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Home » OSL Blog » Flaxseed Oil vs Fish Oil: What’s the Better Choice?

Flaxseed Oil vs Fish Oil: What’s the Better Choice?

July 22, 2019

Key Takeaways

  1. Fish oil and flaxseed oil are both supplements that can be used for different health benefits.
  2. You can eat 2-3 servings of cold water fish weekly or ground flaxseed as alternatives to supplements.
  3. There is not as much research out there about ALA omega-3 conversion to EPA and DHA to be conclusive.
  4. Everyone absorbs omegas differently, so results will vary depending on the individual and their health.

Pretty much all of us have heard of fish oil and that it can have various benefits for our health. While not as widely known as fish oil, flaxseed oil is another supplement that can be beneficial to our health.

As bodybuilders and health enthusiasts, we tend to gravitate towards things that will help our gym game. Anything that can help fuel our bodies, keep us in the gym, and provide muscle gains are worth considering. Don’t you agree?

When it comes to flaxseed oil vs fish oil, is one a better choice over the other? Let’s take a look at both types of oil and see if there’s a winner.

What is Flaxseed Oil?

Flaxseed oil is made by pressing the dried seeds of the flax plant. You may have also heard it called linseed oil. Due to its properties as a drying oil, it has been popular over the years in manufacturing, including:

  • Linoleum manufacturing
  • Varnishes
  • Resins
  • Solvents
  • Binder for oil paints
  • Putty making
varnish
Flaxseed or Linseed oil have been used in manufacturing including varnishes.

Its popularity in these applications has gone down over time in favor of products that don’t cause yellowing. But, it’s still a popular supplement and food oil used by many with various perceived health benefits.

One of the reasons for flaxseed oil’s popularity is because its an omega-3 fatty acid known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). We’ll get into the importance and role of omega-3’s as part of your diet in the next section.

Flaxseed oil is typically cold-pressed, which means it’s not heated while processed. It has a low smoke point and is only intended for low heat cooking or use in cold applications. Flaxseed oil should be kept refrigerated to reduce the risk of it going rancid.

For these reasons, most people consume flaxseed oil in capsule form or by eating ground flaxseed. The capsules are created with antioxidants to protect the oil and make it shelf stable. 

Flaxseed oil capsule
Flaxseed oil capsules were created to preserve the oil & make it easier to consume.

Flaxseeds are not new. In fact, they have been around since at least 500 B.C., when Hippocrates remarked about the seeds laxative effects.

Benefits

Potential health benefits of flaxseed oil include:

  • Inflammation reduction
  • Eczema relief
  • Reducing the risk of diabetes
  • Potential to help fight certain cancers
  • Increasing HDL cholesterol and lowering LDL cholesterol

What is Fish Oil?

Fish oil is made by extracting tissue from cold water oily fish. Fish oil is high in two different omega-3s than flaxseed oil, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Sardine fish oil
Fish oil can be extracted from sardines.

The most widely used fish types are:

  • Tuna
  • Salmon
  • Herring
  • Anchovies
  • Sardines
  • Mackerel

The omega-3 fatty acids found in these fish are from the algae and plankton in their diets. They do not use the omegas themselves, and there are many health benefits for us humans to benefit from.

Fish oil
Salmon is another main source of fish oil.

Benefits

The benefits that some have seen include:

  • Improved memory and cognition later in life (reduction in risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia)
  • Reduction in high blood pressure
  • Improvement in mental health disorders – depression, bipolar disorder
  • Prevention of cardiovascular disease
  • Reduction in triglyceride levels
  • Reduction of allergies in infants whose mothers took supplements while pregnant
  • Improved motor functions in infants whose mothers took supplements while breastfeeding

When it comes to taking fish oil supplements, it is largely done in capsule or liquid form. Due to complaints of indigestion and fishy burps, some capsules have an enteric coating. This coating prevents the capsules from dissolving prematurely in the small intestine.

If for some reason you can’t take supplements, you can still get your fish oil and omega-3s. The easiest way is to eat some oily fish, like the ones listed above, up to three times a week. This is actually the recommended way to get your omega-3.

Salmon and tuna
If you can’t take fish oil, regularly consuming fish like tuna & salmon is enough.

