Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is often treated like the black sheep of the omega-3 fatty acids family. This less flashy plant-based omega-3 is found in foods like walnuts. And it regularly gets overlooked or even outright rejected.
Meanwhile, ALA’s far more fashionable sisters EPA and DHA… found in foods like salmon… are treated like bells of the ball.
Heck, I admit I’ve even been guilty of not giving ALA the attention it deserves.
But all that’s about to change because some exciting new research has spotlighted this humble omega-3. And it’s finally getting some of the credit it has been quietly earning.
It turns out ALA has been a stealth heart-supporting superstar all along.
I’ll share the details on that new review in just a moment. But first, let’s quickly take a look at what we already know about the other omega-3s.
Omega-3s boost brain and heart health
Omega-3s are vital nutrients that we get from our food. We need them to function, and they help build and maintain our bodies.
Omega-3s are a key part of the structure of all of our cell walls. And they provide energy for our heart, lungs, blood vessels, and immune system.
Regular Healthier Talk readers know I often sing the praises of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). These forms of the polyunsaturated fats are primarily found in seafood, including salmon, herring, and sardines.
A diet high in EPA and DHA is associated with a lower risk for heart disease. I often recommend that folks who want a natural way to manage their cholesterol get plenty of omega-3 fats in their diet.
Studies show this dynamic duo can help reduce cholesterol and triglycerides. Plus, they help keep your arteries flexible and clear of plaque.
EPA and DHA also can help reduce chronic inflammation. This means they may reduce your overall risks for all kinds of diseases, from arthritis to depression.
And research has found that folks who get plenty of these omega-3s in their diet appear to have a significantly lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, too.
In other words, it’s easy to see why the pair gets so much good press. But a new review reveals we’ve been sleeping on their sibling ALA all along.
ALA delivers BIG health benefits
As I mentioned earlier, ALA is a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid. It typically gets a minor mention when the omega-3s are discussed.
But that might be about to change because researchers say it too can support heart and brain health and reduce heart disease risk.
In fact, the review concluded that diets rich in ALA…
- lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease by 10%
- reduced the risk of fatal coronary heart disease by 20%
And how they figured it out was quite clever.
They gathered together data from a bunch of previous omega-3 studies, including randomized controlled trials and observational studies (including some that measured ALA levels in the blood). Then they took a deep dive into the numbers analyzing them to figure out the effects ALA has on heart disease and risk factors for the illness such as inflammation and high blood pressure.
To everyone’s surprise, the ALA benefits that bubbled up to the surface were much like ones we’ve already seen with EPA and DHA. The ALA had beneficial effects on…
- total cholesterol
- low-density lipoproteins
- blood pressure
The researchers recommend about 1.1 grams of ALA daily for women and 1.6 grams for men. ALA-rich foods include walnuts (1/2 ounce), chia seeds, navy beans, flaxseeds, flaxseed oil (just under a teaspoon), avocado, avocado oil, and other nuts and seeds.
And while the best way to raise your ALA levels is through your diet, you can find supplements if you’re still falling short.
But I DON’T recommend you cut back on your EPA and DHA. You should continue to eat foods rich in these fats too. Your best bet is to make sure you’re getting a good mix of all three.
For more on these fat’s brain-protecting properties, see my earlier report, “Build a barrier against Alzheimer’s with Omega-3s.”
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