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Flaxseed Oil: For The Greatest Shine You Ever Tasted!

Omega-3s: The New Fiber

“Omega-3s” have replaced “high fiber” as the new hot marketing adjunct for health food…for an excellent reason. The SAD (Standard American Diet) is woefully deficient in anti-inflammatory omega-3 polyunsaturated fats (“n-3 PUFA” in the literature)—particularly EPA and DHA—and extremely high in pro-inflammatory omega-6 polyunsaturated fats (“n-6 PUFA”).

This is due to our heavy reliance on grains for feeding both ourselves and our meat animals. Both grains and the seed oils (misnamed ‘vegetable oils’) we extract from them contain high amounts of n-6 PUFA and low amounts of n-3 PUFA—especially the corn oil and soybean oil that comprise so much of what passes for “food” today. Ratios of n-6 to n-3 were 1:2 to 2:1 in the pre-agricultural diet, roughly 4:1 in the pre-industrial agricultural diet, and they often exceed 30:1 in the modern American diet. A significant number of Americans get no EPA or DHA in their diet at all!

ALA: When An Omega-3 Is Not An Omega-3

The most important and essential n-3 fats are the longest two: EPA and DHA, particularly DHA. However, the only natural dietary sources of EPA and DHA are grass-fed meat and oily fish. (Grain-fed meat contains far less n-3 fats and far more n-6 fats. “You are what you eat” applies to cows, too.) EPA and DHA supplements are mostly derived from oily fish…

…and fish oil tastes like…well, fish oil. There’s a reason it comes in sealed capsules, and it’s not just that it goes bad when exposed to air. So when you see a packaged food that boasts “Omega-3 Fortified!” you can bet that it contains ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) derived from flaxseed or ‘canola’ oil—not EPA or DHA.

There are two problems with ALA. The first is that our bodies are remarkably ineffective at converting ALA into the EPA and DHA we require.

Anderson, Breanne and Ma, David WL. Are all n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids created equal? Lipids in Health and Disease 2009, 8:33 doi:10.1186/1476-511X-8-33

“…The conversion of ALA to DHA is on the order of 1% in infants, and considerably lower in adults.”

So you can eat all the “Omega-3 Enriched!” crackers you want, or take all the flaxseed oil supplements you want…but they won’t substitute for salmon, mackerel, sardines, or grass-fed meat.

The second problem is that ‘flaxseed oil’ is, like ‘canola oil’, a new name for an old product. (‘Canola’ is actually a plant called rape: the problems of marketing ‘rape oil’ are left as an exercise for the reader.)

What product is that?

(Scroll down for the answer.)

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Linseed oil.

Yes, you’re paying $15 a bottle for little brown capsules of furniture polish.

This is linseed oil.

This is also linseed oil.



Disclaimer: I hate to have to say this, but I’m sure some stoned vegetarian somewhere will think “Hey, I can save a grip.”
DO NOT DRINK FURNITURE POLISH.

And if you mix it with fine sawdust, you can make your own linoleum!

Linseed oil is versatile!

Yes, it’s a furniture polish and a nutritional supplement…just like Shimmer Floor Wax!

Furniture polish is not food.
Eat grass-fed meat and oily fish.
Don’t eat seed oils.
Live in freedom, live in beauty.

JS

(If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy “GERMOPHOBIA!”, or perhaps my debunking of John Stossel’s hit piece on grass-fed beef.)


Postscript: An alert reader (Shawna) has found a reasonable medicinal use for flaxseed oil—as a laxative. (See our comments below.) And just to be clear, I am not contending that flaxseed oil is poisonous or that no one should ever consume it: what I’m debunking is the idea that flaxseed oil can substitute for EPA and DHA intake (it can’t), and that loading up a cracker with flaxseed oil somehow makes it healthy (it doesn’t).

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25 comments

Permalink: Flaxseed Oil: For The Greatest Shine You Ever Tasted!
  • Mark

    Good write-up, I did not know that flaxseed oil was essentially linseed oil.
    I have spent the last 4 days researching dietary fat intake for my personal nutrition and am finding myself in a maze of whats right and whats wrong.

    You may want to read up about Mary E Enig; she stirred some serious shit with mainstream nutritional ideals.

