Heightened importance has been placed on omega-3 fatty acids in recent years as researchers have found that they may help reduce chronic inflammation, and subsequently be a key player in warding off disease. <1> Current studies indicate that omega-3s may help decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease and certain forms of cancer, and they may offer protection against depression and osteoarthritis. Omega-3s can also modulate gene expression of cytokines (vital cell signaling proteins) and adhesion molecules (proteins that help cells stick to each other) by interacting peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR) and help modulate the immune and inflammatory responses <1,2,3>. Due to the importance omega-3s serve in the human body, increased focus has been placed on consuming enough omega-3 fatty acids, as the typical western diet does not provide the recommended amounts of these essential fatty acids. <4,5> Typically, when looking to increase one's intake of Plant-Based Omega-3-6-9 Oil
, the default option is oily fish like salmon, tuna, and halibut, which are high in DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). For those not particularly fond of sea options (or those looking to diversify their fat intake), several plant foods like flaxseed, chia seed, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts contain another form of omega-3 called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). The human body can convert ALA into EPA and DHA through a chain of chemical reactions that occur in the liver. However, this conversion isn't very efficient in most individuals. <6> This means that only a small fraction of the ingested ALA converts entirely to DHA. Researchers believe this is due in part to competition from omega-6 fatty acids, which are usually consumed somewhere on the order of 20:1 (omega-6:omega-3) compared to omega-3s. This has led many people to consider using dietary supplements, such as krill oil, cod liver oil, other fish oil caps as a means of increasing their omega-3 levels. However, the fish oil supplement market isn’t without its own set of issues as fish oil supplements are highly susceptible to oxidative degradation. <7> The degree and rate to which a given fish oil supplement is oxidized (degraded) is based on several factors, including <8,9>:
- Fatty Acid Composition
- Exposure to Oxygen and Light
- The Temperature of Processing and Storage
- Antioxidant Content
- Presence of Water and/or Heavy Metals
Since it's not realistically possible for the average consumer to know the extent to which the generic fish oil supplement they purchase is oxidized or not, and that scientists still are unsure of the ramifications of consuming oxidized fish oil supplements. <7> It may be best to proceed with caution concerning mass-market fish oil supplements, or at least moderating your intake of them and getting some omega-3s from actual food sources. Fortunately, there appears to be another source of omega-3 fatty acids that's flown under the radar for some time, but it might just be the most potent (and sustainable) source of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids yet. It’s called Ahiflower®.
What is Ahiflower®?
Ahiflower® (Buglossoides Arvensis
) is both an annual and a biennial plant belonging to the Boraginaceae family. It is typically planted in early spring or autumn and reaches maturity in 100-150 days. Ahiflower® grows about two feet tall and has multiple flowering points along with it. Each flower on the plant can produce four seeds, each of contain approximately 20% oil. Now, here’s where things get interesting with Ahiflower® -- They provide the most abundant plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids. Ahiflower® oil contains a type of omega-3 fatty acid that converts far more efficiently (4x more efficient than ALA) in the body to EPA and DHA. <10,12> The omega-3 acid we’re describing is known as stearidonic acid (SDA). It accounts for up to 20% of the fat content in ® oil.
