Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is an essential n-3 fatty acid and must be obtained in the diet. Sources include green leafy vegetables, oily fish, flaxseed, soybean oil, canola oil, walnuts, and chia seeds. ALA has an 18-carbon backbone with 3 double bonds starting at the third carbon molecule (18:3n3). It is an important precursor to make eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), though these can also be obtained in the diet. Most dietary ALA is used to generate energy and only a small portion is converted to EPA and DHA.
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Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is an essential n-3 fatty acid and must be obtained in the diet. Sources include green leafy vegetables, oily fish, flaxseed, soybean oil, canola oil, walnuts, and chia seeds.
ALA has an 18-carbon backbone with 3 double bonds starting at the third carbon molecule (18:3n3). It is an important precursor to make eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), though these can also be obtained in the diet. Most dietary ALA is used to generate energy and only a small portion is converted to EPA and DHA.
Increased dietary intake of ALA-rich foods or supplementation can elevate levels. The delta-6 desaturase enzyme is used to convert ALA into other downstream fatty acids. Lack of vitamin and mineral cofactors or genetic single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the enzyme may slow the enzyme and contribute to elevations. Some studies suggest that the conversion rates of ALA to downstream fatty acids are gender dependent. There may be direct estrogen effects to desaturase and elongase enzymes whereby women of reproductive age show substantially greater conversion rates.
Higher levels of ALA are beneficial and its positive effects have been studied in several clinical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and autoimmunity. Although there is limited toxicological data for ALA, no serious adverse effects have been reported. Research is inconclusive regarding increased risk of prostate cancer in association with high dietary ALA intake.
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