Vitamins & Supplements

  • Do I Really Need a Multivitamin?

    Multivitamins are filled with nutrients—but if we eat healthfully, shouldn’t we be getting all those nutrients through our diets? According to the Harvard School of Public Health, a diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, good protein and healthy fats should provide most of the nutrients needed for good health. Still, many Americans fall short of the recommended micronutrient intake set by the American Institute of Medicine, especially vitamins like D and E. As a result, "A daily multivitamin is an inexpensive nutrition insurance policy," the Harvard experts advise.

    Our practitioners recommend a good multivitamin for a variety of health goals, however. For instance, “Adults with athletic and active lifestyles can benefit from a multivitamin’s ability to repair tissue, replace electrolytes and provide antioxidants to stop free radical damage,” says Elizabeth Willis, herbalist and nutritionist at our downtown Boulder store.

    For people undergoing large amounts of stress, Elizabeth says a multivitamin can help flush stress hormones from the body, increase energy and help the body better adapt. “A quality multivitamin is also a good choice for those on a restricted diet or those with digestive disorders,” says Elizabeth (such as vegetarians or those who eat a gluten-free diet), since those conditions can limit your ability to intake all of the nutrients you need.

    “Medications such as antibiotics, sleeping pills, aspirin and oral contraceptives can deplete vitamins and nutrients in the body,” says Don Summerfield, Pharmaca’s vice president of integrative health, in addition to smoking, dieting, alcohol consumption and obesity. “A good multivitamin can do is give you reassurance that you are getting the proper amounts of vitamins and minerals needed for good health.”

    "Remember that a multivitamin won't compensate for a poor diet—but it can help fill nutritional gaps in a good one,” says Summerfield. Ultimately, it’s about eating a healthy, varied diet that meets your nutritional needs, and adding the “insurance” of a good multi.

    Speak with a Pharmaca practitioner about finding the right multivitamin for your nutritional needs.

  • The Healthy Benefits of Omega-3s

    The reported health benefits of omega-3s keep piling up—from boosting heart health to improving memory and concentration. Omega-3s are considered “essential” fatty acids because our body needs them for a variety of bodily functions. Since we can’t make them on our own, however, we must get them through diet or supplementation. The two main omega-3s are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which are found most commonly in coldwater fish, but are also present in oils from algae, plants and flaxseed.

    Despite their “essential” label, many people are still deficient in omega-3s, and this deficiency has been cited as one of the top 10 causes of preventable death in the US among dietary, lifestyle and metabolic risk factors.

    Here are some of the most well-researched benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.

    Cardiovascular health
    Omega-3s have more scientific research backing their benefits for cardiovascular health than any other nutritional supplement. Strong evidence—thousands of clinical trials, in fact—suggest that EPA and DHA enhance overall cardiovascular health by lowering cholesterol, high blood pressure and elevated triglycerides. The American Heart Association even recommends that people with coronary heart disease get 1 g each of EPA and DHA per day.

    Omega-3s also seem to reduce the risk of recurring heart attacks and abnormal heart rhythms in people who have already had a heart attack. In addition, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, large population studies have shown that people getting significant amounts of omega-3s in their diets have a 50 percent lower risk of stroke.

    Alzheimer’s and Dementia
    Recent research has shown that omega-3s may slow cognitive decline and reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. In a study published in May in the journal Neurology, researchers found that people who consumed the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids had the lowest levels of beta-amyloid plaque buildup, a marker in the brain for dementia and Alzheimer’s.

    According to the Mayo Clinic, omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in brain function. Because people with depression may have lower levels of EPA and DHA—important brain chemicals—they can benefit from supplementing with the EPA and DHA found in fish oil. It has also been shown that cultures that consume more omega-3 rich foods have generally lower incidences of depression.

    Prenatal health
    It is widely know that the EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids are vital for healthy infant development, especially for the eyes, nervous system and brain. In addition, supplementing with fish oil during pregnancy has been found to reduce the rate of respiratory illness in infants (according to a study published last year in the journal Pediatrics).

    Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, MD, member of Pharmaca’s Integrative Health Advisory Board, recommends 200-300 mg of DHA starting in the 25th week of pregnancy (learn more about her prenatal nutrition recommendations).

    Rheumatoid arthritis
    A number of small studies have found that fish oil helps reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, including joint pain and stiffness. A 2007 article in the journal Pain analyzed studies that tested the effects of omega-3s on pain and inflammation and showed that by taking omega-3s, patients were able to lower their doses of prescription anti-inflammatory medications and experienced a decrease in pain.

