Previous studies show inconsistent associations between α-linolenic acid (ALA) and risk of CHD. We aimed to examine an aggregate association between ALA intake and risk of CHD, and assess for any dose–response relationship. We searched the PubMed, EMBASE and Web of Science databases for prospective cohort studies examining associations between ALA intake and CHD, including composite CHD and fatal CHD. Data were pooled using random-effects meta-analysis models, comparing the highest category of ALA intake with the lowest across studies. Subgroup analysis was conducted based on study design, geographic region, age and sex. For dose–response analyses, we used two-stage random-effects dose–response models. In all, fourteen studies of thirteen cohorts were identified and included in the meta-analysis. The pooled results showed that higher ALA intake was associated with modest reduced risk of composite CHD (risk ratios (RR)=0·91; 95 % CI 0·85, 0·97) and fatal CHD (RR=0·85; 95 % CI 0·75, 0·96). The analysis showed a J-shaped relationship between ALA intake and relative risk of composite CHD (χ
2=21·95, P<0·001). Compared with people without ALA intake, only people with ALA intake <1·4 g/d showed reduced risk of composite CHD. ALA intake was linearly associated with fatal CHD – every 1 g/d increase in ALA intake was associated with a 12 % decrease in fatal CHD risk (95 % CI −0·21, −0·04). Though a higher dietary ALA intake was associated with reduced risk of composite and fatal CHD, the excess composite CHD risk at higher ALA intakes warrants further investigation, especially through randomised controlled trials.