Category Archives: How Omega-3's work

Fish or Flax?

So – Fish or Flax ?

Until recently the promoters of fish oil would have said you only need fish oil to get all the Omega-3 your body needs, but the competitive rivalry between Omega-3 sources is on the wane as the science becomes clearer.  In a recent interview, Adam Ismail, executive director of GOED (Global Organization for fish oil Omega-3) said, “the fact of the matter is that we need more ALA (plant Omega-3) in our diet” (as well as fish oil (EPA & DHA), goes without saying for them).

The story so far:

  1. You only get the increased energy effects of better oxygenation and reduced allergies from membrane integrity from the ALA in flax-seed oil – not from fish oils (see “Oil on the mem-brane”)
  2. You only get the healthier skin benefits from the ALA in flax-seed oil – not from fish oils (see “Pamper your skin”)
  3. Your body needs to have roughly equal amounts of Omega-3 and Omega-6 (see “The balancing act- Omega 3:Omega 6”), so taking a gram or two of fish oil in capsules is going to do little to change this.
  4. Conversion rates are higher than initial studies suggested and the latest research is suggesting that the body is capable of making the amount of secondary Omega-3s (EPA & DHA) it needs from the primary Omega-3 (ALA) delivered to the site where the body needs it (see “Conversion to secondary Omega-3s”).

To recap on the conversion story – many argue that humans can only convert limited amounts of ALA to the long chain Omega-3 EPA and even less to DHA.









A recently published review of all the research on the subject showed that the conversion of ALA to EPA, as measured in the blood, is in the order of 8 – 20% and the conversion to DHA is 0.5 – 9%.1

What do these numbers mean for me?

Our suggested serving size for flax seed oil is 15 ml per day, which provides you with 8600 mg of ALA, which your body could potentially convert to 688 to 1720 mg per day of EPA and 43 to 774 mg of DHA.

The National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia and New Zealand (NHMRC) suggest that we need an absolute minimum (AI – Adequate Intake) of 90 mg/day for Women (145 mg/day if breast feeding) and 160 mg/day for Men.  These AI values are only to protect against Omega-3 deficiency, whereas the higher SDT (Suggested Dietary Target) values are needed for reducing chronic disease risk and to achieve “wellness”.

What you NEED and what you COULD make


EPA + DHA mg/day




Your Body NEEDs





Minimum (AI)





For Wellness (SDT)




Your Body COULD Make


15 ml flax seed

731 – 2494

3 x 1000 mg flax oil capsules

155 – 530

So calculating the potential conversion of ALA to EPA + DHA shows that our suggested serving size of capsules will likely be covering your body’s minimum requirements for EPA and DHA.  If you are using the liquid oil, your body can make all the EPA and DHA it requires and still have plenty of ALA left to carry out the functions listed in 1. – 3. above.

What are your options for getting more omega-3 in your body?

Flax seed oil

Flax seed oil is the richest source of ALA (see “What-are-the-omega-3-fats”) and as the above calculations show; regular intake can provide your body’s need for the long chain Omega-3s EPA and DHA as well as the direct benefits of ALA.

Fish oil

  • In the Northern hemisphere, in particular, fish stocks are seriously contaminated with pesticides, heavy metals, and radioactivity.
  • “Fish oil – huge shortage looming”.  Since volumes of fish oil in the future are likely to remain static or decrease, the growing sales of omega-3 pills are on the brink of turning into a huge problem for aquaculture.  By 2020, fish oil supply for the industry will be short by 744,000 metric tonnes, says a 2011 report



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Is taking flax safe for pregnant women? Should I be taking flax if I’m pregnant?

I recently recieved this question from a customer:

“I have just been sold a bottle of Waihi Bush flax bloom by my naturopath when I told her I was trying for a baby. However, I am concerned about taking it due to the huge amount of information on the internet saying that flax seed oil is not safe in pregnancy due to the phytoestrogens. I have not been able to find a single site stating that flax seed oil is safe in pregnancy. I have found similar information about Evening Primrose Oil, which flax bloom also contains.”

