17 Fantastic Health Benefits of Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA)

Alpha linolenic acid (also referred to as ALA) is the essential parent fatty acid of the omega 3 fatty acids. A diet that is rich in vegetal ALA oil, reduces both the risks and the complications of many chronic illnesses including heart disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer. We need it for our health but our bodies cannot produce it by itself. We have to ingest it via our nutrition (and supplements) *.

Without sufficient ALA health is not possible. An additional benefit is that ALA can be converted into EPA and DHA as well as 20 other fatty acids in sufficient amounts for the body*. An ALA deficiency causes, amongst other things, reduced sight, weakness, incapability to walk, pain in the legs, blurry sight (in monkeys), dry and scaling skin, abundant cholesterol and inflammation *.

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1) Extra ALA helps prevent and treat obesity

In a study (DB-RCT) of 177 obese people, ALA reduced the intra-organ fat mass, body weight, waistline and blood triglycerides *. In a comparable study of 114 overweight people, extra ALA also reduced fat mass, body weight, the waistline and the triglyceride blood sugar levels by increasing fat burning *. ALA actives genes that are involved in lipolysis (the fat break down process) and increase the warmth production in the bowels, resulting in an increased burning of fat.

2) Extra ALA improves the skin

Low ALA levels were associated with dry and uncomfortable skin and poor skin quality *. Linseed oil and perilla oil reduce the inflammation of the skin cells and promote regeneration *. In another study of 45 women, linseed oil reduced redness and roughness of the skin *. Flaxseed also reduced skin cell inflammation and increased the recovery of the skin cells *. ALA levels in adipose tissue (fat) of patients with psoriasis is lower compared to those with regular skin. They also have lower circulating levels of ALA and omega 6 fats.* Dry skin also needs sufficient omega-6. Dry elbows require omega-6 rich oil.

3) ALA can reduce the risk of cancer

In a study with 350 colon cancer patients and 350 control subjects, higher ALA levels in the blood were associated with a reduced risk of colon cancer (57%) and rectal cancer (59%) *. In a study of 121 female breast cancer patients, patients with the highest levels of ALA in their breast tissue had an 80% lower risk of spreading the cancer to other tissues *. Another similar study of 123 women with breast cancer showed that breast tissue with the highest levels of ALA had a 65% reduced risk of breast cancer *. Linseed oil reduced the development, amount, severity and size of skin cancer in mice *.

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4) ALA protects against diabetes

ALA improved wound healing, reduced inflammation and increased insulin sensitivity as well as reduced fasting insulin levels in a study (DB-RCT) of 60 patients with diabetic foot *. Storage of ALA in adipose tissue reduced the risk of insulin resistance (HOMA-IR) in a study with 716 people *.

5) ALA protects against strokes

High ALA intake was associated with a 35 to 50% reduction in stroke risk in a cohort study of 20,069 middle-aged people in the Netherlands *. In mice and rats, ALA reduced symptoms of stroke and tissue damage, protected against brain damage, improved circulation and improved chances of survival after a stroke *.

6) ALA improves the health of the heart

In large population studies, ALA rich diets were related to reduced risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, lower triglycerides, less plaque in the arteries and reduced risk of fatal heart attacks. The heart rhythm can also benefit from an ALA diet *.

7) ALA reduces high blood pressure

In a study of 127 patients with mild hypertension, ALA given with a strict diet significantly lowered blood pressure (systolic and diastolic) *. High blood pressure can be caused by omega-3 deficits. Additional ALA helped to prevent omega-3 deficiency related high blood pressures in mice *.

8) ALA reduces inflammation

Inflammation contributes to the causes and severity of many diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, cerebrovascular diseases, depression and autoimmune diseases. Reducing inflammation with ALA can ease the symptoms of these diseases *. A supplement of ALA reduced inflammatory markers (TNF-alpha and IL-1beta) by 30% in a study of 645 healthy volunteers *. ALA supplementation via flaxseed oil also reduced inflammatory markers (C-reactive protein, interleukin-6 and blood amyloid A) in a study of 50 people with high cholesterol levels *. High doses of extra ALA,  in 60 older adults who were doing strength training, reduced inflammation (IL-6) and improved knee muscle strength compared to the placebo group (who were given a supplement of corn oil). Both ALA and omega-6 fats (alpha linoleic acid) in the diet were related to lower levels of inflammation (C-reactive protein) in men *.

9) ALA can improve gut health

Adding ALA to the diet of 230 patients with colitis ulcerosa and Crohn’s disease increased their ratios of omega-3 to omega-6 in the blood and reduced inflammation *.

10) ALA can improve kidney function

In rats, ALA improved kidney function and inflammatory markers. An ALA-rich diet (20 gr oil / day) improved markers of kidney function, decreased total and LDL cholesterol as well as excessive blood clotting in 9 patients with lupus-induced kidney inflammation *.

11) ALA can prevent allergic reactions

A high intake of ALA reduced the risk of allergic reactions in 568 people *. ALA reduced the release of histamine in mice *. In a study of mice about allergic dermatitis ALA reduced redness, itching, swelling and skin damage *.

12) ALA can help with treating stomach ulcers

In rats, ALA was more effective than drugs for reducing stomach ulcers caused by alcohol *. ALA can also inhibit the growth of H. pylori, a type of bacteria that can cause stomach ulcers *.

13) ALA improves the health of the eyes

ALA and omega 7 improved the symptoms of dry eyes in a study (DB-RCT) of 100 patients *. ALA reduced eye inflammation and dehydration in mice *. In rats, ALA has helped protect the retina from UV damage *.

14) ALA reduces symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis

In several cohort studies of multiple sclerosis patients, ALA was associated with: reduced risk of relapse by 53%, reduced disease activity by 55%, reduced fatigue and reduced depression by 50% *.

15) ALA can reduce the risk of depression

High ALA intake reduced the risk of depression in a cohort study of 54,632 women *.

16) ALA can improve rheumatoid arthritis

Flaxseed oil reduced symptoms of arthritis and inflammation in animal studies on rheumatoid arthritis.

17) ALA and ADHD

In a pilot study with 60 children, ALA together with vitamin C improved the behaviour of ADHD patients *.

*scientific research published in pubmed, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed

Watch out! No whole or ground flaxseed but flaxseed oil or perilla oil
Ground or whole flaxseed can be irritating for those with inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS) *. Flaxseed also contains isoflaphones and oestrogen-like substances in its shell that we better not eat every day.

Natural sources
Perilla oil is by far the richest source of ALA, followed by flaxseed oil.

Dosage
The intake of omega-3 ALA of 6 to 12 grams per day is related to a reduced risk of heart disease *. To prevent deficiencies, between 0.2 to 0.3% of the total calories in your diet should contain ALA *. This is between one teaspoon and one tablespoon of perilla oil or flaxseed oil per day.