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Alpha-linolenic Acid  June 2013
Also known as: linolenic acid, linolenate, alpha-Linolenate, 9,12,15-Octadecatrienoic acid, 463-40-1, alpha-Lnn


A fatty acid that is found in plants and involved in the formation of prostaglandins. Alpha-linolenic acid has formula
of C18H30O2, with molecular weight of 278.43. Alpha-linolenic acid is NOT the same as
alpha-lipoic acid.

Source: flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum). Flaxseed is one of the richest dietary sources of alpha-linolenic acid and is
also a good source of soluble fibre mucilage.

Potential Biological Effects

Nerve Agents
Nerve agents cause toxicity to peripheral and central sites through the irreversible inhibition of
acetylcholinesterase, the enzyme that metabolizes acetylcholine. Excessive acetylcholine accumulation in synapses
results in status epilepticus in the central nervous system. Prolonged status epilepticus leads to brain damage,
neurological dysfunction and poor outcome. Anticonvulsants are effective but must be given rapidly following
exposure. α-Linolenic acid is neuroprotective against kainic acid-induced brain damage, acid it also exerts anti-
depressant and anti-inflammatory activities and enhances synaptic plasticity in vivo. Thus, alpha-linolenic acid may
a candidate nerve agent-induced neuropathology. Moreover, clinical studies are needed to support this benefit
claim. [Pan H. et al, Neurotoxicology. 2012 Oct;33(5):1219-29]

Allergic Diseases
Fatty acids (FA) are known to have a number of immunological effects and, accordingly, may play a role in the
development of allergic diseases. Researchers from University of Tampere, Finland, investigated the effect of
maternal intake of FA during pregnancy on the risk of allergic rhinitis, wheeze and atopic eczema in children aged 5
years. After adjusting for potential confounding variables, high maternal consumption of butter and butter spreads
and higher ratio of n-6:n-3 FA during pregnancy were associated with an increased risk of allergic rhinitis in the
offspring by 5 years of age. High maternal intakes of total PUFA and α-linolenic FA were associated with a
decreased risk of allergic rhinitis. [Nwaru BI et al, Br J Nutr. 2012 Aug;108(4):720-32]

Congestive Heart Failure
According to The University of Maryland, Medical Reference (June 2013), there is some evidence that eating foods
high in alpha-linolenic acid may benefit people at risk of heart diseases. The article cites a study that women who
ate high levels of alpha-linolenic acid (1.5 g per day) had a 46% lower risk of sudden cardiac death than those who
ate less amount of alpha-linolenic acid. However, researchers from University of Washington used data from the
Cardiovascular Health Study, a prospective cohort study of cardiovascular diseases among adults aged ≥65 y, from
4 US communities. A total of 2957 participants free of prevalent heart disease and with available fatty acid
measurements were included in biomarker analyses (30,722 person-years and 686 incident CHF events). A total of
4432 participants free of prevalent heart disease were included in dietary analyses (52,609 person-years and 1072
events). They investigated the association of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) with incident CHF. They found dietary alpha-
linolenic acid (ALA) not associated with incident CHF. [Lemailtre RN. et al, Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Aug;96(2):269-74.]

A study was done to examine the relation between omega-3 fatty acids in plasma phospholipid levels and
cardiovascular disease risk factors in Canada. The researchers at Laval University Medical Center found
significantly higher levels of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and docosapentaenoic acid in obese subjects, whereas
significantly higher levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) were observed in nonobese subjects. For cardiovascular
disease risk factors, ALA levels were positively correlated with plasma triglyceride concentrations and negatively
associated with diastolic blood pressure. [Gameau V. et al, Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2013 Mar;38(3):243-8.]

High Cholesterol
Fukumitsu S and co-workers at Nippon Flour Mills Co., Ltd reported that eight lipid metabolism-related genes
involved in cholesterol and triacylglycerol biosynthesis pathway and lipid transport were significantly down-regulated
by α-Linolenic acid (ALA) treatment in their in vitro study. They further concluded that ALA is likely to inhibit
cholesterol and fatty acid biosynthesis pathway by suppressing the expression of transcriptional factor sterol
regulatory element binding protein SREBPs. and ALA promotes fatty acid oxidation in 3T3-L1 adipocytes.
[Cytotechnology. 2012 Nov 9.]  On the other hand, eating food high in alpha-linolenic acid, such as
walnut, has
been shown to lower cholesterol and triglycerides in people with high cholesterol. But, it is unclear if alpha-linolenic
acid supplements would have similar benefits as foods rich in alpha-linolenic acid.

High Blood Pressure
Studies also suggest foods high in omega-3 fatty acids lower blood pressure slightly in people suffered from
hypertension. But, it is also unclear if alpha-linolenic acid supplements also work in the same way.

Neural Diseases
A major neuroprotective effect of α-linolenic acid was observed in in vivo models of both global ischemia and
kainate-induced epilepsy; however, if sourced from flax seed oil, residues may have
side effect due to its content
of neurotoxic cyanogen glycosides and immunosuppressive cyclic nonapeptides. [Wikipedia June 2013]

Lower concentrations of n-3 PUFAs have been reported to be associated with cognitive impairment and dementia,
but also with depression-itself a potential risk factor for cognitive decline.  Researchers from Taipei City Hospital
found total erythrocyte n-3 PUFA concentrations are positively associated with cognitive function, particularly
immediate recall, in older people with previous depression. Lower concentrations of n-3 PUFAs or ALA in
erythrocyte membranes may be good predictors for cognitive impairment in older people with previous recurrent
depression.[Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Feb;95(2):420-7]

In patients who have experienced a myocardial infarction (MI), n-3 (omega-3) PUFA status is low, whereas the risk
of depression is increased. However, researchers from Leiden University Medical Center, Netherlands, found low-
dose EPA-DHA supplementation, ALA supplementation, or a combination of both did not affect depressive
symptoms and dispositional optimism in patients who had experienced an myocardial infarction. [Am J Clin Nutr.
2011 Dec;94(6):1442-50]

This page is updated on June 14, 2013