    I wanted to add something to your article:
    ALA is converted to EPA first at an efficiency of 2-5%. EPA is then converted down later on to DHA; your reference is correct but I just wanted to make it clear that ALA -> DHA is not direct.

    The highest efficiency rating I have seen about ALA-EPA is 15% but I have seen ranges of 0.1-5%.

    I am yet to find a function for ALA besides the fact that we get EPA and DHA (if we’re lucky) from it. Everything that I have read places importance on these conversions and nothing else.

    This would suggest then that DHA and EPA should be our focus yet what is a “dangerous” dose of DHA and EPA (almost always given as a combined value) varies from source to source!

  • Mark:

    You're right: the fat issue is confusing, and I've spent quite a long time on it myself, having used EPA/DHA supplementation to deal with health issues in the past.  (I still take them in lower amounts.)  I'm actually trying to find a copy of Enig's book right now, but it's $30 at Amazon.

    You're correct on the conversion issue: the path from ALA to EPA and DHA is somewhat torturous, involving multiple steps.  This Wikipedia page has a great chart.

    I can't find any direct effects claimed for ALA either…it seems like you have to go three steps up the desaturase-elongase-desaturase ladder to get to a precursor we actually use (EPA), and one more to get to DHA.

    Thanks for contributing!  Your comments were caught in the spam filter, and I had to pull them out manually, which is why you didn't see them right away.

    JS

  • Jess

    One small issue with the article:
    Grain fed meat has a lot less omega 3 than grass fed, but (in the case of ruminants and possibly hind-gut fermenting animals) has almost equal omega 6. The worst animal sources are fowl, with a very large percentage of fat coming from omega 6, even pastured/wild.

    Otherwise, great article.

  • thur feb 10 »

    […] never had, you’ve got to do something you’ve never done!” Perfection is not reality Flaxseed oil: For the greatest shine you ever tasted! “You’re the top!” tuna […]

  • Shawna

    I noticed that my one year old kept getting constipated. Not run of the mill normal constipated but 5/6 days and then had to have my help. We went through a lot of sleepless nights, walking the floor and suppositories. The doctor tried to give me a prescription liquid laxative. I instead searched google. So I have been giving her what I call a Suri (her name) cocktail, of milk, prune juice, and flaxseed oil in her bottle. It helped get it out without the screaming and anal fixures. But didn’t fix it until I took her off gluten. Now the only time she gets sick is if someone slips her a cookie and two nights later..she gets her cocktail.
    My question to you is..Am I hurting her by giving her flaxseed oil? I am really upset. I thought I was giving her something that not only helped but was good for her. I didn’t want to put my baby on prescription meds if I could use something more natural in her diet. Thank you.

  • Shawna:

    Absolutely not!

    Flaxseed oil is certainly not harmful in the medicinal quantities you're using, especially compared to the prescription medications you might be forced to use otherwise.  I actually hadn't considered the use of liquid oil as a laxative — and in the context of inflammatory concerns from a damaged gut, flaxseed oil seems like the best choice, as your priority is to avoid the pro-inflammatory n-6 PUFAs found in other seed oils.  (I'd recommend some coconut oil in there too, but as it's solid at room temperature, it would most likely clog up the bottle.)

    What I'm debunking in this article is the idea that flaxseed oil can substitute for EPA and DHA intake, and that loading up a cracker with flaxseed oil somehow makes it healthy.  Perhaps I'll add a clarification to this effect.

    Congratulations on figuring out that your child is gluten-intolerant at an early age!  You've no doubt saved her from years of suffering and developmental problems, not to mention the increased risk of autoimmune disorders (including Type I diabetes).

    Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you'll stick around.  Helpful and informational dialogues like this one are what I hope to foster here at gnolls.org.

    JS

    (Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, and nothing I say should be construed as authoritative medical advice)

  • DHA (omega-3) source

    […] about the nutrients provided via fish oil supplementation or food sources. Short version: flaxseed (aka linseed oil) is crap for bioavailability, no matter how much you consume and even CAFO meat/fish sources are […]

  • 042611 – Tuesd

    […] Flaxseed oil (ALA) is not an acceptable substitute. Our bodies are woefully inefficient (less than 1%) at converting it to the DHA we require. Besides, its real name is linseed oil. That’s furniture polish, and furniture polish is not food. […]

  • An interesting read … I tried to follow the science bit, but got a bit lost. The message was clear though, even if I don’t eat the stuff anyway.

