ALA, or alpha linolenic acid, is one of the Omega 3 fatty acids. You can find it in soybeans, canola oil and flaxseed oil, and nuts. Studies about the benefits of fish oil have trumped discussions about ALA for good health, but according to a new study, those with higher levels of ALA had significant reductions in fatal heart attacks. The findings may be most important to reducing heart attack risk in developing countries where fatty acids are not consumed in large quantities, as well as for those who cannot eat fish.
Dr William Harris (University of South Dakota, Sioux Falls), says in an editorial, "If ALA were able to do the same 'heavy lifting' that [eicosapentaenoic acid] EPA and [docosahexaenoic acid] DHA do, this would be welcomed news, because the capacity to produce ALA is essentially limitless, whereas there are only so many fish in the sea." EPA and DHA are found in fish oils.
The study included 1819 patients who were heart attack survivors. All of the patients answered questionnaires about food intake, and provided samples of fat (adipose) tissue for analysis of fatty-acid stores. The range of ALA found ranged from .36% to 1.04%, and the range of dietary ALA intake was 1.11 grams to 2.35 grams per day. Dr Hannia Campos (Harvard Medical School, Boston, lead investigator of the study says the protection found from ALA is greatest in individuals with low intake. He says, "We see a dose effect, but only up to about 0.7% of adipose tissue, which corresponds to about 1.8 g/day. Increasing intake further was not associated with increased protection. This is why we hypothesized that if we were to conduct a study in a population already within this range, you're not likely to see an effect."
To date, studies have been conflicting as to whether or not alpha linolenic acid provides protection against heart disease. The Alpha-Omega Study, a 4800-patient study in which the participants will randomly receive 400 mg of EPA plus DHA, 2 g of linoleic acid, both, or neither, should clarify the effects of ALA on cardiovascular health. We can expect those findings in 2009.
Omega 3, 6, 9 - It's all about balance
Most people have difficulty balancing their intake of healthy fat in the diet. Omega 3 fatty acids are the most important for overall health maintenance, and are found in fish and fish oil supplements. Omega 6 fatty acids are found in vegetable cooking oils (corn, canola and soybean oil), flax seed and nuts, and play a role in good health by boosting immune function and reducing inflammation. Omega 9’s come from animal fat and vegetable oils, and are usually overly consumed, but are still essential as part of our dietary intake.
Balancing omega 3, 6, 9 fats comes from eating a few servings of fish, meat, and oils with omega 6’s weekly. Omega 3, 6, 9 supplements are also an easy way to provide balance to the body.
Related: alpha-Linolenic acid intake is not beneficially associated with 10-y risk of coronary artery disease incidence: the Zutphen Elderly Study.
Helpful Link: Essential Fatty Acids
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