Ahiflower® is the trademarked name of a British grown flower that was originally known as Corn Gromwell. This pretty plant with its deep green leaves and pure white flowers has recently found its way to stardom in the media. This is due to the essential fatty acids (EFAs), especially omega 3, its seed provides, making it a great addition to the vegan and vegetarian diet.
The plant contains essential fatty acids omega 3 and 6 in a balance and form that doesn’t disrupt nature’s balance. A form that doesn’t suit nature’s balance is high levels of omega 6 in the form of LA and omega 3 in the form of ALA. These forms of fat compete with each other in the system to be processed which can strain our nutrient reserve – more will become clear on this later.
The great thing about this new form of fats is that the plant was initially classed as a weed, as it grows in abundance and is easily sustainable in most conditions. This makes it a great source that does not need aggressive agricultural farming methods. An area roughly the size of Twickenham rugby pitch will produce 200 kilograms of Ahiflower® oil; the same amount would require 200,000 oily fish such as sardines.
Looking for omega supplements on a vegan or vegetarian diet:
When looking for EFAs on a plant based diet, there is quite a bit to think about to make sure you are getting the best. Omega 3 seems to be the most challenging to achieve, not from the lack of plant foods that provide it, but from the lack of plant foods that contain the active form Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) that your body can utilise.
The most active form of omega 3 that our body uses is EPA and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) which is readily available from two food sources; fish and algae.
What makes EPA and DHA so important?
- Immune system, especially important in reducing autoimmune conditions
- Joints, it works similarly to oil on the hinge of a door, but on your joints instead to keep you supple
- Reducing dry eye, a common complaint that people get from overusing computers (did you know that when you use a computer you blink roughly 8 times compared to the usual 15-20 times per minute?)
- Cardiovascular system, by reducing clotting of the blood to allow circulation
- Mind function, your brain is made up predominantly of fat therefore it can be good for memory, mood and concentration
- Weight loss, yes that’s right, fat doesn’t make you fat, that’s an old wives tale. Fat metabolises fat to keep you slim
You can get omega 3 from plant sources such as linseed oil but they provide omega 3 Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA). The body can change ALA into fats that you need, but the amount it produces is very small (6% EPA and 3.8% DHA). Ahiflower® is completely different, its low level of ALA is completely compensated for by containing a high level of another fat called Stearidonic Acid (SDA). At least 30% of SDA will end up being EPA in the body.
From the diagram below you can see how much less strain this puts on the body to form EPA without needing additional nutrients such as zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6.
The natural omega 3 pathway in the body is described below:
A teaspoon of Ahiflower® oil would provide 840mg SDA and 1.8g of ALA, this would provide roughly 400mg of EPA, this matches about half the level you would get from fish oil! Other plant sources don’t even come close to matching this.
Let’s not forget the other important fatty acids
The Ahiflower® also contains omega 6 Gamma Linoleic Acid (GLA) and Linoleic Acid (LA) and omega 9 oleic acid (OA).
The GLA level in the plant oil is particularly important for skin and hormonal health. GLA doesn’t disrupt the body’s natural omega 3:6 ratio as the system doesn’t require cofactors zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6 to convert GLA to an anti-inflammatory called prostaglandin 1 (PG1).
Certain high levels of animal fats may form prostaglandin 2 (PG2) which is an inflammatory marker. Too much inflammation in the system is linked to many health conditions such as eczema and poor cardiovascular and mental health through poor circulation.
The LA does require cofactors zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6 but the combination of omega 6 GLA with LA and the omega 3 being in the form of SDA makes this less of a strain on the system and more likely to result in an anti-inflammatory response. Examples of plant foods that provide mainly LA as their omega 6 source are safflower and sunflower oil.
The natural omega 6 pathway in the body is described below:
Ahiflower image by Fornax (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons