Fish, flax and borage oils all contain essential fatty acids or EFAs, but they are not created equal and differ in their health benefits. Fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseed oil contains both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, whereas borage oil is rich in omega-6 fatty acids. Alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, is the primary omega-3 fatty acid found in flax oil that needs to be converted in the body to have optimal health benefits. Gamma-linolenic acid, or GLA, is the omega-6 fatty acid found in borage oil and is readily available for your body to utilize in its native form. Eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, known as EPA and DHA, respectively, are the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil and tend to have the greatest health benefits.
The EPA and DHA found in fish oil are readily available to your body to utilize. These constituents of omega-3 help decrease inflammation and pain in conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and dysmenorrhea, or painful periods, and are known to improve cardiovascular health and reduce cholesterol levels.
When it comes to flax oil, also known as linseed oil, your body has to convert its ALA into EPA and then to DHA to have any nutritional value and can really only do so if your body is healthy. The body is not very efficient at converting ALA into DHA and EPA. The enzyme needed for its conversion can be blocked by alcohol, tobacco, stress, high levels of omega-6 fatty acids and becomes less efficient as you age. Flax oil can, however, be a good dietary source of soluble fiber that may be beneficial in promoting regular bowel movements. Flax oil also needs to be converted by the body into GLA in a similar manner.
Borage oil is one of the most abundant sources of gamma-linolenic acid, or GLA, an omega-6 fatty acid mostly found in plant-based oils. Although most Americans obtain an excess of linoleic acid through diet, it’s often not converted to GLA due to diets rich in sugar, alcohol or trans fats from processed foods, as well as smoking, pollution, stress, aging, viral infections, and other conditions such as diabetes. This is a reason to supplement with borage oil, or GLA, as it may help improve diabetic neuropathy, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, premenstrual syndrome, eczema, and aid in cancer treatment, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center based on several clinical studies.
Whereas EPA and DHA help to reduce inflammation, omega-6 fatty acids may promote inflammation. Fish oil, therefore, is the preferred fatty acid supplement for those individuals with inflammatory diseases. Flaxseed oil can be used to improve skin conditions, counter constipation and perhaps inhibit cancer growth. Borage oil is mainly prescribed for PMS and menopausal symptoms, although research supports fish oil for these conditions.
The Bottom Line
Borage and fish oils do not require conversion; they are available to the body in their native forms. If you are a vegan or vegetarian, your best bet is to supplement with flax and borage oils and incorporate a healthy lifestyle and good diet. In general, the intake ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids should ideally be between 1:1 and 4:1, as found in research through The Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health in Washington, DC. Essential fatty acid deficiency and omega-6 and omega-3 imbalance have been linked to serious health conditions such as cardiovascular events, cancer, insulin resistance, asthma, lupus, schizophrenia, depression, accelerating age, stroke, obesity, diabetes, arthritis, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and Alzheimer’s disease, among others.
Benefits of Flaxseed Oil Capsules
Flaxseed oil capsules are a vegetarian source of omega-3 fatty acids. Unlike animal sources of this nutrient, however, flaxseed oil contains a type omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid. Your body must first convert ALA into eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, and docosahexaenoic acid, or DPA. These two omega-3 fatty acids are naturally found in fish oil. Although it is not known if flaxseed oil is as beneficial as fish oil, you can still get a healthy dose of omega-3s by supplementing your diet with flaxseed oil capsules.
Convenience of Capsules
Flaxseed oil is pressed from flaxseeds. The capsule form conceals the oily taste and makes it easy to swallow. Unlike whole flaxseeds, flaxseed oil capsules do not contain soluble fiber and phytoestrogens — plant estrogens. They do give you a concentrated dose of ALA omega-3 fatty acids, however.
A 2008 study published in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” reports that consuming ALA supplements over 12 weeks raises the levels of DHA and EPA in the bloodstream. The resulting increase in omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce inflammation and lower your risk of chronic conditions such as arthritis and heart disease. But you need a much larger dose of flaxseed oil to get the same benefits of a smaller amount of fish oil. More recently, “Critical Reviews in Food Science and Literature” noted that only minimal amounts of ALA are converted into EPA and DHA. Consult your doctor to determine whether ALA is the best type of omega-3 fatty acid for you.
The Benefits of Flaxseed Oil & Omega-3 Capsules.
Flaxseed oil is a renewable vegetable source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are also found in fish and fish oil. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to good nutrition and health. They support the function of the brain, nervous system, heart and eyes. Flaxseed oil contains a type of omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which is also found in other plant-based sources such as walnut and olive oils. There are many health benefits of flaxseed oil and omega-3 fatty acid supplement capsules.
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats. They make a better source of energy than saturated fats in meat, dairy and fried foods because they are stored mainly in lean muscle tissue. Other fats are stored as fatty deposits which are more difficult to remove. Omega-3 fatty acids help to stimulate the body’s metabolism to provide efficient and long lasting energy.
Lower Cholesterol and Lose Weight
Flaxseed oil helps to lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels, reducing the risks of high blood pressure, heart disease and strokes. Omega-3 fatty acids from flaxseed oil and capsules also prevent clots in arteries by decreasing clotting and sticking factors in blood platelets. These “good” fats are stored primarily in lean muscles and actually help weight loss by stimulating the body’s metabolism to burn fat and by causing the brain to signal feelings of fullness.
Decrease Inflammation and Arthritis Pain
In autoimmune diseases, the immune system reacts to the body causing high levels of inflammation and damage. This occurs in diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis that damage joints causing swelling, pain and stiffness. Omega-3 fatty acid helps to reduce inflammation by protecting joints and organs from corroding enzymes and by balancing the immune system. Flaxseed oil also helps to protect the body from other autoimmune disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), Crohn’s disease and asthma.
Improve Memory, Mood and Concentration
Omega-3 fatty acids from flaxseed oil and other sources help to maintain balanced levels of blood glucose in the body. This can help to improve mood and decrease anxiety and depression. Omega-3 fatty acids are also beneficial for the brain, which is largely composed of fat; they improve memory, focus, concentration and attention spans. Additionally, small amounts of omega-3 fatty acids from flaxseed oil are converted to another type of omega-3 that is beneficial for the retina in the eye.
Treat Acne and Eczema
Omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseed oil also help to reduce inflammation in skin conditions such as acne and eczema. This reduces swelling, redness and the itchiness that can make skin disorders worse. Flaxseed oil also helps to speed up healing of the skin, reducing acne, eczema and skin rash flare-ups and the risk of scars and blemishes.