    Dr. Tori Hudson, ND, and member of Pharmaca’s Integrative Health Advisory Board, highly recommends omega-3 fatty acids for her patients experiencing any kind of joint pain.

    Explore our selection of omega-3 fish oils either in store or at

  • What Do Those Expiration Dates Mean, Anyway?

    Chances are you’ve got a few bottles of expired medicine lying around the house. So what happens when you’re in dire need of some cold medicine and the only package you’ve got is two years old? Here’s how expiration dates work.

    Prescriptions and OTC drugs  
    In 1979, a law was passed that mandated that all drug manufacturers put a stamped expiration date on their drugs. This stamp represents the manufacturer’s guarantee of the full efficacy and safety of the drug. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the drug is not stable after this date; it simply guarantees that it is stable in a sealed container with full potency up to this date. The average expiration date is between one and five years.

    A study conducted by the FDA found that 90 percent of more than 100 tested prescription and over-the-counter drugs were found to be safe and effective far past their expiration date—many up to 10 years. While the original effectiveness of the drug may decrease over time, many drugs can be considered safe for use past expiration (with the exception of certain drugs such as nitroglycerine, insulin, EpiPens and liquid antibiotics).

    Dietary supplements
    While the FDA does not require expiration dates for nutritional dietary supplements, manufacturers often include this information in an effort to ensure products provide consistent results. To set an expiration date, a manufacturer must perform stability tests to determine active ingredient degradation over time. And the FDA requires that manufacturers who put an expiration date on their products can prove that the product maintains the original potency listed on the label until the stamped expiration date.

    Here is the general wisdom on the expiration dates of different types of supplements:

    • Herbal, vitamin, mineral, enzyme and amino acid supplements slowly weaken with age. As a general rule of thumb, these supplements may maintain potency for 1-2 years following their expiration date.
    • It is thought that quality B vitamins may not sustain potency following expiration, so it’s a good practice to purchase new B vitamins once yours are past the expiration date.
    • Fish oils and probiotics can maintain potency for around three months past the posted expiration date.
    • Juice or liquid and glandular supplements may maintain potency up to a year past the expiration date.

    Generally, the higher the quality and grade of the supplement, the longer a dietary supplement will maintain potency past the expiration date. Natural supplements generally do not degrade into anything toxic or harmful over time—this also would be dependent on proper storage.

    To ensure potency of any substance, make sure you store it safely. Always keep drugs and supplements in their original packaging. Keep them out of heat, moisture and light, and only refrigerate them if told to do so by your pharmacist. And never store your drugs in the bathroom cabinet, as the bathroom carries a lot of moisture.

    Lastly, never flush prescription medications or supplements down the toilet. Wastewater treatment plants are not designed to remove and destroy drugs, and doing so can lead to contamination of drinking water as well as oceans, lakes and rivers. Polluting marine life in turn has a hazardous impact on our food chain and the drugs can end up back in our bodies. (Click here for more information about proper medication disposal.)

    Kate Brainard attended Bastyr University’s doctorate program in Naturopathic Medicine. She currently manages Pharmaca’s La Jolla store

  • Coconut: Packed with Healthy Benefits

    What is this nut that’s so hard to crack? Coconut is cropping up everywhere these days—coconut water, coconut flour, shredded coconut, coconut milk, coconut oil, coconut cream. When I was a young girl we’d shake them to check for water inside (an indication of a good coconut, according to my mom). The next task was actually getting the hairy orb open so we could drink the water and carefully pry the meat out.

    I’ve always thought of coconuts as a special treat, but in the islands of the South Pacific, coconuts have long been a staple food item. While doing research on the benefits of this mysterious “nut,” I found that the people of Polynesia have been consuming coconuts for centuries, and their population is amazingly healthy—free of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and arthritis.

    Now it’s true that coconut contains saturated fat, and it’s fair to say that most people are concerned about consuming too much saturated fat for fear of increasing their cholesterol and triglyceride (fats) numbers, along with the potential for heart disease.

    But coconut doesn’t contain just any saturated fat—it contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) and medium-chain lauric, capric and caprylic fatty acids, which are associated with many health benefits. In fact, medium-chain fatty acids (MFCAs) have long been used in hospitals to treat critically ill patients who have malabsorption and digestive problems, as well as in premature infants (MCFAs provide many of the same nutrients as human breast milk). In fact, coconut water is still a primary ingredient in infant formulas.

