Alpha-linolenic acid, a vegetable omega-3 fatty acid, can benefit heart health and reduce the risk of heart disease, according to a review paper published in the journal Advances in Nutrition.
“Given the evidence of the health benefits of plant-based diets and long-chain n-3 fatty acids, there is keen interest in better understanding the role of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a plant-derived n-3 fatty acid, on cardiometabolic diseases and cognition,” said lead author Dr. Aleix Sala-Vila, a researcher at the Institut Hospital del Mar d’Investigacions Mèdiques-Barcelona, and colleagues.
“There is increasing evidence for ALA largely based on its major food sources (i.e., walnuts and flaxseed); however, this lags behind our understanding of long-chain n-3 fatty acids.”
For their review, the authors analyzed data from previous studies to evaluate the effects of ALA on heart disease and heart disease risk factors like blood pressure and inflammation.
They analyzed included both randomized controlled trials and observational studies.
While some of the observational studies relied on the participants reporting how often they ate certain foods to determine how much ALA they were consuming, others used biomarkers — a way of measuring levels of ALA in the blood — as a more accurate measure.
After analyzing the studies, the researchers found that consuming ALA was associated with a 10% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 20% reduced risk of fatal coronary heart disease.
They also found ALA had beneficial effects on reducing atherogenic lipids and lipoproteins as well as blood pressure and inflammation.
“People may not want to eat seafood for a variety of reasons, but it’s still important for them to consume omega-3s to reduce the risk of heart disease and to promote overall health,” said Professor Penny Kris-Etherton, a researcher in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Pennsylvania State University.
“Plant-based ALA in the form of walnuts or flaxseeds can also provide these benefits, especially when incorporated into a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.”
“We also found evidence that for people who do eat seafood, they could get extra benefits from eating plant-based omega-3s,” added Dr. Jennifer Fleming, also from the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Pennsylvania State University.
“We were able to find evidence supporting current dietary guidelines that ALA should provide about 0.6-1% of total energy in a day, which is about 1.1 grams a day for women and 1.6 grams a day for men, and can be incorporated into the diet with foods such as walnuts, flaxseeds, and cooking oils such as canola and soybean oils,” said Dr. Emilio Ros, a researcher at the Institut d’Investigacions Biomèdiques August Pi i Sunyer and the CIBER Fisiopatología de la Obesidad y Nutrición at the Instituto de Salud Carlos III.
These recommendations are equal to about 1/2 ounce of walnuts or just under one teaspoon of flaxseed oil.
“Future studies are needed to help better understand the effects of ALA on other major chronic diseases,” the scientists said.
“In addition, there is a need to evaluate whether the recent scientific literature supports new, higher dietary recommendations for ALA.”
Aleix Sala-Vila et al. Impact of Alpha-linolenic Acid, the Vegetable Omega-3 Fatty Acid, on Cardiovascular Disease and Cognition Get access Arrow. Advances in Nutrition, published online February 16, 2022; doi: 10.1093/advances/nmac016
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