“Can you shed any light on why you advise this product for pregnant women when there is so much advice against taking both flax seed and evening primrose oils in pregnancy? Obviously I want to make the right decision for me and my baby’s health.”

My answer – It’s really important to make a distinction between whole flax seed and flax seed oil.

Yes – the whole flax seed and our flax fibre do contain significant amounts of plant oestrogens called lignans – which have been shown to be very effective as part of your treatment for breast and prostate cancer (more on that later and see “Flax Seed Fibre and Prostate Health”).

One study with mice fed flax seed did give a small reduction (but not statistically significant) in birth weight, so I have put a caution on our flax fibre to talk to your health professional before using this in pregnancy.

Flax seed OIL, on the other hand, only contains very small amounts of lignans so there are no issues around using the oil when you are pregnant. Lignans are water soluble, which is why they do not go into the oil – you would get about the same amount of lignans from a serving of whole grain bread or a brassica.

The caution around using Evening Primrose oil during pregnancy is because the prostaglandins which the body produces to initiate birth are made from the GLA (secondary Omega-6) in Evening Primrose oil. This raises the concern that too much GLA might stimulate early termination – however prostaglandins are always acting in opposition to each other – so the Omega-6 ones which are used to initiate birth are opposed by the ones made from Omega-3, which the body uses to keep the pregnancy going.

So your body MUST have the building blocks to produce both prostaglandins, so as usual, its all about the BALANCE between Omega-6 and Omega-3 (see “The balancing act – Omega-3:Omega-6”).

I have carefully formulated flax bloom to contain the right proportions of secondary Omega-6 and Omega-3 to give balanced supply for the body to make the prostaglandins it needs for the stage your pregnancy is at. flax bloom also contains more of the primary Omega-3 to bring your body into balance during your pregnancy.

Conclusion – you should absolutely be taking flax bloom when you are planning to be or are pregnant. If you don’t eat additional Omega-3 your baby will rob your body of Omega-3 to build its brain and leave you short and vulnerable to post natal depression. Omega-3s are used by your body to make the prostaglandins that wind you down from stress, so all the “flax seed oil” babies I have come across are much more placid than usual and really switched on.

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Conversion to secondary Omega-3s

The Omega-3 in flax oil (ALA) is the primary essential fatty acid that the body cannot make – you must obtain it from your food.

A healthy body uses ALA to make the secondary Omega-3’s – EPA and DHA, which it needs for healthy brain/eye/nerve function. EPA is a key building block your body uses to make prostaglandins – key hormone like substances which control many bodily functions like the “flight or fight” reactions – think stress. So you do need both types of Omega-3.

However all the Omega-3s – ALA, EPA and DHA are alike, in that they all block the actions of some compounds that cause inflammation in your body. Most chronic diseases, like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer and arthritis are marked by inflammation. By blocking inflammation, ALL omega-3 fats help to reduce the risk of chronic disease.

How does your body do this conversion?


The first step in this process uses an enzyme called the Delta-6-desaturase (D6D) – this is widely recognized as being the step that restricts the rate of this process. This rate can be impacted by a number of factors – more on this later.

You can get also get EPA and DHA direct from fish oil, but there are some serious limitations for your body if you just take a few fish oil capsules:

1. You only get the effects of better oxygenation and membrane integrity from the ALA in flax-seed oil – see “Oil on the mem-brane”

2. Your body needs to have roughly equal amounts of Omega-3 and Omega-6 – see “The balancing act- Omega 3:Omega 6”, so taking a gram or two of fish oil in capsules is going to do little to change this.

A very common argument used by the proponents of fish oil, is that humans can only convert limited amounts of ALA to the long chain Omega-3 EPA and even less to DHA.

Yes – some of the initial studies did indicate quite low conversion rates, but as the measurement techniques have become more sophisticated, the estimates of conversion rates have increased substantially. A recently published review on the subject suggests that the conversion of ALA to EPA, as measured in the blood, is in the order of 8 – 20% and the conversion to DHA is 0.5 – 9%5.

But this is only part of the story:

• The conversion rate is influenced by oestrogen levels, so that young women can convert up to 20 times more ALA to DHA than young men (so that they can grow their baby with a healthy brain perhaps?).

