Question: If I eat plenty of flax, chia, and walnuts, do I need a DHA and EPA supplement?
Answer: Even though the body is capable of converting ALA (the omega-3 fatty acid in flax and chia seeds and walnuts) to DHA and EPA, taking a DHA and EPA supplement is advisable for most people. The efficiency of this conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA varies tremendously between individuals. Only a small amount of ALA is actually converted, and most is burned for energy. For anyone who does not eat fatty fish regularly, modern diets are low in pre-formed EPA and DHA. Most people eat a diet rich in omega-6 fats, but deficient in omega-3s. Many vegetarians who consume sufficient flax, hemp, chia, walnuts, and greens as a source of ALA may manufacture sufficient long-chain omega-3s on their own. However, even with an ideal diet, conversion efficiency may not be sufficient for many people to achieve optimal long-chain omega-3 status, especially for DHA.
The Nutritional Research Foundation funded a study that was recently published in the medical journal Clinical Nutrition. The fatty acid analysis data was presented on more than 160 vegans who were not supplementing with EPA and DHA. About half were deficient, and a smaller percent were severely deficient. The results confirmed my findings over the last twenty-five years, seeing thousands of vegans and near vegans, many with fatty acid deficiencies resulting in medical issues. The main concern with a lower genetic conversion is an increased risk of brain shrinkage with aging. This may not be an issue in those who die at the average age of 75, like other Americans, but could be important if living past 90, as is expected for someone following my Nutritarian dietary guidelines.
In conclusion, it is too risky for one’s future to just assume your body will make the right amount of DHA to protect you later in life if living until an unusually late age. It is best to think ahead and be conservative because once you develop dementia; it is too late to fix it. Bottom line, either check your level with a blood test to assure your level is sufficient, or take the supplement, or both.