Some people worry about mercury in fish when taking supplements or increasing it in their diet. Most supplements are tested and found to have little to no mercury present. Plus, mercury is found in the meat more than the tissue producing oil. And, the use of cold water fish further reduces the chance of mercury ingestion.

What’s the Deal with Omega-3 Anyway?

The word omega-3 has come up a lot so far. But what exactly is omega-3 and why does it matter?

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for cellular health. They help make up the membrane that surrounds all your cells. Omega-3s provide energy and help support your

  • Blood vessels
  • Lungs
  • Heart
  • Endocrine system (hormone production)
  • Immune system
  • Brain
  • Retinas
  • Sperm cells
Healthy bodybuilder
Omega 3 provides your body with energy and supports many functions including immunity.

There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids:

  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) 
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)

EPA and DHA are mainly provided through seafood consumption. ALA cannot be made by the body as its an essential fatty acid. That’s why it’s important to consume plant oils like flaxseed, canola, and soybean oils. They are all high in ALA and can provide what your body needs.

Omega-3 recommendations

It is recommended that men consume 1.6 grams of ALA daily. For women, that number is 1.1 grams per day, increasing to 1.4 when pregnant and 1.3 when breastfeeding. Recommendations have not been made for DHA or EPA.

Even still, you should not consume more than 3 grams of DHA and EPA combined daily. It could cause adverse reactions and should only be done under the care of a doctor.

soybean oil is a good source of omega 3
Soybean oil is a great source of omega 3.

There are other foods and supplements that can help you reach your daily omega-3 recommendations. Some have naturally occurring omega-3s and others are fortified with them.

These foods (other than flaxseed and fish) include:

  • Chia seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Soybean oil
  • Canola oil
  • Certain fortified brands of 
    • Eggs
    • Yogurt
    • Soy products
    • Milk
    • Juice
    • Infant formulas
  • Cod liver oil
  • Krill oil
  • Algal oil (made from algae)
walnuts
Walnuts are also another source of omega 3 other than fish & flaxseed.

While a deficiency in omega-3s is rare in the United States, it can happen. Symptoms of omega-3 deficiency scaly skin and an itchy rash that can be swollen and red.

Getting Your Ratios Right

This article is focusing mainly on omega-3s, but we also need to mention omega-6 as well. They are both fatty acids but have significant differences. The most notable difference is that omega-6 is considered pro-inflammatory, while omega-3 is an anti-inflammatory.

Omega-6 is needed to help support overall health, but can definitely be too much of a good thing. If you have too many of these polyunsaturated fats, it can lead to obesity and cause chronic conditions. Too much omega-6 can also counteract the omega-3 absorption.

Western Diet

Eating a standard Western diet has long been linked to health conditions including:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cancer
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Obesity

Why do we bring this up? The ratios in how much omega-6 you eat compared to omega-3 are what’s important. You want to balance your omega-6 consumption with more omega-3 consumption. The omega-3 in fish oil and flaxseed oil will counteract the negatives of omega-6.

There is no clear cut ratio to consider, it really depends on your health. Strive for a ratio of 2:1 to 4:1 for omega-6 to omega-3 if you are healthy and active.

Not sure what to eat? We can help with that.

Eat more of this:

  • Flax
  • Perilla
  • Chia
  • Rapeseed
  • Fatty fish
  • Hazelnut oil
  • Macadamia nut oil
  • Olive oil
  • Sunflower oil
Chia seeds
Including chia seeds in your diet will help balance omega 3 & 6.

And less of this:

  • Red meat
  • Corn oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Cottonseed oil
  • Soybean oil
red meat
Reduce your consumption of red meat to support the balance of omega 3 &6.

It will help curb the chances of obesity and other diseases that plague a lot of people in the United States.

Now that we’ve discussed what fish oil, flaxseed oil, and omega-3s are, let’s go a little deeper. We’ll compare flaxseed oil vs fish oil to see if one is better for your overall health than the other.

Fish Oil vs Flaxseed Oil for Weight Loss

As mentioned before, flaxseed oil can have a laxative effect on some people. This can be a sign of taking too much in some people, but it can also aid in weight loss.

Weight loss
Flaxseed oil supports digestive health & leads to weight loss.

Flaxseed oil is high in fiber. It also increases digestive health and helps to lubricate the colon. Flaxseed can also help with constipation. All of these factors allow you to eliminate toxins regularly and with ease.

