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:

  • The maintenance of normal blood cholesterol levels;
  • The normal growth and development of children.

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.


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