    Let’s look at some of the other benefits of coconut.

    Metabolism: A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that medium-chain fatty acids were three times more effective at raising metabolism than long-chain fatty acids. This is for two reasons: First, MCFAs do not circulate into the bloodstream. Instead, they are sent directly to the liver, where they are immediately converted into energy. Second, they don’t raise blood sugar. And it has been reported that coconut oil can actually help to control sugar cravings.

    Candida: The medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil have been shown to destroy Candida, a condition of yeast overgrowth in the body that triggers symptoms of weight gain, carbohydrate cravings and fatigue. Additionally, coconut oil slows the digestion of food, which helps you feel more satiated after a meal. The added bonus is that coconut oil has no carbohydrates or sugar—another reason coconut oil can help with weight loss and is a good alternative for diabetics.

    Digestion: The saturated fats present in coconut oil have anti-microbial, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties and help in dealing with bacteria, fungi, parasites, etc., that can cause digestive problems. MCFA molecules are smaller, and require less energy and fewer enzymes to break down for digestion, which reduces strain on the pancreas and digestive system. Coconut oil also helps in the absorption of other nutrients such as fat-soluble vitamins, minerals and amino acids, which can be beneficial for people who suffer from gallbladder disease, pancreatitis, Crohn’s disease and diabetes.

    Cholesterol: Coconut oil contains about 50% lauric acid, which has been shown to help increase HDL (healthy cholesterol) and does not lead to increased levels of LDL (unhealthy cholesterol). As such, the saturated fats found in coconut oil are clearly not the same as those found in animal fat—the difference is in the length of the fatty acids.

    5 easy ways to make coconut part of your healthy lifestyle

    If you’re thinking about incorporating some of this “healthy” saturated fat into your lifestyle, here are some ideas to make it quick and easy.

    Replace other cooking oils with coconut oil. I would start out by using half of the amount that you would normally use. If you don’t care for the flavor or smell of coconut, look for oil that says it’s odorless and tasteless. It’s great for cooking vegetables, eggs, meats and fish—even baking.

    Add a tablespoon to hot cereal
    along with some raw walnuts or almonds, a drizzle of agave nectar and some fresh berries for a heart-healthy breakfast.

    Coconut oil is a fantastic moisturizer and hair conditioner. Keep a jar of coconut oil in the bathroom and use it as a moisturizer after a warm bath or shower. It’s also great on dry heels and elbows. If you suffer from dandruff, apply a small amount to your scalp, massage it in and leave on for about 15 minutes (or even overnight), then wash your hair as you normally would.

    Try using coconut in smoothies, soups, dressings, cakes, cookies, sauces, cereals or pancakes. Coconut products are relatively easy to find—look for coconut water or milk, coconut flour, shredded or flaked coconut, coconut cream or butter, and coconut sugar.

    Use it as a deodorant. OK, you might think this one is a stretch, but consider the fact that coconut oil is anti-microbial, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. If you’ve been searching for a healthy alternative to conventional deodorant, give coconut oil a try. I’ve been applying odorless coconut oil as a deodorant for about four months and so far, knock on wood, no complaints from my co-workers at Pharmaca.

    Pharmaca carries several types of coconut oil from Jarrow Formulas and Nature’s Way, as well as a variety of coconut waters, both plain and flavored.

    Sharon Wegner is a Certified Holistic Health Coach, Nutritional Consultant and member of the American Association of Drugless Practitioners. Sharon teaches her clients how to make healthier food and lifestyle choices by creating simple and sustainable changes. She shares her passion for cooking with her clients by teaching them how to make fresh and delicious REAL food. You can find out more about her work at her Essentials for Healthy Living blog.

  • The Scoop on Vitamins

    Ever wonder exactly how and why we need vitamins in our diet? Here’s a little primer on how vitamins function in our bodies. 

    Put plainly, a vitamin is an organic compound essential for life. It is essential because it cannot be created in the body, and must be obtained through food for the body to stay alive. Vitamins are called “micronutrients” because the body only requires a small quantity of them. Macronutrients, on the other hand—such as protein, fat, carbohydrates and water—are necessary in larger quantities because the body uses them to create bodily structures and provide energy. Vitamins also work intricately with enzymes, creating action in the body like assisting in the breakdown of food and allowing assimilation.

