Eating lots of flax, which is a rich source of omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), may still not be enough to convert in adequate amounts to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the forms our bodies most readily use.
Why is this important?
EPA is considered potently anti-inflammatory, while DHA shows benefits for cognitive function.
Our bodies need to convert other omegas into these usable forms.
They need cofactors – vitamins like B6, minerals like selenium and zinc, and enzymes that buddy up with the omegas to assist the conversion.
But they also get diverted off the conversion path by nutrient deficiencies, alcohol, caffeine, drugs and medications, sugar, inflammation, environmental pollution, and of course stress.
This means a lot of factors need to “just so” for those conversions to happen in the first place, let alone to yield sufficient amounts!
Not to mention that flax seeds in particular have an outer shell that’s basically indigestible fiber. And even if we grind them up before eating them, the omegas are prone to going rancid very quickly, needing to be protected from air, light, and heat.
This is why I suggest getting whole flax seeds in small amounts, ideally in sealed opaque packaging, stored in the fridge or freezer, and ground fresh as needed.
Now, this is not to say that flax is useless as a source of omegas! Quite the contrary.
I’ve mentioned seed cycling [in a previous LoveBites post], which is a nutritional practice of consuming specific types of seeds at specific times in your menstrual cucle to promote better hormone balance.
Part of the reason for this is because the seeds contain lignans, a type of fiber which supports estrogen and progesterone balance. These seeds also contain different proportions of omega-3 and omega-6, which moderate both anti- and pro-inflammatory prostaglandins, hormone-like compounds that may be formed from ALA as well as arachidonic acid (AA).
High presence of AA is another contributor to the diversion of omega-3 off the EPA-DHA conversion pathway, promoting more of the pro-inflammatory prostaglandins. These prostaglandins in turn may contribute to menstrual cramping, and the pain associated with endometriosis and PCOS.
The balance of omegas in these seeds – flax, along with pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame – taken during the particular phases of the cycle may help to increase anti-inflammatory prostaglandins and reduce the painful effect of the pro-inflammatory prostaglandins.
[See the Seed Cycling post for more on how to incorporate it to your routine]
But what about EPA and DHA?
This is also why I suggest anyone eating even a whole-food plant-based diet incorporate a variety of omega-rich seeds and nuts, as well as an algae-based vegan EPA+DHA supplement. I love liquids that I can add to my smoothies!
[Check out some of my favourite omega-3 sources here – Peopletail affiliate link]