Omega-3 ALA: Industry reacts to review

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Omega-3 fatty acids Eicosapentaenoic acid Omega-3 fatty acid Ala

Following publication of a review that said the omega-3 from plant
sources, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), has been overlooked and
misunderstood, industry sources have reacted.

The marine omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), have received more study from scientists and more attention from the consumers. A review published recently, and reported yesterday by NutraIngredients, highlighted ALA's unique and valuable benefits. The health benefits associated with consumption include cardiovascular effects, neuro-protection, a counter to the inflammation response, and benefits against autoimmune disease. "For many years, the importance of the only member of the omega-3 family considered to be essential, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), has been overlooked,"​ states a special article published in this month's Nutrition Reviews​. The review, by Aliza Stark and Ram Reifen from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Michael Crawford from the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition at London Metropolitan University, is concise, timely and necessary as consumer awareness and interest in omega-3 grows. Industry reaction​ The review was welcomed by ALA omega-3 suppliers in North America. Linda Pizzey, CEO, Pizzey's Nutritionals (recently acquired by Glanbia Nutritionals) said the authors should be "complimented on their timely and very thorough review of the scientific controversies surrounding the much maligned ALA. "It is indeed true when they mention that ALA 'has been overlooked',"​ she said. Talking to, Pizzey said that strong science exists to support that ALA has its own unique benefits in maintaining heart health - in particular through antiarrthythmic, antithrombotic and antiinflammatory properties. "One particular statement of the authors is indeed refreshing to what so many of us who have been involved in the flaxseed industry, and to many researchers and NGO representatives who have supported our efforts, have known for a very long time: 'Although the data available today is not conclusive, the continual appearance of new studies and professional opinions of scientist from around the world support the ever-growing body of research that ALA has cardioprotective effects in its own right',"​ she said. Dr. John Minatelli, senior VP business development at Florida-based Valensa International, called the article a "refreshing and comprehensive review"​. He told this website: "We believe that there is a growing level of scientific data supporting the idea that ALA in and of itself is biologically significant for two key reasons: ALA effectively and efficiently competes with LA for delta 6-desaturase conversion to downstream metabolites with an expected lowering of the related arachidonic acid based metabolites that would otherwise produce a pre-disposal to a highly pro-inflammatory state, and: ALA is very likely a safer way of supplementing EPA levels in man than direct use of EPA found in fish oils because of EPA's well documented antithrombotic effects in man. Most physicians have already recognized this issue and have taken their pre-operative patients off fish oil supplementation well in advance of major surgical procedures to avoid excessive bleeding." ​ He also said that results of a clinical study published in the Journal of Nutrition​ in 2006 (Vol. 136, pp. 83-87) did a "good job of addressing and debunking the assertion of people in our industry that ALA does not convert well to EPA, but more importantly indicates that the conversion of ALA to EPA and DPA can occur even when very high levels of LA are present in plasma, a fact that many scientists do not yet fully appreciate."Fish oil perspective ​ On the other hand, David Cai, PhD, research manager/ principal scientist with Cognis Nutrition and Health, who offer marine-sourced omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, told this website: "The benefits are indisputable marine-sourced omega-3 fatty acids which are long chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) versus the short chain omega-3 fatty acids from plant source (ALA). "Without taking EPA and DHA from the diet or fish oil, humans must convert the short chain omega-3 fatty acid, such as ALA, to the long chained EPA and DHA before it can be used by the body. Unfortunately, the conversion rate is very inefficient in humans (approximately two per cent), thus, an unrealistically high consumption level of ALA has to be taken to achieve the same proven health benefits of EPA and DHA. This is not the case for marine- sourced long chain omega-3 fatty acids in which only 200-500 mg/day of EPA and DHA showed promising health benefits,"​ he said. Source: Nutrition Reviews​ Volume 66, Issue 6, Pages 326-332, doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2008.00040.x "Update on alpha-linolenic acid" ​Authors: A.H. Stark, M.A Crawford, R. Reifen

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