What Is Alpha-Linolenic Acid?

Alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, is a type of omega-3 fatty acid that is derived from various plants. It is found in high amounts in flax seeds and cold-pressed flaxseed oil and in lesser amounts in walnut oil, pumpkin seed oil. Soybeans and tofu are also very popular sources.

ALA is the most common type of omega-3 fatty acid and the most important from a dietary perspective. ALA acts as a precursor to other omega-3 fatty acids, specifically eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), according to August 2014 research in Food and Chemical Toxicology. Only small amounts of ALA are converted into DHA and EPA.

ALA is tied to many benefits, including anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-osteoporotic, anti-oxidant, cardioprotective and neuroprotective effects, according to research in Food & Chemical Toxicology.

Heart-Healthy Benefits of ALA

Eating foods high in ALA is associated with lower rates of death from coronary heart disease and from heart attack, according to a Circulation study.

Sources of Alpha-Linolenic Acid

Many foods are rich in ALA. You can find this essential fatty acid in many plant-based foods.

  • Nuts: walnuts and pistachios
  • Seeds: flax, chia seeds and hemp seed
  • Avocado

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a total of 1.1 to 1.6 grams of ALA per day for a healthy diet. A study in the Proceedings of Nutrition Society Journal suggests this value may be increased to at least 2 grams per day.

When you eat foods with Alpha-linolenic acid, the body processes it into EPA and DHA. Continued research is being conducted to find out more on how much ALA is recommended in a balanced diet.

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