An essential omega-3 fatty acid, linolenic acid, is also called linolenate and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). It is primarily utilized in the development of prostaglandins. Linolenic acid is generally present in seeds, vegetable oils and various nuts. The molecular structure of this essential omega-3 fatty acid comprises 30 hydrogen atoms, 18 carbon atoms and two oxygen atoms.
While linoleic acid and linolenic acid are two essential omega fatty acids with almost similar names, as far as human health and nutrition are concerned they have dissimilar roles.
When we talk of linolenic acid, we generally mean alpha-lineolenic acid (ALA), which is basically an essential omega fatty acid that is present in several nuts, oils and vegetables. On the other hand, linoleic acid usually denotes a variety of essential omega-6 fatty acid that is also found in nuts, seeds and only in refined vegetable oils. It is worth mentioning here that both omega-3 fatty acids as well as omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids that offer us several health benefits. Hence, they are also essential for our body.
Once inside our body, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) or linolenic acid is converted into active varieties of omega-3 fatty acids, eicospentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
It is also important that you should be aware of the fact that in addition to linolenic acid, there are two other types of fatty acids which include linolenic acid in their names - for instance dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA) and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Regardless of the names of these fatty acids, these forms of linolenic acid are basically essential omega-6 fatty acids that are very similar to linoleic acid. All these fatty acids are present in seeds, nuts and vegetable oils.
In fact, chia seeds and flaxseeds are possibly the most well known whole foods that contain linolenic acid (ALA). However, there are several other foods that also enclose abundance of this short-chain essential omega-3 fatty acid.
Linolenic acid is essential for our nutrition as well as health. It is believed that taking a diet that contains high amounts of this essential omega-3 fatty acid helps to lower the chances of developing hypertension by about 33 percent. In turn, this helps to significantly reduce the chances of developing heart attack and stroke. Moreover, it also reduces the overall stress on our cardiovascular system.
Findings of a number of studies have shown that presence of high amounts of alpha-linolenic acid in one's diet greatly reduces the chances of developing type 2 diabetes in some people. They point to a direct correlation between the two.
It has been well established that essential fatty acids play a vital role in putting off the risks of developing heart disease, as it lowers the factors responsible for heart diseases and, at the same time, helps to ensure that your heart remains strong and healthy. In effect, it has been found that intake of plenty of fatty acids is associated with lower risks of developing heart disease.
Especially, it has been found that omega-3 fatty acids help in reducing blood pressure, triglycerides and, at the same time, help in getting rid of plaque build-up inside the arteries.
In fact, studies have also shown that omega-6 fatty acids to possess the ability to diminish some factors that lead to heart disease, for instance total cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL) or "bad" cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Findings of a number of researches have been very promising as they have established a link between the health of our brain and intake of essential fatty acids. These findings show that essential fatty acids may be helpful in proving cognition and may even help to put off specific neurological problems.
Then again, findings of many studies have shown that consumption of omega-3 fatty acids is related to lower risks of developing Alzheimer's disease. According to the findings of one study that was carried in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine also claimed that consuming more fish, which contain elevated levels of essential omega-3 fatty acids, is linked to additional gray matter in our brain. The gray matter is actually a brain tissue that is associated with sensory perception, memory formation as well decision making.
Aside from ensuring that your brain remains healthy, essential fatty acids also has a positive effect on your mental health. An analysis of clinical trials reviewed as many as 19 studies on the action of omega-3 fatty acids on depression and it revealed that taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements was very effectual in the treatment of the symptoms related to depression.
It has also been found that essential omega-3 fatty acids help in treating various other mental disorders such as bipolar disorder and anxiety.
Inflammation is known to be a natural immune response that is meant to help in protecting your body against various infections. However, chronic inflammation has been related to a variety of problems such as autoimmune issues, heart disease and even cancer.
Various studies have shown that intake of omega-3 fatty acids may possibly be helpful in decreasing inflammation that is detrimental for us. Findings of one study that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that intake of omega-3 fatty acids for a period of six weeks was helpful in reducing the levels of many inflammation markers in the blood stream.
Another study undertaken by scientists at the Medical Centre of Pittsburgh University evaluated the consequences of taking ibuprofen, a drug used for treating inflammation, and omega-3 fatty acid supplements. The findings of this study revealed that the ability of both was similar vis-�-vis reduction of inflammation and pain.
In fact, essential fatty acids may be particularly useful in treating conditions caused due to inflammation, for instance rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and inflammatory bowel disease.
It appears that taking a diet that is high in fatty acid content may help in reducing the chances of developing pneumonia. Nevertheless, further studies are necessary to establish this benefit of fatty acids.