Stearidonic acid is an 18-carbon n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid that is an intermediary in the conversion of ALA to EPA. The conversion of ALA to SDA is catalyzed by Δ-6 desaturase. Based on this, you can think of stearidonic acid as a "more direct" precursor to the omega-3 fatty acids that our bodies want (EPA and DHA). Instead of having to undergo two or three conversions to get what we wish to (ALA → SDA then SDA → EPA then EPA → DHA) when ingesting SDA (in the form of Ahiflower® oil), we're able to eliminate one of the steps in the process and facilitate a more efficient conversion. And, research has demonstrated as much. <10,12> Studies show that SDA converts to EPA at a ratio of 30-35%, which is far more efficient than what would be obtained consuming a similar amount of ALA (which is estimated by researchers to be between 3-20% conversion of ALA to EPA). Ahiflower® also contains GLA (gamma-linolenic acid), an essential omega-6 fatty acid noted for its anti-inflammatory effects. <14,15> GLA and its metabolites also affect the expression of various genes that play a significant role in immune functions as well as apoptosis (cell death). Interestingly, the most abundant source of GLA for infants is breast milk. It's also found in trace amounts in green leafy vegetables and certain nuts. GLA is often associated with skin health and hormonal balance as typically taken as a supplement made from borage oil or evening primrose. Now, here’s the kicker -- neither fish oil nor flaxseed oil contains GLA! So, compared to other plant omega-3 sources, Ahiflower® gives you a 2-for-1. You get a more efficient converting omega-3 in SDA and the beneficial effects of the anti-inflammatory omega-6 GLA! Ahiflower® has also been the subject of a few recent randomized control trials. A 2016 study appearing in the Journal of Nutritional Science gave a group of 40 individuals either flaxseed oil or Ahiflower® oil daily for 4 weeks. <10> While both groups saw an increase in their levels of ALA and EPA, the group receiving Ahiflower® oil has a significantly more significant improvement in their EPA levels compared to the flaxseed oil group. Researchers attribute the more significant increase in EPA levels for the Ahiflower® group to more efficient conversion of the fat. The reason ALA is so poorly converted to EPA is the result of limited Δ−6 desaturase activity (the enzyme that converts ALA to EPA). Here, we see that SDA in Ahiflower® oil gives us a more "direct" route to EPA when using plant omega-3s. The second Ahiflower® study of note was published in the journal Nutrients. <12> 88 healthy individuals took part in the randomized, placebo-controlled trial and were given a supplement containing either:
- Ahiflower® Oil
- Sunflower Oil
- A Combination of the Two Oils
Study participants took the supplement every day for 28 days. At the end of the 4-week trial, subjects receiving the Ahiflower® treatment experienced a significantly more significant increase in their levels of Interleukin-10 (IL-10) as well as other anti-inflammatory biomarkers. <12> Why is this important?
IL-10 is an anti-inflammatory cytokine produced by immunosuppressive M2-like monocyte/macrophages. One of the roles of M2 cells is to limit inflammation and promote angiogenesis (formation of new blood vessels) as well as the remodeling of tissues. <16> IL-10 can polarize M2 cells towards an M2c phenotype, which is believed to help limit inflammation. <12> Furthermore, researchers remarked that an abundance of IL-10 might be useful for predicting the severity of several inflammatory human diseases, meaning that lower levels of IL-10 are associated with more severe disease states. <17> The researchers say more investigation is needed into the use of IL-10, but initial findings are promising with relation to Ahiflower® Oil benefits.
Did You Know Ahiflower® is Vegan and Vegetarian Friendly?
An increasing percentage of the population is looking to limit (or altogether remove) animal products from the diet, which means getting enough omega-3 fatty acids could be difficult as ALA has a poor conversion rate. Since Ahiflower® oil comes from a plant, it is a particularly appealing option for individuals following a vegan or vegetarian diet. Furthermore, since the increased demand for omega-3 supplements has been linked to the overfishing of certain species of aquatic life, many believe that Ahiflower® oil may be a more sustainable alternative to fish oil. It’s also important to remember that the omega-3s in Ahiflower® oil (SDA) more readily convert to EPA and DHA than the “standard” omega-3 sources (chia seeds, walnuts, and flax seeds) for vegans and vegetarians, which are rich in ALA. As a bonus, since it is derived from plants, oil from the Ahiflower® doesn't come with the fishy taste, smell or "other" effects (e.g., fish burps) common with typical omega-3 supplements derived from fish.
Ahiflower® represents a sustainable and efficient alternative to get one's daily fill of essential omega-3 fatty acids. It boosts EPA levels in the body more effectively than standard options in walnuts and flax seeds, and it comes without the potential fish taste, smell, and burps of regular fish oil gels. There’s also the concern of oxidation with conventional fish oil supplements as well, making Ahiflower® that much more appealing of an option to turn to when seeking a means to supplement your omega-3 intake. Ideally, you would get a mix of omega-3s from oily fish and some plants so that all of your bases are covered, but if you don’t like fish or the thought of fish burps, Ahiflower®
appears to be the superior choice to other plant sources for omega-3s.
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