    There a few major classes of vitamins. First, vitamins are either water soluble or fat soluble. Water-soluble vitamins must be consumed daily because the body has no real way of storing them (these include the B vitamins and vitamin C). Fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, D, K and E, on the other hand, can be stored longer in fatty tissues and the liver.

    Another distinguishing category of vitamins is whether they are synthetic or natural. Synthetic vitamins are made in laboratories, and though they appear to be identical to the vitamins found in food, they lack the complexity of natural vitamins. That’s because when vitamins occur in nature they're never isolated—they’re always interlaced in very complex multidimensional structures of macronutrients. And studies show that when nutrients are bonded to proteins in this way, they’re better assimilated and more readily used by the body.

    Most importantly, vitamins work together in a synergistic way to create the delicate balance of energy that the body needs to maintain life and to thrive. If there is an imbalance of even one nutrient—whether it’s a deficiency or an excess—it can produce disease in the body and create a host of confusing symptoms. "Scientific research has proved that an excess of isolated vitamins or minerals can produce the same symptom as the deficiency... For example high doses of B-vitamins have been shown to cause the depletion of the other B-vitamins" (From Prescription for Nutritional Healing, by Phyllis Balch, CNC, and James F. Balch, MD).

    Getting to know vitamin basics is an important step in taking care of our own health. Using a vitamin at the proper time can increase healing time and prevent illness. Dr. Balch gives us one important example: "The absorption of vitamin C is greatly reduced by antibiotic drugs, so a person taking antibiotics requires a higher than normal intake of this vitamin." Knowing about and having a better understanding of the intricate dance of vitamins within the body is a profound way to observe the intelligence of the body, and to increase one's quality of life.

    Next we’ll be exploring the different roles that vitamins play in the body. Our first exploration will be meeting the water-soluble vitamins and seeing the fascinating role they play in our health.

    Elizabeth Willis is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist and Herbalist. She has a private practice in Boulder, Colo., and also works at Pharmaca’s downtown Boulder location. Elizabeth specializes in a holistic approach by connecting her clients with the more dynamic roles of food and nutrition. She believes that by eliminating food intolerances, building optimal nutrition and working directly with the emotional body, it is possible to greatly revive one’s health by reconnecting body with spirit.

  • Omegas, Sea Buckthorn & Vitamins, Oh My! Our Favorite Beauty Supplements

    It's no secret that good nutrition, proper hydration and a great cleansing regimen can make a huge difference in the health of your skin. But what about supplements? Here are a few our practitioners love.

    New Chapter Wholemega
    Essential fatty acids are key to healthy, moisturized skin. Omega 3s and 6s help reduce inflammation, (which can deprive the skin of nutrients) and are involved in the production of phospholipids and ceramides, which contribute to overall skin health and moisture. Get the full complement of omega 3s, 5s, 6s, 7s and 9s in this one fabulous supplement.

    New Chapter Supercritical Omega-7
    "It's actually been proven in women to help skin retain its youthful appearance longer," says Lisa Sawabini, Pharmaca esthetician. "When someone has intense dryness, I might recommend omega-7 and they'd be able to see a difference in as little as a week." The richness comes from the omega-7s found in Sea Buckthorn, which has been used for centuries in Europe and Asia for its medicinal properties.

    Reserveage Collagen Booster

    This mix of the potent antioxidant resveratrol, hylauronic acid and chondroitin can help fill in fine lines and fight cellular damage while it's supporting the strength of joints, hair and nails. It was also just named Best Beauty Supplement of the year by Delicious Living magazine!

    Natural Factors BioSil
    Because collagen begins to diminish rapidly after the age of 30, a good supplement can make all the difference. This one can help generate collagen, elastin and keratin, according to esthetician Carolyn Racke, and can help strengthen bones and joints.

    Vitamin C
    This nutrient is not only vital for protecting skin from environmental assaults, it's also fundamental to the production of skin moisture factors, says Ben Fuchs, formulator for Sanitas Skincare. Get your daily dose through fizzy Emergen-C or tasty Pharmaca Chewable Vitamin C.

    Vitamin A
    "Overall skin health is closely connected to vitamin A metabolism," says Fuchs. "Supplementing with this important nutrient can have a profound effect on skin hydration and the proliferation of excess skin cells." Find vitamin A in a good daily multivitamin.

  • The Pure Encapsulations Difference

    If you've ever wondered how supplement purity is standardized and tested, Pure Encapsulations offers a precise picture—they produce some of the highest quality hypoallergenic supplements available. Since their inception, they have been an industry leader in manufacturing excellence and quality control, making Pure Encapsulations the choice of more than 36,000 health professionals in the U.S. and a leading brand in Europe.