    Talking of shine – did you know that coconut oil is a principle ingredient of car wax? :)

    Carnauba wax, beeswax, coconut oil, some horrible polymers and some kind of solvent – if they left the last two bits out, you could probably eat it!

  • Paul:

    Remove the solvents, add honey, and you could probably sell it as “Paleo Chews”.

    JS

  • Honora Renwick

    Flax seeds have got properties in that have amazing effects on breast cancer survival rates.

  • Honora:

    That may be true, (although the evidence is equivocal: “There is not sufficient human evidence to make a recommendation” -Mayo Clinic) — but any such effects are from lignans in the flaxseeds themselves, and those lignans are not found in flaxseed oil.

    JS

  • » “Eat T

    […] I’m increasingly wary of fish oil supplementation. The stuff won’t kill you (well maybe slowly), but I think it’s probably wiser to drop your n6 PUFAs as much as you can and get by on the n3′s in your food (eat some fish), or those in high-vitamin or fermented cod-liver oil, as Chris Kresser recommends. And never, ever, try to get supplemental n3 in plant forms (like flaxseed). […]

  • […] this is: necessary animal-sourced nutrients like vitamin B12, menaquinone-4 (vitamin K2 MK-4), and DHA are unavailable in the vegan diet, and must be replaced by supplementation in order to avoid […]

  • Anna

    I understand the point you are trying to make, but I have seen this kind of faulty logic before. Just because you can use a thing for another, unaesthetic purpose does not make it harmful. I could use mineral water to clean my toilet, but that wouldn’t make it a harmful thing to drink. So, there may be valid reasons not to consume flaxseed oil, but the fact that it can be used to polish furniture is not one of them.

  • E Craig

    People will remember that they don't want to consume furniture polish.  Even if they don't remember 'why'.

     

    It's a mnemonic device, and a chuckle-worthy one at that. 

     

    He addresses it a bit in his postscript.

  • Anna:

    Yes, it's mostly a mnemonic, as E Craig pointed out…but I think the fact that flaxseed oil becomes varnish (oils that do this are known as “drying oils”) is a strike against consuming it in supraphysiological quantities.  Oxidized oils are not good to consume!

    JS

  • […] Flaxseed oil (ALA) is not an acceptable substitute. Our bodies are woefully inefficient (less than 1%) at converting it to the DHA we require. Besides, its real name is linseed oil. That’s furniture polish, and furniture polish is not food. […]

  • Kevin

    Flaxseed causes extreme flatulence of the most odorous kind.

  • Kevin:

    I've never consumed enough of it at once to suffer that particular side effect.

    JS

  • […] I also heard, this is the stuff they use in varnish, aka linseed oil. Here is a little more info Flaxseed Oil: For The Greatest Shine You Ever Tasted! - GNOLLS.ORG 70lbs gone and counting!! Fat 2 Fit – One Woman's Journey Reply With […]

  • […] says, “Necessary animal-sourced nutrients like vitamin B12, menaquinone-4 (vitamin K2 MK-4), and DHA are unavailable in the vegan diet, and must be replaced by supplementation in order to avoid […]

  • […] I’m increasingly wary of fish oil supplementation. The stuff won’t kill you (well maybe slowly), but I think it’s probably wiser to drop your n6 PUFAs as much as you can and get by on the n3′s in your food (eat some fish), or those in high-vitamin or fermented cod-liver oil, as Chris Kresser recommends. And never, ever, try to get supplemental n3 in plant forms (like flaxseed). […]

  • […] Flaxseed oil (ALA) is not an acceptable substitute. Our bodies are woefully inefficient (less than 1%) at converting it to the DHA we require. Besides, its real name is linseed oil. That’s furniture polish, and furniture polish is not food. […]

  • […] Óleo de linhaça (ALA) não é um substituto aceitável. Nossos corpos são muito ineficientes (menos de 1%) em convertê-lo para o DHA de que precisamos. Além disto, ele é polidor de móveis, e polidores de móveis não são comida. […]

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