People eating the Mediterranean diet have high levels of high density lipoprotein (HDL) or "good" cholesterol in their system. It is worth mentioning here that the Mediterranean diet comprises various types of nuts and walnuts contain high level of linolenic acid. This aids to lower the "bad" cholesterol as well as triglycerides in people suffering from cholesterol related problems.
Similar to various other fatty acids, linolenic acid is linked with two to three glycerols and, therefore, they are classified diglyceride (two glycerols) and triglycerides (three glycerols) - depending on the number of glycerols attached to linolenic acid. A study undertaken on 177 overweight people revealed that their body weight was lowered after taking linolenic acid supplements for 12 weeks. In addition, the supplements also helped to reduce waist size, blood triglycerides and intra-organ fat mass. Another comparable study conducted on 114 obese people showed that after taking linolenic acid for 12 weeks they experienced lower body weight, levels of triglycerides in blood, fat mass as well as waist size as the linolenic acid supplements helped to burn fat faster. In addition, linolenic acid also makes the genes that are involved in breaking down fats active and, at the same time, supports generation of heat in the gut. This, in turn, results in enhanced calorie burning.
Deficiency of linolenic acid in the body is said to be responsible for poor quality of skin. Low level of this omega-3 fatty acid makes the skin uncomfortable and dry. As discussed above, flaxseed contains elevated amount of linolenic acid, which makes the skin healthier. Linolenic acid also helps to reduce inflammation of skin cells and encourage regeneration of healthy new cells. A study involving 13 women subjects revealed that using flaxseed oil supplementation helped to support skin sensitivity as well as the hydration and overall condition of their skin. In another study involving 45 women, the subjects were given to ingest flaxseed oil for a period of 12 weeks and, at the end of the study, they experienced reduced skin roughness as well as skin redness. Moreover, linolenic acid also helps to reduce inflammation of skin cells and, at the same time, encourages repair of damaged skin cells. In fact, linolenic acid is commonly used to cure skin disorder such as dry, uncomfortable and red skin. This omega-3 fatty acid also helps to reduce the levels of saturated fatty acids in human as well as horse skin cells, thereby reducing the chances of developing rashes and aid in cleansing the skin effectively. Animal studies conducted on mice showed that linolenic acid supplementation helped to protect their skin from damages caused by ultra-violet (UV) rays.
Various studies have revealed that elevated levels of linolenic acid in the blood stream are associated with reducing the risks of developing colon and rectal cancers. A study involving 121 females, who suffered from breast cancer, it was found that subjects, who had high levels on this essential omega-3 fatty acid in their breast tissue, faced 805 lower risks of the cancer spreading to new areas. In animal studies, it was found that mice that were administered flaxseed oil experienced reduced development of skin cancer. Even the number, severity and size of skin of skin cancer were lower. This essential fatty acid also supports antioxidants as well as promotes detoxification of enzymes in the liver as well as the skin tissues. In laboratory tests, it was found that exposure to linolenic acid reduced the spread as well growth of carcinogenic cells in colon and breast cancer. It also enhances apoptosis (death of cancer cells).
In a study involving 127 people with mild hypertension, it was found that they experienced lower blood pressure after taking linolenic acid along with strict diet. Deficiency of omega-3 fatty acid in the body often causes high blood pressure. Flaxseed oil as well as canola oil helps to cure linolenic acid deficiency. It was found that administering linolenic acid supplementation via canola oil and flaxseed oil helped to lower high blood pressure in mice. In studies conducted on rats, it was found that linolenic acid was effectual and also safe as a treatment for high blood pressure. Moreover, unlike pharmaceutical medicines, using supplementations of linolenic acid does not have any side effect.
Incorporating foods rich in essential omega-3 fatty acids along with linolenic acid in your diet will help to increase the ratios of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids in your blood. This, in turn, will help to reduce inflammation and lower disease activity. At the same time, it will promote the rate of disease absence. Studies conducted on rats showed that administering sage oil helped to reduce the damages caused to their colon tissue, lessen the number of dying tissues and also enhance repair of damaged tissues. It was found that fish oil as well as sage oil helped to reduce the inflammatory markers in comparison to corn oil. Lowering the blood ratios of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids by providing rats with a diet high in linolenic acid helped to reduce their disease activity and inflammation, especially the rodents who were induced colitis. It is well known that flaxseeds are loaded with linolenic acid. Therefore, taking flaxseeds helps to protect the lining of the gut and, at the same time, diminish oxidative stress. It also enhanced antioxidant enzymes in mice enduring colitis.