Could Ahiflower Replace Fish and Flax?
By Dr. Sean M. Wells, PT, DPT, OCS, ATC/L, CSCS, CNPT, Cert-DN
In the realm of nutritional supplements, Ahiflower oil has been gaining recognition for its impressive profile of health-promoting properties. Extracted from the seeds of the Buglossoides arvensis plant, Ahiflower oil is rapidly becoming a popular choice for those seeking an omega-rich alternative to traditional fish oil. Some people are making the claim that Ahiflower could replace fish-based Omega 3s but the plant is still new to the scene. A recent PubMed article outlines some of these factors, but let's briefly dive into the potential health benefits that may make Ahiflower oil a noteworthy addition to your wellness routine.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids Reinvented
Ahiflower oil distinguishes itself by its omega-3 fatty acid content, particularly boasting a unique combination of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), stearidonic acid (SDA), and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). This trifecta of fatty acids contributes to a more efficient conversion to the essential long-chain omega-3s, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are vital for heart and brain health.
Interestingly, the focus in the media and our nutrition courses have been on ALA, EPA, and DHA predominantly: GLA is certainly a new standout, which is exciting. Primary sources of GLAs focused on evening primrose, borage, and echium oils, which have come with issues. Evening primrose oil is predominantly solvent-extracted and comes mostly from China where supply chain traceability to source farms can be lost. And even borage oil has had known issues with genetically modified safflower oil adulteration. All of these factors have pushed the market to start looking for a more reliable, less volatile, and more consumer trend-friendly alternative GLA source. Then came Ahiflower in 2015, which has been tracebely produced in the United Kingdom and offers a hefty dose of Omega 3s both directly (stearidonic acid) and indirectly (ALA and GLA). Recall the body converts only a small portion (~10%) of ALA to EPA or DHA, but it does convert a higher proportion (~16 to 30%) of stearidonic acid to EPA or DHA. This is why Ahiflower shines compared to algal oil or flax seeds: it has Omega 3s and the ability to convert into more Omega 3s. See this table here from Myers and Cumberford:
Heart Health Boost
Research suggests that incorporating Ahiflower oil into your diet may play a role in promoting cardiovascular health. This makes sense based on the omega-3 fatty acids in Ahiflower oil that have been associated with supporting healthy cholesterol levels and maintaining proper blood vessel function, thereby contributing to overall heart well-being. A few trials have been conducted, which shows Ahiflower to be superior to flax seed, but I think further trials are warranted before Doctors of Physical Therapy (DPTs) make a strong recommendation for its full adoption in the cardiac setting.
One of the standout features of Ahiflower oil, like other Omega 3s, is its potential anti-inflammatory effects. The balanced ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in Ahiflower oil may help modulate inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation is linked to various health issues, and incorporating Ahiflower oil may offer a natural approach to managing inflammation and supporting overall health. Several conditions relevant to PTs would include osteoarthritis, tendonitis, and rheumatoid arthritis. We know from other Omega 3 studies that these conditions can sometimes improve with supplementation from other forms of Omega 3s; unfortunately there have been limited trials for specific conditions and only a few studies have been undertaken specific to serum inflammatory markers: we need further evidence before we as PTs make a strong case that Ahiflower is a must for inflammation.
Sustainable and Plant-Based
Beyond its health benefits, Ahiflower oil is also celebrated for its sustainability. As a plant-based source of omega-3s, Ahiflower eliminates concerns about overfishing and supports a more environmentally friendly approach to obtaining essential fatty acids. Marine fisheries have been crashing and also at risk of contamination with mercury, lead, dioxin, and other chemicals. Ahiflower circumvents these issues while offering the Omega 3s in good supply. Another major perk is for those that are vegan, plant-based, or vegetarian in that Ahiflower has a better conversion to omega 3 vs flaxseed and algal oils. As such, it might be a good addition to those on diets that limit other sources of Omega 3s like salmon, walnuts, and flax.
How Ahiflower Oil is Taken
Physical therapists should be aware that most Ahiflower is taken via supplements in pill or dropper form. Some pet and animal foods have incorporated them into feed, but for humans most people will not be drizzling this oil on their salad (despite what ChatGPT said in its prompt regarding this compound). Current guidance from the leading Ahiflower oil supplement company states, “the minimum recommended daily dose of Ahiflower oil is 2.25g or (3) 750mg softgels.” Now, to what guidance or research they have to support this remains to be seen. We know that there is an inherent risk in taking supplements, as they are mostly unregulated and could have contaminants – all factors PTs need to recognize.
In the evolving landscape of nutritional supplements, Ahiflower oil emerges as a compelling option for those seeking a plant-based, sustainable source of essential fatty acids. From heart health to inflammation management and beyond, the potential health benefits make Ahiflower oil a valuable addition to a well-rounded wellness routine. As with any supplement, it's advisable to tread carefully, consult the literature, and have the patient speak with their primary care physician before taking. Ahiflower may have the potential to disrupt the Omega 3 space, but more research is needed on specific conditions to help guide PT practice. Stay Tuned!