In many ways, ALA is the other omega-3. It’s not the darling of the nutritional world, heart-pumping EPA. Or the brain-enhancing DHA that we hear about all the time, either.
And you won’t find ALA in your fish oil supplement.
As a result, few people think about it, if they even know what it is. And almost no one makes any effort to increase the amount of ALA in their diet.
But it turns out you probably should. Because new research reveals how this under-the-radar fatty acid may help deliver the most powerful and important health benefit of all.
ALA could EXTEND your life.
Get to know the OTHER omega ALA
ALA is best known as the fatty acid found in plants. Its full name is alpha-linolenic acid.
And I’ll just go ahead and point out the elephant in the room when it comes to this hidden omega-3. Some of the best sources of ALA are actually the worst choices for your health.
You’ll find it in inflammatory vegetable oils such as soybean, canola, and safflower, for example. These are the same oils that are often used in processed junk foods, as well.
Needless to say, you should be avoiding these oils regardless of their ALA content. (To catch up on why vegetable oils are so bad for you, check out this Healthier Talk classic.)
But lucky for us, ALA is also found in much healthier sources such as nuts and seeds. So, for example, I’m getting mine in the pistachios and pepitas I keep in my regular snack lineup.
And when you get the ALA you need from these healthy foods, the new study finds you can enjoy some significant health benefits.
Overall, the analysis of 41 studies finds that a boost in ALA could cut your odds of early death from:
- cardiovascular disease by 8 percent
- coronary heart disease by 11 percent
- ALL causes by 10 percent
That works out to about 113 lives saved for every 10,000 people. An incredible benefit for a nutrient that’s so easy to get.
Clearing up the cancer connection
There is one curious detail hidden in the study, which is worth mentioning. People with the absolute highest levels of ALA actually had a slight increase in the odds of death from cancer.
There are two possible reasons for that:
- With a lower risk of heart disease, people live longer. And living longer often means a higher chance you’ll face cancer. Eating a lower-carb diet that robs tumors of their favorite fuel source could help reverse that bump in risk.
- But the bigger reason is the one I hinted at earlier. The source of the ALA matters. If your ALA comes from the inflammatory vegetable oils found in many processed foods, this alone could increase your cancer risk. Plus, some forms of vegetable oil can contain dangerous trans fats.
If you get your ALA from healthy sources, however, chances are you’ll never see that rise in cancer risk. In fact, you likely will see a drop. Because other studies have found ALA could actually suppress tumor growth and curb the spread of cancer cells.
And studies on ALA-rich nuts specifically have found that folks who eat them more often have a lower risk of cancer and death from cancer. Plus, nuts offer protection against heart disease and other major chronic health risks, as well.
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