Vitamins, Minerals and Dietary Supplements
What is alpha-linolenic acid? Why do we need it?
Alpha-linolenic acid is an essential fatty acid that comes from plants. It is considered an essential nutrient, and is used as a source of energy by the body.
ALA is considered a "parent" fatty acid; it is
converted by the body into omega-3 fatty acids, which are
found in fish oils. Omega-3 fatty acids perform a number of
regulatory functions in the body, including heart rate; blood
pressure; immune response; and breakdown of fats. Essential
fatty acids such as ALA are also used to make brain and nervous
Small studies have shown that ALA may prevent coronary heart
disease and stop artherosclerosis. Other researchers have
begun studying ALA's anti-inflammatory and immunologic
effects for conditions such as migraine headaches and depression.
Currently, ALA is used to reduce cholesterol levels, treat
allergic and inflammatory conditions, and fight autoimmune
diseases such as multiple sclerosis and lupus.
How much ALA should I take?
There is no recommended daily allowance of ALA. However,
a healthy diet should include less saturated fats and more
essential fatty acids. Before taking ALA supplements, discuss
the situation with your health care provider.
What are some good sources of ALA?
The following foods and oils are good sources of ALA:
Foods: Flax seeds, margarine (if based on canola or soybean
oil), mackerel, pumpkins, salmon, walnuts
Oils: Canola oil, flaxseed oil, linseed oil, soybean oil
What can happen if I don't get enough
As previously stated, there is no recommended daily allowance
of ALA. If you have questions or concerns, talk with your
health care provider about ALA and ALA supplements.
What can happen if I take too much?
Are there any side-effects I should be aware of?
ALA supplements are usually high in calories; excess amounts
may lead to unwanted weight gain. Flaxseed oil (a source of
ALA) may increase the body's need for vitamin E. Make
sure to talk with your health care provider for more information.
- Billeaud C, Bougle D, Sarda P, et al.. Effects of preterm infant formula supplementation
with alpha-linolenic acid with a linoleate/alpha-linoleate ration of 6. Eur J Clin Nutr August
- DeDeckere EA, Korver O, Verschuren PM, Katan MB. Health aspects of fish and n-3 polyunsaturated
fatty acids from plant and marine origin. Eur J Clin Nutr 1998;52:749753.
- de Lorgeril M, Renaud S, Mamelle N, et al. Mediterranean alpha-linolenic acid-rich
diet in secondary prevention of coronary heart disease. Lancet 1994;343:14541459.
- Edwards R, Peet M, Shay J, Horrobin D. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid levels in the
diet and in red blood cell membranes of depressed patients. J Affect Disord 1998;48:149155.
- Prasad K. Dietary flaxseed in prevention of hypercholesterolemic atherosclerosis.