Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Heart Disease Health Center

Font Size

Flaxseed Oil Pills vs. Fish Oil Pills

Study: Taking Flaxseed Oil Supplements May Equal Fish Oil Supplements for Certain Omega-3 Fatty Acids
WebMD Health News

Sept. 12, 2008 -- Flaxseed oil pills, taken at the right dose, may equal fish oil pills in terms of their net effect from certain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

That's according to a new study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Flaxseed and other plant-based foods including walnuts, canola oil, and soybeans are rich in an omega-3 fatty acid called ALA.

But flaxseed lacks the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which have shown cardiovascular benefits in past studies. EPA and DHA are found in fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel, fish oil supplements, and some fortified foods.

Does ALA deliver the same benefits as EPA and DHA? The jury's still out on that, note the researchers, who included James Friel, PhD, of Canada's University of Manitoba. The optimal dose of ALA is also not known.

Flaxseed and Firefighters

Friel's team studied 62 male firefighters in the Canadian city of Winnipeg.

Why firefighters? The researchers explain that firefighters tend to have risk factors for coronary heart disease, including high stress levels, high-fat diets, little exercise while in the fire hall, and being older than 40.

The researchers gave the firefighters flaxseed oil supplements in various doses, fish oil supplements, or a placebo to take daily for 12 weeks.

As expected, blood levels of EPA and DHA rose in the fish oil group, and ALA rose in the flaxseed oil group. EPA levels also rose in the flaxseed oil group, but only at the higher doses (2.4 to 3.6 grams per day). The researchers write that it's "quite attainable" to get that much ALA from foods without taking supplements.

Since flaxseed oil doesn't contain EPA, the firefighters' bodies must have converted some of the ALA into EPA. That didn't seem to happen at the lower doses of flaxseed oil.

DHA was a different story. The flaxseed oil group didn't get any increase in DHA levels; DHA only rose in the fish oil group.

None of the groups gained any advantage in terms of lowering total or LDL ("bad") cholesterol, raising HDL ("good") cholesterol, or reducing blood levels of inflammatory chemicals. The experiment was too short to track long-term health benefits.

The study was funded, in part, by the Canadian Flax Council and Flax Canada.

Today on WebMD

x-ray of human heart
A visual guide.
atrial fibrillation
Symptoms and causes.
heart rate graph
10 things to never do.
heart rate
Get the facts.
empty football helmet
red wine
eating blueberries
Simple Steps to Lower Cholesterol
Inside A Heart Attack
Omega 3 Sources
Salt Shockers
lowering blood pressure