• Preterm infants on formula were converting about 15% of the ALA to DHA.

• When a group of healthy individuals were supplemented with flax oil, the levels of DHA in the brain and retina increased, even though there was no change in the amount of DHA circulating in the blood. This explains why all the early studies measuring the rates of conversion of ALA to DHA in either the blood serum or blood platelets did not tell the full story.

So, in a nut shell, the latest research is suggesting that the body is capable of making the amount of secondary Omega-3s it needs from the primary EFAs, delivered to the site where the body needs it.

Considering that humans are thought to have evolved in Eastern Africa, well away from oily cold water fish, rich in EPA and DHA, this is not really a surprising result – aren’t our bodies clever?

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Oil on the mem-brane

How should you get flax seed oil into your diet?

The ultimate way is to mix it with sulphur amino acids because of the benefits to your cell membranes. Milk and eggs are the richest sources of the sulphur amino acids, but other protein foods, like hemp seed, are also good sources.

Emulsifying flax seed oil into foods like yoghurt, cottage cheese and mayonnaise makes the Omega-3 work with increased intensity, which greatly improves its functioning in the body.

When sulphur amino acids are emulsified with flax seed oil, they form lipoproteins in the stomach. The lipoproteins are then absorbed directly into the blood stream and are used by your body for constructing healthy cell walls/membranes.

Why are healthy membranes so critical for good health?

1. They are the key component of the oxygen transport system into the cell. When you start taking flax seed oil in this way most people get a lift in energy levels.

Since cancer cells don’t thrive in a high oxygen environment, such a combination is a key part of most effective natural protocols for cancer patients (See

Well oxygenated muscles also recover more quickly after exercise and athletic performance can be enhanced.

More on these two subjects later.

2. Undamaged essential fatty acids have a specific shape, which allows them to pack accurately into cell membranes, which minimises leaky membranes.

Leaky membranes are a key cause of allergic reactions from cell contents ending up in the wrong place – think asthma and food allergies.

Leaky membranes also allow water loss from cells, so are a major cause of dry skin, hair and nails (See – I see the signs).

So how do you introduce flax seed oil into your diet and get these great health benefits?


  • By emulsifying flax seed oil into foods like yoghurt, cottage cheese and mayonnaise it makes the oil work with increased intensity, which greatly improves its functioning in the body – this is how healthy cell membranes are constructed.

THE NEXT BEST (because you are getting some sulphur amino acids):

  • Use our delicious Mustard, Miso or Tamari flax oil sauces/dressings from our 3six9 range as part of your meal.
  • Or use Flax Seed oil with food, by adding to your meals – like pour it over your breakfast cereal or evening meal or add to mashed potato (See Recipes page on this blog or for lots more ideas.
  •  My personal favourite is a lightly curried pumpkin soup served with a dollop of sour cream and a slosh of Flax Seed oil.


  • Straight off a spoon – yes it has got a nice nutty flavour, but many can’t handle the oily texture.
  • You can use a treat like raisins to cut the oily texture out of your mouth afterwards.

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The balancing act- Omega 3:Omega 6

Omega-6/Omega-3 Ratio and Health

Now that you know what an Omega-6/Omega-3 imbalance might look like in your body (see my blog ‘I see the signs’), why is it so important?

What can this imbalance do to your health?

Potentially this imbalance can cause some really nasty things. It was summed up by the editor of the proceedings from a recent major scientific conference on this subject-

“A higher omega-6/omega-3 ratio is associated with increased risk for coronary heart disease, colorectal cancer, asthma, osteoporosis, arthritis, and neurodegenerative diseases and various aspects of mental illness, violent behavior, and deficient cognition in both children and the elderly.”

That’s a pretty serious list, which includes many of the very common health issues that face many people and entire families. The consensus from the delegates at the conference is that the optimum ratio of Omega-6/Omega-3 is about 2 -3 or less.

Why will this happen?

Major changes have taken place in our diet in the last 10,000 years, since the beginning of the Agricultural Revolution, yet our genes have changed very little over the same period (perhaps 0.005%).