Why does this matter? Having a healthy digestive system and regular elimination helps to increase weight loss. Your body holds onto less and processes more out of your system, reducing overall weight gain.

hunger
Fish oil’s effects are relative; for some people, hunger is increased.

Fish oil can have a different effect on people. When 20 healthy people were studied, researchers found an increase in hunger. This was after a three week period of taking the supplements, and more pronounced in women.

However, in this study on dialysis patients, hunger was more pronounced in men than women. Interestingly enough, in a study done on overweight participants, more people felt fuller when taking fish oil supplements.

satisfaction
Overweight patients report decreased hunger when consuming fish oil.

Fish oil has also been found to increase metabolism in some people. This increase, along with fat oxidation, helps to increase calorie burn resulting in more fat burning. Of course, not all studies showed the same results, especially in healthy males.

Ultimately, it seems that fish oil has different effects on people of various health levels. It also seems that it can have an effect on gender as well.

Flaxseed Oil vs Fish Oil for Heart Health

When it comes to comparing flaxseed oil vs fish oil for cardiovascular health, there is definitely a clear winner. Fish oil has long been used for heart health and in some studies, show to work as well as some medications.

It is the combination of EPA and DHA that has a positive effect on the heart. This is especially true in those with heart failure. Studies have not shown any correlation in heart patients taking ALA. 

The anti-inflammatory effects that fish oil has also helps in therapeutic heart applications. An 18-week study of fourteen late-stage heart failure patients showed two positive results. An increase in body weight was noted as well as a decrease in tumor necrosis factor-alpha. The lack of TNF-alpha production reduces the chance of further heart failure in these patients.

Fish oil also seems to have a positive effect on those suffering from cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat). This study shows that these patients, as well as those with myocardial infarction, had reduced risk of sudden death.

Even better? Fish oil supplementation does not seem to have any significant drug interactions. This means that it can be added as part of a treatment plan to reduce inflammation and increase cardiovascular health.

Fish Oil vs Flaxseed Oil for Cholesterol

We’ve talked about cholesterol before. The HDL cholesterol is your good cholesterol and the LDL is the bad cholesterol. Ideally, you want to increase your HDL while decreasing your LDL.

When it comes to comparing flaxseed oil vs fish oil for better cholesterol, flaxseed oil is the winner. Some studies even indicate that fish oil can increase triglycerides and LDL cholesterol

cholesterol
Flaxseed oil is better than fish oil for increasing HDL.

It appears that the ALA in flaxseed oil is what helps to keep LDL cholesterol levels lower. This is great for people who struggle to lower their LDL cholesterol. 

While flaxseed oil is great, eating ground flax would be even better to get the full benefits. You can get seeds and grind them right before use, or grind them and refrigerate for later use.

Fish Oil vs Flaxseed Oil for Dry Eyes

It is fairly common for people to suffer from dry eyes. This can be due to a gland dysfunction but is most commonly a side effect of medications

If you suffer from dry eyes, you may find a solution in flaxseed oil. Taking this supplement daily can increase eye lubrication and improve contact tolerance.

Flax seed helps with lubrication of eyes
Flaxseed oil supports the lubrication of eyes.

Fish oil is also known to help with this condition. In fact, certain eye drops are made with fish oil and some with flaxseed oil.

The additional health benefits of these oils can include skin dermatitis improvement in some users. When it comes to fish oil vs flaxseed oil for dry eyes, we don’t have a clear winner. They both have benefits in helping dry eye sufferers.

Flaxseed Oil vs Fish Oil for Mental Health

It’s no secret that most people these days deal with some type of mental health issues. Not everyone talks about it, but we bet any given day at the gym, there are mental health sufferers.

mental health
Fish oil is more favored over flaxseed oil for supporting mental health.

When it comes to fish oil and flaxseed oil, can one actually help with some mental health issues? Let’s find out.

Clinical Study

One study compared flaxseed oil and olive oil in children and adolescents with bipolar I and II disorder. The results were more favorable for flaxseed oil, yet concluded that fish oil would still be a better choice.

Why? Mainly due to the variations in individuals in converting ALA to DHA and EPA. The trend we’ve noticed in doing the research is that the more EPA, the better for numerous ailments.

In treating anxiety and depression, higher levels of EPA are found to reduce stress and improve mood. Interestingly, the standard American diet seems to increase inflammation in the brain

This inflammation can be linked to increases in various mental health disorders in individuals. It seems to make sense then that the acronym or Standard American Diet is SAD.

