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Alpha-Linolenic Acid in Plants Lowers Mortality Risk

Alpha-linolenic acids are omega-3 fatty acids found in plants.

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Selection plant food sources of omega 3 and alpha-linolenic acid

Fish aren’t the only source of ticker-friendly omega-3 fats. An interpretation of data from 41 previously published cohort studies (totaling more than 1 million people) linked a high intake of alpha-linolenic acid, a type of omega-3 fatty acid commonly found in certain plant foods, to a 10% lower risk of all-cause mortality, an 8% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease and an 11% reduced risk of death from coronary heart disease. This is compared with lower consumption levels.

Each 1 g/day increase in alpha-linolenic acid intake (what you would find in ½-ounce of walnuts) was associated with a 5% lower risk of all-cause mortality and heart disease premature death. Higher blood levels were also linked to less mortality and a lower risk of death from coronary heart disease.

Curiously, the systematic review, published in The BMJ, also showed that a high intake of alpha-linolenic acid was associated with a slightly greater chance of death from cancer. That warrants further study, but the lower risk of mortality from heart ailments may outweigh any elevated cancer risk when it comes to overall death rates. Though cause and effect cannot be proven from the observational design of the studies included in the analysis, these foods can help you get your fill of alpha-linolenic acid:

  • canola oil
  • chia seeds
  • flaxseed
  • hemp seeds
  • soybeans
  • walnuts

See also: Omega-3 for Migraines


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Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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