So today most of us eat very differently from the way for which our genes are programmed. Studies of the diet we ate as our bodies evolved indicate that the major changes that have happened since then include:

  • The type and amount of essential fatty acids
  • The antioxidant content of foods
  • The amount of dietary fibre.

How has this happened?

These changes have been exacerbated in the last 50 years by the advent of the modern vegetable oil industry, which has seen rapid growth in the production and, more importantly, promotion of “polyunsaturated” or Omega-6 oils. This has lead to rapid growth in their consumption, because we are “educated” by the vegetable oil industry to believe it is the healthy thing to do. (Check out my earlier blog “Are they pulling the ‘OIL’ over your eyes”)

What we used to eat:

Estimates of the food eaten by our forbears in the late Paleolithic period (our Hunter Gatherer phase) suggest an Omega-6/Omega-3 of 0.8/1 – in other words more Omega-3 than Omega-6.

What we eat now:

Similar estimates for the present Western diet show that it is both ’deficient’ in Omega-3 and with an Omega-6/Omega-3 ratio of 16 – 20/1 or even up to 30/1.

Thus there has been both an absolute and relative decrease in the amount of Omega-3 consumed in the diet.

How can you change this?

To redress this major imbalance it is important to:

1. Substantially reduce your intake of Omega-6 oils by switching to the healthier Omega-9 oils for cooking (See my blog “What are Omega-9 fats”) and by reducing the amount of junk food your family eats.

2. Increase your intake of Omega-3.

Flax seed oil (FSO) is the only Omega-3 oil capable of reducing this imbalance. Oils like hemp and walnut still contain more Omega-6 than Omega-3. (See my blog “What are the Omega-3 fats”)

While taking a few fish or flax capsules a day will have some impact on your health, such action is going to do little to change this major imbalance. Getting 1 – 2 tbsp per day of fresh Flax Seed oil into your diet is the most practical way to correct this imbalance.

How long to get in balance?

It is likely to take at least six months or even several years, depending on the amount of Omega-6 (think junk food!) in your diet and how much Flax oil you take.

How will I know when this has happened?

After taking Flax oil for some time you will reach a point when you get too much Omega-3, because the balance has tipped the other way i.e. an Omega-6/Omega-3 of less than 1. When this happens you will see the return of one of the symptoms of EFA imbalance (see my Blog “I see the signs”) – this will typically be the symptom you had in the first place.

Once you get to this point, then you need to start taking an oil blend that has equal amounts of Omega3 and Omega-6 to maintain good health e.g. Flax Balance from Waihi Bush Organic Farm. Any symptoms of an imbalance will quickly disappear.

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I see the signs

The signs of Omega-3 deficiency

Author’s note: In my last post I talked about the fact that your skin, hair or nails are usually the first place you see a lack of Omega-3, following this, many of you asked about other things that may be indicators of an Omega-3 deficiency, so I have outlined some more for you.

A lack of Omega-3 in the diet is more common than you might think, most people on a typical western diet are getting more Omega-6 than they need (see “What are Omega-6 fats?” blog) and not enough Omega-3 – this causes an imbalance in the body that often displays itself as the symptoms of an Omega-3 deficiency.

Typically this lack of Omega-3 will show up as one or more of the following physical symptoms:
  • Excessive thirst
  • Excessive ear wax
  • Dandruff
  • Frequent urination
  • Irritability
  • Attention deficit
  • Soft, brittle or easily frayed nails
  • Allergies
  • Lowered immunity
  • Fatigue
  • Hyperactivity
  • Dry eyes
  • Poor wound healing
  • Frequent infections
  • Learning and memory problems
  • Patches of pale skin on cheeks
  • Cracked skin on heels or fingertips
  • Craving for rich fatty foods

“Ouch – that’s a long list, several of these are me” you say?

You are right, it is a long list but many of these conditions can be easily remedied by returning to a better balance of Omega 3 and 6. By changing your diet to include things like flax seed oil that are high in Omega-3, you can boost the levels of Omega-3 in your body and return to this better ‘balance’ – more on that later.

“The list also seems to potentially include any part of the body?”

Yes it does, because all the cells in your body should have Omega-3 in their cell membranes to function smoothly, so lack of Omega-3 can manifest in many ways throughout the body.

