Is This Unknown Fatty Acid the Best Way Prevent to Cardiovascular Disease?
New research that examined the results of a multitude of studies suggests that there may be a discernible link between alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) consumption and the reduction of cardiovascular disease (CVD).
What is alpha-Linolenic Acid?
Not to be confused with alpha lipoic acid, a powerful antioxidant known for brain protection and blood sugar control that shares the acronym, ALA, alpha-linolenic acid, is an omega-3 fatty acid that is derived from plant sources.
Over the years, research into the benefits of ALA has produced inconsistent results, without a definitive relationship between ALA and cardiovascular disease being established. However, new research using meta-analysis, the process of combining and comparing multiple studies in the hopes of discovering valuable patterns, has revealed a rather distinct relationship.
The research, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, proved to be quite convincing. Specifically, a significant association between ALA intake and the likelihood of developing CVD was found in 13 different dietary comparisons involving ALA. Further trends using ALA biomarkers were found to exist as well, lending strength to the conclusion of the findings.
In their examination of the 27 studies, researchers evaluated a number of factors including the age of the participants, the studies’ designs, and the participants’ exposure to ALA and their incidences of CVD. The specific nature and relevance of each study was likewise examined and weighted accordingly.
Further research is still greatly needed to better evaluate and understand the relationship between ALA and CVD. Nevertheless, despite its limitations, the results of the research were compelling enough to conclude that alpha-linolenic acid consumption may result in a moderately lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Will taking fish oil satisfy my body’s need for this omega 3?
Not quite. While the potential benefits of omega-3 fatty acids derived from seafood such as fish oil have been well documented, the benefits of the omega-3 from ALA are only beginning to be discovered. But unlike other essential fatty acids such as Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the two prominent omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil, ALA cannot be synthesized from other omega-3 and omega 6-sources, as the human body lacks the necessary enzymes to make this conversion possible. This inability makes consumption of ALA sources exceptionally pressing.
Where to find dietary sources of ALA
Fortunately, ALA is naturally present in many widely available foods such as walnuts, soybeans, chia seeds, and flax seeds (among other sources). However, since alpha-linolenic acid is somewhat unstable, consumers should be weary of sources which have been partially hydrogenated to avoid rancidity. This danger is particularly worrisome in the soy market, as 40% of the soy oil on the market is partially hydrogenated. Additionally, some corporations, such as DuPont and Monsanto, are producing low alpha-linolenic acid soybeans. Ultimately, it is probably best to obtain ALA from whole food and seed sources.
Derek is a technical writer and editor with 10 years of experience in the health care field, having first earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Delaware. He is a contributing author on a number of textbooks in the medical field, ran a nuclear cardiology licensing course, and has written a variety of other pieces from online training courses to medical software manuals. Derek pursues his personal interest in health and wellness by playing multiple sports and running marathons. An insatiable traveler, he spent 16 months working and living abroad while traveling through South America, Europe, and Southeast Asia.
Article updated on: January 4th, 2013