Flax seed Omega 3 - does it work?
July 24, 2007 7:20 AM   Subscribe

What are your experiences of taking flax-seed-derived Omega 3 for mild depression?

Does it genuinely work for you? What dosage do you take? I'm vegetarian so would rather not take fish oil, but I will if I have to.

I have no desire to eat flax seed on its own. I'm looking to find if the oil in tablet form is effective.

[Note: This is a specific question about flax seed oil. It's not asking for general advice about depression treatment. Thanks.]
posted by long haired lover from liverpool to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Generally positive. Veggie friend takes flax and swears by it but she also says that Borage oil and Hemp seed oil (!) is even better than Flax for Veggie analogues to fish oils. Especially Borage oil. She recommends both actually - in the AM and PM.

As for dosage, I know the recommended dose is two of those big gelcap pills, and she takes three in AM and PM for a total of six per diem. I have no idea if you can OD or not.

If you have access to a good farmer's market, you might want to eat a lot of purslane, supposedly it is the best veggie source for Omega-3's. Pretty tasty too.
posted by xetere at 8:05 AM on July 24, 2007

I took it in the tablet form and didn't have much effect. The person who helps out in the supplement section at my natural foods store told me that flax seed oil has a very short shelf life. If you expect it to be effective, you should take it in the oil form, buy small packages, and keep them in the fridge, she told me.

I did that for a while, and I think I did get a small boost, but it's hard to say. I also felt like having a big teaspoon of oil every day before work helped me feel full for the rest of the morning, so I was better at avoiding snacking.

I eventually stopped, because eating oil is kind of gross and I feel that getting exercise and having adequate full-spectrum lighting has done more for my mood than the flax ever did.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:22 AM on July 24, 2007

I noticed a significant improvement in my mood when I started adding ground flax seed to smoothies, yogurt, cereal etc once a day. I couldn't stand the thought of eating a teaspoon of oil regularly. Whole flax seeds can be difficult to digest. Ground flax is easy to digest and keeps well in the fridge.

After noticing this I did some research and discovered that DHA is the chemical (?) in flax that has an effect on your brain. Fish oil is a significant source of DHA. Like you, I'm vegetarian and would rather not take fish oil.

So, after quite a bit of googling I discovered that there are a couple of 'natural care' companies that produce a vegetarian DHA sourced from algae. The one I take is called Neurogen and it's made by Genestra (I'm in Canada, not sure where you are or if it's available in other countries.)

I still have good days and bad days, but overall I think it's made a significant change to my depression. I definitely notice a difference if I don't take it for a few days.

(Additional comment - I tried 3 prescription ADs that all put me through different stages of hell. Flax and DHA have no side effects for me.)

Good luck.
posted by valleys at 8:34 AM on July 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Apologies for piggybacking on the original question but what is the recommended daily dosage for Omega 3 oils? I've seen/ heard of people extremely varying amounts.
posted by sk381 at 9:33 AM on July 24, 2007

I take it to combat the effects of PMDD and it works wonders for me. I take a tablespoon of the oil in the morning and one at night. I get the plain, filtered oil in a bottle from Whole Foods and store it in the fridge. It has a nice, nutty taste that I enjoy and like crutonsupafreak said, definitely makes me feel full and cuts down on snacking. I take a B vitamin supplement along with it and I feel like the two work well together. I can definitely feel the difference when I skip a day.
posted by blueskiesinside at 10:18 AM on July 24, 2007

I've been taking 2 Tbl of flax oil (mixed with water, so the viscosity isn't so cloying), as part of the Shangri-La diet, for the past year now and my energy level and mood have definitely improved. It took me about 8 weeks to realize I was feeling much more energetic and full of initiative. Other things that I've seen an improvement in:

-my previously fine hair is thicker and more shiny;
-sleep is deeper and more restful, but I sleep less (went from needing 9-10 hours for that fully rested feeling to 8-9).
-my skin is softer (no more dry elbows!) and my nails are much stronger.

Given the improvements in my energy level and mood, even if the oil hadn't helped me to lose weight and reduce my tendency to binge, I'd still be taking it.

(5'6, 34, SWF)
posted by longdaysjourney at 10:29 AM on July 24, 2007

Thanks all.

The reply from valleys seems to answer my question best.

If you're in the UK, you can buy the algae DHA product she talks about from here. This site also mentions why flax oil doesn't convert well to DHA, although they are trying to sell you an alternative so they might be biased.

I'll also try taking tablets twice a day, rather than just in the morning.
posted by long haired lover from liverpool at 10:43 AM on July 24, 2007

valleys is a "he". Sorry valleys :)
posted by long haired lover from liverpool at 11:18 AM on July 24, 2007

I see you don't want to eat flax, but I'd just like to mention that one should grind it to get much benefit, as the whole seeds don't digest well, as valleys notes. A small amount of flax seed, freshly ground into a powder, is easy to add to most foods without affecting the taste much at all.
posted by obloquy at 2:03 PM on July 24, 2007

I find flax oil calming and centering; a good thing. It doesn't help 100% of the time, but most days it seems to help (probably depends on what the rest of my diet is like). I don't find it energizing, which is something that one might want in help for depression, but I find it relieves some of the bad or confused feelings. I take 1 tablespoon straight once or twice a day. I use the spectrum unflavored brand.

The shangri-la diet guy has been experimenting with flax oil and brain function. His blog entries on omega-3 are here.
posted by DarkForest at 3:01 PM on July 24, 2007

Seconding the vegan dha. There are quite a few brands these days. Neuromins have gelatin capsules, so you may want to choose a brand that has vegetarian capsules, or a small bottle with a dropper. I use Omega-zen-3 at the moment. Do buy it from a store that has a high turnover rate and store it in your fridge.
posted by davar at 3:12 PM on July 24, 2007

The idea of taking flax or other oils straight rather than in pill form does seem to bother some people. I was nervous about that the first time I tried. But I find that it's nothing, really. It's pretty much tasteless and mild. I think it's more economical than taking the pills, in the amounts I like to use. Give it a go if it's just the idea of it holding you back.
posted by DarkForest at 4:13 PM on July 24, 2007

I have no real explanation for this, but I tried taking flaxseed oil and it made me feel truly terrible. I don't know why it effected me so strongly, but it sucked the life right out of me.
posted by the jam at 6:17 PM on July 24, 2007

I go with the ground flax seed, Bob's Red Mill from the grocery store cereal isle, which I keep in the refrigerator. About two tablespoons is usually enough. I also take a multi-vitamin. For me, it's best with the plain yogurt, plus a little cinnamon or natural applesauce for flavor. In my oatmeal works too. (But the yogurt helps me my digestion, so that's pretty tailored to me.) Added to just plain applesauce is nice as well if you're just eating cold cereal it doesn't work as well in.
posted by ejaned8 at 12:03 AM on July 25, 2007

Flax does not have DHA in it. It has alpha-linoleic acid, which the body converts to DHA.

Quoth Susan Allport's Queen of Fats
"Data for the US indicates that Americans consumes between 11 and 16 grams of linoleic acid per day during the years 1989 and 91 and about 1 to 2 grams of alpha linolenic acid. At that ratio, only about 15 percent of the alpha linolenic acid is converted to DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid. At lower ratios, the conservation rate is much higher. The best conversion occurs at a ratio of 2.3:1"

The point is ALA is not usable by the body, DHA is. Only so much ALA can be converted. Once it is converted, it also can be drowned out by excessive omega-6.

So if you do use flax, you also need to decrease omega-6 to have the full effect. Fish really is better in terms of efficiency because it doesn't need to be converted because it already is DHA. Same for DHA supplements, although recent science is showing supplements may not be absorbed as well as the nutrients in food.

I take flax for my mood, among other things, but I also eat an occasional fish. The flax I use is oil because it doesn't contain all the indigestible insoluble fiber than the meal does, so I don't need to consume very much to get what I need. Flax needs to be refrigerated from farm to fork because it goes rancid quickly.

I have also made an effort to eat foods with a better omega 3: omega 6 ratio in order to decrease the dampening effect. The general rule of thumb to do this that Allport uses is more greens and less grains (flax is a major exception). The book has lots of good recommendations and information, I suggest checking it out.

The result? Better health in general and more stable mood, though isolating it from a better diet in general and the placebo effect is difficult.
posted by melissam at 7:19 PM on July 25, 2007

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