This study followed 30 adults with ADHD over a 12-week period taking high-dose flax, olive, or fish oil. Those who took the high-dose fish oil saw the most improvement. According to the study, ADHD has been linked to low blood omega-3 levels.

If it isn’t obvious already, we think the clear winner for mental health goes to fish oil.

Flaxseed Oil vs Fish Oil for Bodybuilding

What Old School article would be complete without comparing the effects on bodybuilding? In comparing flaxseed oil vs fish oil, is one better than the other for bodybuilding?

bodybuilder
Choosing between the 2 oils depends on your diet & bodybuilding goals.

Which oil you choose really comes down to your health, fitness goals, and diet. If you are a plant based eater or otherwise don’t eat fish, then flaxseed oil will be an obvious choice.

What about supplements?

If you prefer to not take supplements, then getting your fish oil is easy. Be sure to eat two to three portions of cold water fish weekly. Even Golden Era greats like Vince Gironda knew back then that healthy fats like flaxseed and fish oil have its place in a bodybuilders diet.

We’ve discussed previously that fish oil is great for inflammation reduction and heart health. It can also help with lubricating joints and muscles, and reduce arthritis. Since this is a factor in bodybuilders who work out consistently over long periods, fish oil seems like a great choice.

bodybuilder
Fish oil supports joint & heart health, & reduce inflammation which makes it best for bodybuilders.

Flaxseed oil has its place, but you will have to take much more to reap the benefits. The ALA in flaxseed oil does not convert highly to EPA and DHA to provide your body with needed omega-3s.

Of course, it’s hard to say exactly what the conversion numbers are, since there hasn’t been enough research on ALA. 

If you are still unsure about which type of oil is best for you as a bodybuilder, then check out the next section. We provide a great solution that makes the choice much easier for you.

Supplements

If you are like some people, you need a few different supplements each day for various benefits. It can feel like you are just shoveling down pill after pill to get everything your body needs.

You may be reading this article and thinking that we are just trying to get you to take even more. And yeah, adding in flaxseed oil AND fish oil can be something you might not want to do.

Lucky for you, we’ve got a solution. It comes in the form of Vintage Balance™. Yes, you will have to take a few extra capsules each day. But, it gives you both fish oil and flaxseed oil together in one. Plus, it also fulfills your omega-6 and omega-9 requirements as well.

vintage balance
Vintage Balance has fish & flaxseed oil, & will help you attain your omegas needs.

We don’t know of any other supplement to give you a balanced 3-6-9 punch of omegas like ours. It will not only keep all your systems running at peak performance, but it’ll also curb fat and increase muscle gains.

The Bottom Line

With most of our comparisons, we usually don’t have a clear winner. Both flaxseed oil and fish oil have their place in making you healthier. 

However, we can’t discount the benefits of fish oil or eating oily fish as part of your daily diet. For this battle, we feel that fish oil is better for your overall health than flaxseed oil. There is much more data that supports EPA and DHA and not enough for ALA to win out in this scenario.

Plus, the amount of flaxseed oil that would be needed to supplement to convert to EPA and DHA just isn’t feasible. Still, flaxseed oil has its place as a healthy fat alternative with certain health benefits.

So, what’s the verdict? Eat some oily fish a couple of times a week. Or, take those in supplement form as well but get the enteric coated ones if you want to avoid fish burps.

Even better? Get yourself some Vintage Balance™ and take your fish oil and flaxseed oil together. You really can’t argue with a “best of both worlds” supplement. This way, you don’t have to choose!

What are your thoughts on the battle of flaxseed oil vs fish oil? Do you think we picked the right winner? Let us know in the comments.

Disclaimer: None of the individuals and/or companies mentioned necessarily endorse Old School Labs or COSIDLA Inc. products or the contents of this article. Any programs provided for illustration purposes only. Always consult with your personal trainer, nutritionist and physician before changing or starting any new exercise, nutrition, or supplementation program.
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Old School Labs™ is the maker of premium supplements that carry on the fitness values of the “Golden Era” of bodybuilding. Old School Labs™ products do not hide behind proprietary blends, contain no artificial sweeteners or artificial flavors, and are manufactured using only high-quality ingredients.

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