Everybody is different – your diet, exercise levels and mental attitude all affect the way your body is going to show an Omega-6/Omega-3 imbalance.

Most people I see are exhibiting some symptoms of lack of Omega-3 – but no I don’t go around looking for lots of ear wax.

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Pamper your skin

How to get that Healthy Glow

All of us want to have that healthy glow that comes with radiant good health and vast sums of money are spent on trying to create that look using cosmetics.

There is an increasing realisation that the best way to get that healthy glow is to look at the nutritional factors missing in your diet that could be supplemented to create that beauty from within that comes with real wellness – enter the concept of neutraceuticals!

One of the key neutraceuticals is flax seed oil, because usually the first place you see a lack of Omega-3 is on your skin or hair and nails.

Typically lack of Omega-3 can manifest as one or more of the following. 

• Dry, scaly or bumpy skin
• Eczema
• Acne
• Dermatitis
• Psoriasis
• Slow healing
• Dry lack lustre hair
• Dry brittle nails

Why can this happen?

The ALA in flax seed oil is a key building block for healthy cell membranes. So if your body is lacking in Omega 3 it will use whatever fats you are consuming to build your skin cells – this can lead to “leaky membranes”, which is a primary cause of allergic conditions such as eczema.

One of the characteristics of ALA is that the molecule is not straight like a saturated fat molecule, but is kinked because of the presence of three double bonds.

This unique shape means that it will pack neatly into the cell wall and create a membrane that is flexible, but retains its integrity.

Skin cells made from “bad fats” are likely to have compromised integrity and so be susceptible to toxins and irritants in the environment such as pollen, soaps, foods and various chemical allergens.

Can Omega-3 help in other ways?

The prostaglandins, which dampen down inflammation, are made from Omega 3, so taking flax seed oil also helps regulate inflammation, which is important in skin conditions such as Psoriasis.

What is some of the science around Omega-3 and skin?

In a recent study with healthy women with sensitive or dry skin, supplementing with only 2.2g per day of flax seed oil reduced skin reddening after applying a chemical irritant.

Skin hydration was increased and trans dermal water loss was reduced, with the improvement continuing throughout the 12-week experiment.

The incidence of skin roughness and scaling were also reduced. Borage oil, which is rich in Omega-6, was not as effective as flax seed oil.

A follow-up study confirmed the same greater effectiveness of the Omega-3 – flax seed oil compared to an Omega-6 oil and also measured an improvement in skin smoothness.

What is the best way to take flax seed oil to maximise the effect on my skin?

Make a delicous yoghurt smoothie

The ideal way to take flax seed oil is to make a yoghurt – flax seed oil – fresh fruit smoothie. These combine to make a delicious drink to start your day.

Cottage cheese spread/dip

Another alternative is to us a whizz stick to mix up low fat cottage cheese and flax seed oil and add herbs or spices to make a spread or dip.

The important part of either of these recipe ideas is to make sure the flax oil is mixed at high speed to create an emulsion or “lipoprotein” that can be absorbed straight from your stomach into your bloodstream and from there into your cell walls.

The ALA in flax seed oil and the sulphur amino acids found in abundance in milk protein combine in your cell wall to become a major component of the oxygen transport system into your cell.

The big bonus from this is, not only do you maximise the benefits for your skin, but most people experience an energy lift as well.

I have a friend who was recovering from ME who had experienced a useful lift in energy from taking flax seed oil straight. His wife then started taking the oil in a smoothie to help with her cellulite and fed him some smoothie as well and within 2 days he had another lift in energy.

Massage oil

The ultimate way to recieve flax oil for your skin is to get your imtimate partner to give you a full body massage.

Being light and non sticky it makes a lovely oil to use for a massage and leaves your skin feeling wonderful – I liken it to feeling like you have just swum in a mountain stream.

The essential fatty acids are readily absorbed into your skin to truly nourish your body.

After your massage you do need to wait until all the oil is absorbed or have a quick rinse under the shower, otherwise the high levels of carotene pigment that give it the characteristic yellow colour could stain your clothes.


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