We hear a lot about the importance of eating healthy fats, and in that conversation you may wonder which one is better for men’s health, flaxseed or omega-3 fatty acids? That may seem like a trick question, since flaxseed is a source of omega-3s, yet when omega-3 fatty acids are mentioned, many people immediately think of fish and fish oil. That is a natural response since there has been a great deal of research on fish oil, oily cold water fish, and the main omega-3s they contain; that is, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
The type of omega-3 in flaxseed, on the other hand, is alpha linolenic acid (ALA), a form that is converted in the body into EPA and DHA. Since the conversion is not very efficient and is further challenged by a diet that is high in omega-6 fatty acids (found in most processed foods and vegetable oils), it would seem that men would do better choosing fish and fish oil rather than flaxseed. But not so fast.
Health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3s, whether they are from fish or flaxseed, are associated with a number of health benefits. A major difference between the two sources is quantity; that is, fish and fish oil deliver healthy amounts of EPA and DHA while flaxseed does not. Health benefits associated with omega-3 fatty acids include:
- Reduced risk of stroke and heart attack
- Decreased risk of macular degeneration
- Lower risk of some cancers, including colon and prostate
- Lower triglyceride levels
- Less joint pain and stiffness associated with rheumatoid arthritis
- Lower levels of depression
- May help protect against dementia and Alzheimer’s
- Fight aging
Benefits of flaxseed for men’s health
Flaxseeds are an excellent source of lignans, compounds that have beneficial estrogen-like effects that may help protect against prostate cancer. Animal and laboratory studies have shown an anticancer effect of lignans, especially enterolactone, against prostate cancer. Further research is needed in this area.
Flaxseeds also can be helpful in managing diabetes. A study involving healthy adults showed that flaxseeds (and chia seeds, which are also a good source of omega-3s) were helpful in reducing blood glucose (converting glucose into a slow-release carb) as well as have a positive impact on satiety.
Flaxseeds also are a great source of fiber, which is beneficial in aiding digestion, preventing constipation, assisting with management of type 2 diabetes, and promoting satiety (which can help with weight loss).
Should you eat flaxseed or omega-3 from fish?
The answer is yes; you don’t have to choose. Although fish and fish oil provide more EPA and DHA, flaxseeds contribute as well and also have a few additional health benefits.
If you don’t like fish or you don’t consume the recommended three servings of oily, cold water fish every week, take a fish oil supplement daily. In addition, Andrew Weil, MD, suggests adding ground flaxseeds to your daily menu. Use a tablespoon or two daily on cereals, vegetables, salads, or added to smoothies to provide not only additional omega-3s but fiber and lignans as well.
Di Y et al. Enterolactone glucuronide and B-glucuronidase in antibody directed enzyme prodrug therapy for targeted prostate cancer cell treatment. AAPS PharmSciTech 2017 Jan 23
Vuksan V et al. Comparison of flax (Linum usitatissimum) and Salba-chia (Salvia hispanica L) seeds on postprandial glycemia and satiety in healthy individuals: a randomized, controlled, crossover study. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2017 Feb; 71(2): 234-38
Weil A MD. A flaxseed oil risk for men?