What Is Alpha-Linolenic Acid?
Alpha-linolenic acid is an essential (need/can’t make) polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acid that must be obtained in the diet. Alpha-linolenic acid is found in plant sources only.
Alpha-linolenic acid is required for normal brain function and nervous system health. It is an important building material for the eicosanoids.
Q: What are eicosanoids?
A: Eicosanoids are a large group of highly bioactive hormone-like substances including prostaglandins, leukotrienes, and thromboxanes that are involved in blood clotting, inflammation, and vasoconstriction (constriction of blood vessels).
Alpha-linolenic acid is a “parent” fatty acid because if sufficient amounts are present in the body, it can be used to produce both eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), two other critical omega-3 fatty acids.1 However, this conversion is limited. In healthy individuals, the conversion rate of ALA to EPA is less than 5 to 10% and ALA to DHA is only 2 to 5%.
Additionally, a deficient level of the mineral selenium can interfere with the conversion of alpha-linolenic acid into EPA and DHA. Also, folic acid supplement has been shown to increase omega-3 status and, conversely, to decrease omega-3 when folic acid is in deficient in animal models.
What Is Alpha-Linolenic Acid Deficiency?
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Richardson AJ. The importance of omega-3 fatty acids for behavior, cognition, and mood. Scandinavian Journal of Nutrition. 2003; 47(2):92-8 ↩