The review of alpha-linolenic acid: Sources, metabolism, and pharmacology

Phytother Res. 2022 Jan;36(1):164-188. doi: 10.1002/ptr.7295. Epub 2021 Sep 22.


α-linolenic acid (ALA, 18:3n-3) is a carboxylic acid composed of 18 carbon atoms and three cis double bonds, and is an essential fatty acid indispensable to the human body. This study aims to systematically review related studies on the dietary sources, metabolism, and pharmacological effects of ALA. Information on ALA was collected from the internet database PubMed, Elsevier, ResearchGate, Web of Science, Wiley Online Library, and Europe PMC using a combination of keywords including "pharmacology," "metabolism," "sources." The following findings are mainly contained. (a) ALA can only be ingested from food and then converted into eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid in the body. (b) This conversion process is relatively limited and affected by many factors such as dose, gender, and disease. (c) Pharmacological research shows that ALA has the anti-metabolic syndrome, anticancer, antiinflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-obesity, neuroprotection, and regulation of the intestinal flora properties. (d) There are the most studies that prove ALA has anti-metabolic syndrome effects, including experimental studies and clinical trials. (e) The therapeutic effect of ALA will be affected by the dosage. In short, ALA is expected to treat many diseases, but further high quality studies are needed to firmly establish the clinical efficacy of ALA.

Keywords: dietary sources; metabolism; pharmacology; toxicology; α-linolenic acid.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Antioxidants
  • Diet
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids*
  • Humans
  • alpha-Linolenic Acid*


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Antioxidants
  • alpha-Linolenic Acid
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids