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Flaxseed oil and fish oil are both promoted for their health benefits.
Both oils contain omega-3 fatty acids and have been shown to reduce risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure (1).
You may wonder how different they are – and whether one is more beneficial.
This article explores the similarities and differences between flaxseed oil and fish oil so you can see which is the best choice for you.
The flax plant (Linum usitatissimum) is an ancient crop that has been cultivated since the beginning of civilization (2).
It was first used in the United States to make fabrics for clothing and other textiles.
The flaxseed plant contains nutritious seeds commonly known as flaxseed.
Flaxseed oil is obtained by cold pressing ripened and dried flaxseed. The oil is also commonly known as linseed oil.
Flaxseed oil can be used in a number of ways. It is commercially available in both liquid and capsule forms.
Countless studies have linked flaxseed oil to powerful health benefits, likely related to its high levels of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids (3).
Flaxseed oil is made by pressing dried flaxseed. This oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and has been linked to numerous health benefits.
Fish oil is one of the most popular consumed nutritional supplements on the market.
It is made by extracting oil from fish tissue.
Supplements are usually made with oil obtained from oily fish like herring, mackerel, or tuna, which is particularly rich in omega-3 fatty acids (4).
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating a variety of fatty fish at least twice a week to reap the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for heart health (5).
However, many people fall short of this recommendation.
Fish oil supplements can help you consume adequate omega-3 fatty acids, especially if you’re not a big fan of seafood.
Typical fish oil supplements contain 1,000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids, which corresponds to a serving of 85 g of oily fish (4).
As with flaxseed oil, many of the benefits of fish oil appear to be due to its omega-3 fatty acids.
Numerous studies have linked fish oil to improved markers for heart disease (6, 7).
In fact, certain fish oil supplements are often prescribed by health care providers to help lower blood triglyceride levels.
Fish oil supplements are made from the oil extracted from fish tissue. Fish oil supplements are high in omega-3 fatty acids and can reduce the risk factors associated with heart disease.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats, which means you need to get them from the food you eat as your body can’t make them.
They have been linked to numerous health benefits, such as: B. decreased risk of heart disease, decreased inflammation, and improved mood (8, 9, 10).
Fish oil and flaxseed oil each contain an impressive amount of omega-3 fatty acids.
The main types of omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (11).
A typical fish oil supplement contains 180 mg of EPA and 120 mg of DHA, but the amount varies by supplement and brand (4).
On the other hand, flaxseed oil contains the omega-3 fatty acid known as alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) (12).
EPA and DHA are found predominantly in animal foods such as oily fish, while ALA is primarily found in plants.
The appropriate intake (AI) for ALA is 1.1 g per day for adult women and 1.6 g per day for adult men (4).
In just 1 tablespoon (15 ml), flaxseed oil contains a whopping 7.3 grams of ALA, which far exceeds your daily needs (4, 13).
However, ALA is not biologically active and needs to be converted to EPA and DHA to be used for anything other than just stored energy like other types of fat (14).
While ALA is still an essential fatty acid, EPA and DHA are associated with much more health benefits (15).
In addition, the process of converting ALA to EPA and DHA is quite inefficient in humans (16).
For example, one study found that only 5% of ALA is converted to EPA and less than 0.5% of ALA is converted to DHA in adults (17).
Both fish oil and flaxseed oil are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oil is high in EPA and DHA, while flaxseed oil is high in ALA.
While fish oil and flaxseed oil are different, they can offer some of the same health benefits.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide (18).
Many studies have found that both flaxseed oil and fish oil can promote heart health.
In particular, supplementing with these oils has been shown to lower blood pressure in adults, even in small doses (19, 20, 21, 22).
In addition, fish oil supplements have been strongly linked to decreased triglycerides.
In addition, supplementing with fish oil also improves HDL (good) cholesterol and can lower your blood triglycerides by up to 30% (23, 24).
Flaxseed oil can also have beneficial effects on cholesterol levels when taken as a supplement. Some studies have shown that flaxseed oil can be effective in lowering LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and increasing protective HDL cholesterol (25, 26, 27).
Flaxseed oil and fish oil are good for your skin, largely because of their omega-3 fatty acid content.
Numerous studies have shown that fish oil supplements can improve a number of skin conditions, including dermatitis, psoriasis, and skin damage caused by UV exposure (28).
Similarly, flaxseed oil can help treat several skin conditions.
For example, a small study of 13 women found that taking flaxseed oil for 12 weeks improved skin properties such as skin sensitivity, hydration, and smoothness (29).
Chronic inflammation is linked to an increased risk of conditions like diabetes and Crohn’s disease.
Controlling inflammation can reduce the symptoms associated with these diseases.
Research studies have shown that fish oil has anti-inflammatory properties due to its omega-3 fatty acid content (30).
For example, fish oil has been linked to decreased production of markers of inflammation known as cytokines (31, 32).
In addition, numerous studies have found the beneficial effects of fish oil on inflammation associated with chronic conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus (33).
However, research on flaxseed oil and its effects on inflammation has been inconsistent.
While some animal studies have identified flaxseed oil’s anti-inflammatory potential, the results in humans are mixed (34, 35).
Ultimately, more research is needed to fully understand the anti-inflammatory effects of flaxseed oil in humans.
Both oils can help lower blood pressure and improve triglyceride and cholesterol levels. Flaxseed oil and fish oil promote skin health. Fish oil has been shown to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties, while research on flaxseed oil is mixed.
In addition to the common fish oil health benefits listed above, flaxseed oil can also be beneficial in treating gastrointestinal symptoms.
Studies have shown that flaxseed oil can be helpful in treating constipation and diarrhea.
An animal study has shown that flaxseed oil is both laxative and anti-diarrheal (36).
Another study showed that daily use of 4 ml of flaxseed oil helped improve bowel regularity and stool consistency in people with end-stage kidney disease on dialysis (37).
While these two studies hold promise, more research is needed to fully understand the effectiveness of flaxseed oil in treating constipation and diarrhea.
Flaxseed oil may be beneficial in treating constipation and diarrhea, but more research is needed.
Fish oil has been linked to a handful of other health benefits.
For example, fish oil has been shown to improve symptoms of certain mental disorders, including depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia (38, 39, 40).
Additionally, fish oil can help treat behavioral disorders in children.
Numerous studies have linked fish oil supplements to improvements in hyperactivity, alertness, and aggression in young children (41, 42).
Fish oil can be helpful in improving symptoms of certain mental illnesses in adults and behavioral disorders in children.
Both fish oil and flaxseed oil are health benefits and have high quality research to back up their respective health claims.
While each oil has its individual benefits, fish oil can have an advantage when it comes to common benefits.
This is likely because only fish oil contains the active EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids.
In addition, ALA is not efficiently converted to EPA and DHA. Since only a very small amount of ALA is converted to DHA and EPA, it is likely that ingesting fish oils rich in EPA and DHA will provide more clinical benefits than ingesting flaxseed oil.
There is also more quality research backing the anti-inflammatory effects of fish oil and its effects on improving heart disease risk indicators like lowering triglycerides and improving cholesterol.
However, fish oil supplements may not be suitable for everyone.
For example, some fish oil supplements may contain small amounts of fish or shellfish proteins.
As a result, many fish oil supplements have the warning “Avoid this product if you are allergic to fish or shellfish” on the bottle.
Therefore, flaxseed oil may be a more appropriate choice for people with a fish or shellfish allergy.
In addition, flaxseed may be more suitable for those on a vegetarian or vegan diet.
However, there are other more effective vegan omega-3 supplements available, including algae oil.
While flaxseed oil and fish oil both have individual benefits, fish oil may be more beneficial in its shared benefits such as heart health and inflammation.
Flaxseed oil and fish oil offer similar health benefits, including for skin and blood pressure control.
Only fish oil contains the active omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA and can be helpful in improving overall heart health, inflammation, and mental health symptoms.
However, flaxseed oil has its own gastrointestinal health benefits and can be a great way to boost ALA omega-3s for people with fish allergies or following a vegan diet.
In any case, if you want to try flaxseed oil or fish oil for better health, it is best to speak to your doctor first.
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