Flaxseed oil is a popular supplement for obtaining the necessary omega-3 fatty acids to balance out the omega-6 fatty acids so heavy in the modern Western diet. However, it has several drawbacks that may make it ultimately pointless to use. Despite claims to the contrary, it is not actually a good source of omega-3. It also can affect bowel movements in some people. And it contains a hormone that may be dangerous over the long-term. I’ll examine each of these in this article, and tell you why there are better supplemental choices.
First, the omega-3 contained in flaxseed oil is “alpha-linolenic acid,” or ALA for short. ALA is a short chain omega-3 acid, and does not have the same health benefits as the long chain DHA and EPA, which are found in fish. ALA is converted by the body into DHA and EPA, but at such a slow rate and in such low numbers as to render it almost useless. Fish oil, either in fish itself or in supplement form, contains a large amount of DHA and EPA fatty acids already, so your body does not have to produce it from ALA. In this sense, fish oil is a much more efficient supplement for acquiring the proper amount of omega-3 fatty acids. In addition to this, flaxseed can have an effect on some people that may or may not be considered beneficial.
And that is stool loosening. In one study, flaxseed oil users had 30% more bowel movements than those who did not take it. This effect may or may not be desirable, depending on your own health condition. Some sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome have reported success in using this supplement. However, before using it over a long period of time you should be aware of a chemical present in flaxseed with unknown effects.
Flaxseed contains phytoestrogens, a plant chemical that mimics the effects of estrogen in mammals. And like estrogens, it can cause man boobs in men, as well as a decrease in fertility. Also like estrogen, there is some evidence that it may cause cancer. The long-term effects of regular supplementation with this hormone are unknown, so you should be cautious in taking it for a long period of time.
Flaxseed oil is not efficient at delivering the proper amounts of omega-3 fatty acid to be worthwhile for health reasons. Also, it can affect the bowel, and possibly produce negative health effects in the long-run due to it’s high level of phytoestrogens. For these reasons, I do not recommend taking it, but do recommend either increasing the amount of fish in your diet or using a fish oil supplement instead.