    Pure Encapsulations produces professional-grade supplements, which are sold under the advisement of a licensed health care practitioner. Pure Encapsulations offers a wide range of products to provide nutritional support for sensitive individuals. Some of their best-selling formulas include a wide range of specific multivitamins and specialty formulas, as well as standalone vitamin and mineral ingredients.*

    All Pure Encapsulations supplements are hypoallergenic, including their vegetarian capsules. They use absolutely no added coatings, binders, shellacs, artificial flavors, artificial sweeteners, colors or fragrance in their products that would disrupt or diminish the bioavailability of any of the ingredients. All of their formulas are free from magnesium stearate, as well as wheat, gluten, nuts, egg, preservatives or hydrogenated oils. Furthermore, Pure Encapsulations has established a comprehensive allergen standard operating procedure (SOP) in place to prevent ingredient cross-contamination.

    Pure Encapsulations differentiates itself by holding their suppliers to the highest standards and by following strict manufacturing procedures. Ingredients are selected solely on the basis of quality and purity and are provided in their most bioavailable forms. Pure Encapsulations sources premium raw materials from trusted industry leaders, including the finest suppliers from the U.S., France, Japan, Switzerland, Germany and Italy. All ingredients are tested for purity and potency by independent certified laboratories, and ingredient suppliers must meet rigorous testing and quality criteria to qualify as a Pure Encapsulations supplier.

    Pure Encapsulations manufactures their products in a state-of-the-art plant in Sudbury, Mass., in temperature, humidity and dust-controlled rooms. Each piece of equipment is dismantled and sterilized before each production run, and their warehouse is climate controlled in order to maximize the stability of raw materials and finished products. The company is NSF-GMP registered in the U.S., GMP certified in Canada and exceeds the standards of the United States Pharmacopeia (USP).

    Certified independent laboratories test Pure Encapsulations' raw materials and finished, encapsulated products. Using the most advanced equipment and test methods, these labs verify the potency and purity of ingredients. Independent microbiological testing is also performed to ensure supplement purity and safety.

    When you order Pure Encapsulations' supplements, you will receive the highest quality nutritional supplements and health information available. Ingredient quality, manufacturing excellence and quality control are their most important priorities.

    *These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

  • Selenium May Ward Off Cancer

    Is there a link between the mineral selenium and cancer prevention? It seems this naturally occurring substance may be an effective weapon in the war against cancer. Multiple studies have shown that selenium may be helpful in warding off breast, stomach, prostate, liver, bladder and esophageal cancers. Since many Americans do not get the recommended dose (200 mcg) of selenium each day, a selenium supplement may be worth thinking about.

    Research shows that selenium, especially when taken with vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene, works to block the chemical reactions in the body that create free radicals. (Free radicals damage our DNA and cause degenerative changes in the cells, which can lead to cancer). By preventing damaged DNA cells from reproducing, selenium can then prevent cancerous tumors from growing.

    According to Dr. James Howenstine, author of A Physician's Guide to Natural Health Products That Work, selenium "contributes towards the death of cancerous and pre-cancer cells. Their death appears to occur before they replicate, thus helping stop cancer before it gets started."

    Not only has selenium been shown to help prevent cancer, it can also help slow the progression of cancer in people already diagnosed with it. Beating Cancer with Nutrition reports that selenium helps "enhance the effectiveness of chemo, radiation and hyperthermia while minimizing damage to the patient's normal cells; thus making therapy more of a selective toxin."

    Still not convinced of the link between selenium and cancer? Dr. Larry Clark from the University of Arizona conducted a long-term study of 1,300 people. The cancer occurrence in those taking 200 mcg of selenium a day was reduced by 42 percent compared to those in the study who received placebo. Further, cancer deaths for those taking selenium were cut almost in half. (Via Journal of the American Medical Association.)

    Interested in learning more about the wonders of selenium? Ask a Pharmaca practitioner about selenium today.

  • Men's Supplement All-Stars

    Every man is unique, but there are a few common concerns that span lifestyles and generations. Sarah Cook, naturopathic doctor at our Los Gatos, Calif., store explores some universal issues--and offers some helpful suggestions--to help keep you or the man in your life on track.

