6 Health Benefits Of Plant Based Omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential good fats that the body needs for survival but cannot produce them on its own from scratch. Thus, we must eat them from foods. They are classified as polyunsaturated fatty acids, as they contain more that one double bond in their chemical structure. They are grouped into 3: Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which are commonly referred to as marine omega-3s because they mainly are gotten from fish, and Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which are plant-based omega-3s as they are commonly found in plants and some grass-fed animal fat (1).

ALA is present in vegetable oils and nuts (walnuts especially), flaxseed and flaxseed oil, chia seeds, hemp seeds, Brussels sprouts, and leafy vegetables, beans, and edamame. When consumed, a small percentage of ALA (8% – 20%) is converted to EPA and DHA in the body (2).

Health benefits of plant-based omega-3s

  1. Decreases blood cholesterol. Daily supplementation of ALA has been reported to reduce blood cholesterol levels in several research studies. Dietary ALA intake of about 3.4g/day from flaxseeds was observed to significantly reduce plasma low-density lipoprotein cholesterol by 7% to 13% compared to the control group consuming wheat in one study (3).

  2. Reduces platelet aggregation in the lining of the arteries. Dietary intake of ALA prevents both collagen-induced and thrombin-induced platelet aggregation by inhibiting certain glycoproteins that potentiate these activities. Platelet aggregation is a risk factor for the development of atherosclerosis, that can lead to the development of myocardial infarction and stroke which can be life threatening (4).

  3. Improve insulin resistance. ALA promotes the synthesis and release of insulin. ALA activates macrophage receptors that results in a broad array of anti-inflammatory effects which consequently improves insulin sensitivity. A study carried out in 716 healthy adults reported improved insulin resistance with increase ALA levels in the adipose tissues (5). A clinical trial reported that dietary intake of 3g of ALA per day improved glucose homeostasis by increasing adiponectin expression in patients with type 2 diabetes (6).

  4. Can enhance weight loss. ALA inhibits the synthesis cholesterol and fatty acids in fat cells by inhibiting the expression of the enzyme fatty acid synthase and SREBPs. Additionally, ALA promotes the expression of leptin (the hormone which inhibits hunger) and CPT-1a (Carnitine palmitoyltransferase I) that enhances the oxidation of fatty acids. CPT-1a deficiency hinders the body from metabolizing certain fats for use as energy (7).

  5. Anticancer effects. ALA shows anticancer activities by preventing the multiplication of cancer cells. In breast cancer for example, ALA has been demonstrated to inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells by reducing the expression of certain receptor proteins and expression of others (8).

  6. Enhances bone and joint health. Dietary supplementation of ALA has been used successfully in the treatment and prevention of joint pains and other bone diseases like arthritis. This is because ALA has potent anti-inflammatory properties and as such it is able to prevent chronic inflammations in the body, thus preventing swelling in the joints as is the case with rheumatoid arthritis (9).

ALA is a based omega-3 fatty acid, that is loaded with several health benefits. Its sources are quite affordable and readily available making its access and consumption very convenient. The Adequate Intake (AI) for ALA as set by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) at 1.6g/day for men and 1.1g/day for women. IOM notes that intakes greater than these set values are beneficial especially for cardiovascular health (10).



  1. Omega-3 fatty acids: An essential contribution. (2012, September 18). Retrieved August 10, 2022, from The Nutrition Source website:

  2. Omega-3 fatty acids: Fact sheet. (n.d.). Retrieved August 10, 2022, from WebMD website:

  3. Geleijnse, J. M., de Goede, J., & Brouwer, I. A. (2010). Alpha-linolenic acid: is it essential to cardiovascular health? Current Atherosclerosis Reports, 12(6), 359–367. doi:10.1007/s11883-010-0137-0

  4. Holy, E. W., Forestier, M., Richter, E. K., Akhmedov, A., Leiber, F., Camici, G. G., … Tanner, F. C. (2011). Dietary α-linolenic acid inhibits arterial thrombus formation, tissue factor expression, and platelet activation. Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, 31(8), 1772–1780. doi:10.1161/atvbaha.111.226118

  5. Heskey, C. E., Jaceldo-Siegl, K., Sabaté, J., Fraser, G., & Rajaram, S. (2016). Adipose tissue α-linolenic acid is inversely associated with insulin resistance in adults. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 103(4), 1105–1110. doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.118935

  6. Gomes, P. M., Hollanda-Miranda, W. R., Beraldo, R. A., Castro, A. V. B., Geloneze, B., Foss, M. C., & Foss-Freitas, M. C. (2015). Supplementation of α-linolenic acid improves serum adiponectin levels and insulin sensitivity in patients with type 2 diabetes. Nutrition (Burbank, Los Angeles County, Calif.), 31(6), 853–857. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2014.12.028

  7. Fukumitsu, S., Villareal, M. O., Onaga, S., Aida, K., Han, J., & Isoda, H. (2013). α-Linolenic acid suppresses cholesterol and triacylglycerol biosynthesis pathway by suppressing SREBP-2, SREBP-1a and -1c expression. Cytotechnology, 65(6), 899–907. doi:10.1007/s10616-012-9510-x

  8. Yuan, Q., Xie, F., Huang, W., Hu, M., Yan, Q., Chen, Z., … Liu, L. (2022). The review of alpha‐linolenic acid: Sources, metabolism, and pharmacology. Phytotherapy Research: PTR, 36(1), 164–188. doi:10.1002/ptr.7295

  9. Kostoglou-Athanassiou, I., Athanassiou, L., & Athanassiou, P. (2020). The effect of omega-3 fatty acids on rheumatoid arthritis. Mediterranean Journal of Rheumatology, 31(2), 190–194. doi:10.31138/mjr.31.2.190

  10. Burns-Whitmore, B., Froyen, E., Heskey, C., Parker, T., & San Pablo, G. (2019). Alpha-linolenic and linoleic fatty acids in the vegan diet: Do they require Dietary Reference Intake/Adequate Intake Special Consideration? Nutrients, 11(10), 2365. doi:10.3390/nu11102365


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