural triglyceride form (TG)as the fish for maximal therapeutic value. It will say (TG) on the supplement fact sheet on the bottle if your product is in this form.
fmue9 fmue9 9 years
I just read an intriguing new ebook on Omega-3 and Inflammation, which is supposedly the basis of all disease- "The Food Industry's Greed: How Misleading Labeling of Omega-3 Foods Undermines American Health- Inflammation and Omega-6." It's a quick read ebook that really woke me up to the differences in all this Omega-3 stuff...the differences between capsules and liquid, which Omega-3 I need and what to avoid. I highly recommend everyone to read this- I learned more from it than from reading all the other stuff!
AQPWawona AQPWawona 9 years
Definitely great info! I have to agree with everyone's assessment of fishy burps. My prenatal vits gave me terrible ones and I nearly had to abandon them. I am still taking them today (post-natally because my doctor says it's still a good idea if you're breastfeeding), but I will plan to try Nature Made's "odorless" fish oil as you recommend. FYI - I've also heard that storing your fish oil in the freezer can help with the fish burps, although this didn't work for my prenatals. Anyone try this?
Soniabonya Soniabonya 9 years
i sprinkle flax seed on my oatmeal, toast and cereal. guess i should incorporate the fish oil as well. mmm fish.
Frenched Frenched 9 years
I've been taking Fish Oil supplements on-and-off. The burpign can be a bit of a bother, but for the most part, it's OK. One of my cats SMELLED my bottle from afar and when I came back home, half of it was lying on the floor! Bad, bad kitty. But yes, fish oil seems to have too many benefits so I'm definitely taking them again :)
emalove emalove 9 years
My Omega-3 Complex is the most important supplement I take, in my opinion. My doctor had suggested that I take it to help relieve some of the pain in my jaw (I have TMJ), and I have to say that I feel like it's making a difference. And, of course, the other benefits it has are great too.
aimeeb aimeeb 9 years
I take my Omega 3s. :)
Leanne1078 Leanne1078 9 years
Hey y'all, cod liver oil and fish oil are not the same thing...cod liver oil isn't going to give you as much of the EPA and DHA as fish oil, but it does give you a good amount of Vitamins A and D. Basically, if you are getting these elsewhere (such as getting your D from sunlight), it is better to stick with the straight Fish Oil. Some people recommend Cod Liver Oil in the winter months when you aren't getting as much sun, and Fish Oil the rest of the time. I know I get enough A and D through diet so I stick with the Fish! Also, CiaoBella's right--Nordic Naturals is a great brand and the lemon flavor really makes a difference.
JaimeLeah526 JaimeLeah526 9 years
Fish oil pills really helped my hair and nails become stronger too. I should buy some more.
Renees3 Renees3 9 years
I eat flax seed in my oatmeal and sometimes take fishoil. my trainer is super big on just taking the liquid and not the pills, so mine is minty flavored and I take it like a spoonfull of medicine. I hated it at first but now it's not too bad
CiaoBella2 CiaoBella2 9 years
I buy Nordic Naturals Arctic Cod Liver Oil Liquid, which has the highest level of Omega-3 per milligram (mg) of any cod liver oil. It comes in three different flavors, we like the strawberry. My 6 year old even likes it. Look for it at Whole Foods.
Cocoangel Cocoangel 9 years
laurelm, what kind do you buy? My husband's cholesterol is high and I need to get him some omega-3. Glad to hear there are some burp-less brands.
laurelm laurelm 9 years
You can buy certain fish oils that do not give you the fish burps. The ones i buy do not do it at all
kia kia 9 years
Thanks for the info. I do flaxseed oil and flaxseed but may consider fish oil capsules. I am not looking forward to "sushi burps" because they sound gross.
uptown_girl uptown_girl 9 years
I tried fish oil for a while, but couldn't stand the disgusting "sushi burps" I would get 1-2 hours later. Maybe I'll try it again...
silly3 silly3 9 years
Thanks for that info, Fit! I've been taking Flax Seed, but I'm almost out and should switch to Fish Oil. My Mom has recently dramatically decreased her cholesterol and she attributes it to her Fish Oil supplements.
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