    Men's Supplement All-Stars

    Can help.* Zinc Fish Oils L-Arginine Saw Palmetto CoQ10
    Improve athletic performance
    Support fertility
    Combat inflammation
    Lower cholesterol
    Lower blood pressure
    Reduce risk of heart disease
    Prevent prostate problems
    Improve immune function

    About the All-Stars


    Zinc is an antioxidant mineral that concentrates in the male prostate. Zinc supports male fertility by improving sperm count and quality, improving immune function and increasing a man's resistance to urinary tract infections and prostatitis. Zinc also improves muscle strength and athletic performance.

    One to try: Pharmaca Zinc Citrate

    Fish Oils

    Fish oils provide essential omega-3 fatty acids that both combat inflammation and reduce risk factors for heart disease. Fish oils, especially from fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring, may be helpful in lowering triglyceride levels, blood pressure and improving glucose tolerance.

    One to try: Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega


    L-arginine is a semi-essential amino acid that's used by the body to make creatine, an energy source for muscles-one reason it may improve athletic performance. The body also uses L-arginine to make nitric oxide, causing blood vessels to dilate and aiding conditions such as chest pain, clogged arteries, heart disease, erectile dysfunction and headaches. (A word of caution: L-arginine may reactivate the herpes virus in those already affected.)

    One to try: Bluebonnet L-Arginine

    Saw Palmetto

    Saw palmetto is the leading natural treatment for benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH), an enlargement of the prostate gland that puts pressure on the urethra and therefore increases the need to urinate. Saw Palmetto works by reducing the size of the prostate, and can be taken by any man interested in supporting prostate health. Look for saw palmetto supplements that contain 80-95% fatty acids.

    One to try: Gaia Herbs Liquid Phyto-Caps Saw Palmetto Berry

    Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

    There's evidence that CoQ10, a powerful antioxidant, may improve athletic performance, decrease blood pressure, improve male fertility and reduce PSA levels, a marker for prostate cancer. Also, it's important to know that statins deplete CoQ10, so any man on cholesterol-lowering medications should consider taking extra CoQ10.

    One to try: Jarrow's Q-Absorb

  • Fish Oil or Flax?

    The average American gets only half the daily amount of omega-3 fatty acids recommended by the World Health Organization. These promoters of heart health and brain function are sometimes called essential fatty acids because they must be obtained from dietary sources or nutritional supplements. We asked Clare Bauermeister, ND, of Pharmaca in West Seattle and Kristine Mestaz of our Los Gatos store to help break down the pros and cons of fish and flax sources of omega-3s.

    Our bodies work with three major types of essential fatty acids: ALA, EPA and DHA. The body must convert ALA into EPA or DHA since those are the more usable forms. Flaxseed oil is nature’s richest source of vegetable-based omega-3 fatty acids in the form of ALA. Fish oil contains both DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids.

    “The body can convert the ALA in flax to DHA and EPA, but it doesn’t do it very efficiently. If you’re going to be taking flax or fish oil supplements for therapeutic reasons, you generally have to take more flax to get the same benefits that fish oil provides,” says Clare.

    Clare also adds that the clinical evidence supporting plant-based fatty acids isn’t as high. “But given what we know about the benefits of DHA and EPA, I would say you’re bound to get some of the same health benefits from ALA,” she says.

    Both Clare and Kristine will most often recommend fish oil over flaxseed oil for inflammatory problems like arthritis or heart issues. However, flax has some extra benefits that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

    “Flaxseed oil is 100 times richer in lignans than other whole grains,” says Kristine, who adds that there have been a lot of promising studies on lignan’s effectiveness at lowering breast and colon cancers. “Lignans are a phytoestrogen that bind to estrogen receptors,” she says, which keeps our own estrogens in check and decreases the chances of gynecological cancers.

    Kristine often recommends flaxseed oil for constipation, since it’s so high in fiber, as well as post-exercise recovery and even weight loss. “I’d also recommend it for skin problems like eczema and dandruff,” she says. “If someone came in who really wanted perfect skin, I’d recommend both fish and flaxseed oil.”

    Flaxseed oil also raises fewer sustainability issues, and is an ideal option for dedicated vegans and vegetarians. Another benefit? “You can pour a flax oil supplement over your food, or make a salad dressing out of it,” says Kristine. “You can even put it into your smoothies! With fish oil? No way.”

    Pharmaca offers a wide range of both fish and flaxseed oil products, as well as combination formulas, that have been chosen for their purity and potency. Ask one of our practitioners which option is best for meeting your personal health goals.

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