|Description||Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is one of the 3 main omega-3 fatty acids, a major class of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). ALA is an essential fatty acid, meaning that the body can’t produce it so it must be obtained through the diet.|
|Function/ Used for||As a fatty acid, ALA contains a rich source of energy (9kcal/g) and has many functions in the heart, blood vessels, brain, lungs, immune system, and endocrine system. ALA can be converted to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the long-chain omega-3s, although the conversion rate is limited.
ALA is considered to be especially important for certain processes in the body including:
These beneficial effects are obtained with a daily intake of 2g ALA1.
|Intake||Adequate intake (AI) as set by EFSA: 0.5% dietary energy2. The UK DRV for PUFA (combined omega-3 and omega-6 PUFAs) is 6.5% of total dietary energy3. Average intake of omega-3 fatty acids as a percentage of dietary energy increases with age from 0.8% for 4-10 year olds up to 1% in adults (19-64 years of age)4.|
|As a supplement||There are currently no UK recommendations for omega-3 supplements. Supplements are commonly available as soft gel capsules containing ALA-rich oils such as flaxseed oil.
These are often available as a single supplement but also combined with other fatty acids from the omega-6 and omega-9 classes.
People should always check the label for information about a specific product.
|Found in (dietary sources)||ALA is found in mostly plant foods; rich sources include flaxseed and flaxseed oil, walnuts and walnut oil, rapeseed oil, chia seeds, soybeans, hemp seeds and eggs (particularly from chickens fed an omega-3 enriched diet).|
|Deficiency||A deficiency of omega-3 can cause rough, scaly skin and a red, swollen, itchy rash; however obvious symptoms of deficiency such as this are rare in the UK2.|
|Precautions and contraindications||ALA should not be used to treat cardiovascular disorders without medical supervision.|
|Use in pregnancy and breastfeeding||There is no evidence of adverse effects in pregnancy at normal intakes.|
|Interactions e.g. with other medications||ALA may increase the antiplatelet activities of Ibrutinib (a cancer growth inhibitor)5.|
|Adverse effects||When consumed in amounts consistent with dietary intake ALA is considered very safe.|
|References||1 EU Community Register of Nutrition and Health Claims
2 EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition, and Allergies (NDA); Scientific Opinion on Dietary Reference Values for fats, including saturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids, trans fatty acids, and cholesterol. EFSA Journal 2010; 8(3):1461.
3 Department of Health; Dietary Reference Values A Guide (1991).
4 SACN; Saturated fats and health (2019).
5 National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE); Ibrutinib Drug Interactions.