Flaxseed benefits the cardiovascular, glandular, and musculoskeletal immune centers.
From thinner blood to tougher bones (and beyond,) flax is the seed to stock.
Flaxseed Builds Bone. Flaxseed is the number one source of alphalinolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fat that is in short supply in the American diet. ALA is a precursor to the form of omega-3 fat in fish oil called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). The body converts ALA to EPA. If you want to truly supersize a meal, do something seedy sprinkle or dribble in a little flaxseed or flaxseed oil. Plant-based fats like those in flaxseed help promote skeletal health by preventing excessive bone turnover.
Breast Cancer Protection. A report in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention noted that women with a higher flaxseed lignan (a compound with estrogenic and antioxidant properties) intake reduced their risk of breast cancer by 58 percent. Other studies show that thyroid cancer is lowest among those using flaxseed and soy in their diets. Duke University researchers report that flax helps slow the growth of prostate cancer by halting cellular growth. In the colon, omega-3 fats help protect colon cells from carcinogens and free radicals.
Cardiovascular Immunity. In studies conducted at Canada’s University of Saskatchewan, secoisolariciresinol diglucoside (SDG), which is the primary lignan in flaxseed, decreased bad LDL cholesterol as well as total cholesterol and raised good HDL cholesterol. It also reduced the development of arteriosclerosis by 73 percent. People using flaxseed with the highest lignan levels also show the lowest increases in blood pressure under stress. (Read the labels, as these levels vary widely.) Flax also works as a mild blood thinner, inhibiting clots that could lead to stroke.
Anti-Inflammation. Flax prompts the body to increase production of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins along with magnesium to reduce the inflammatory process in joint disorders as well as asthma, allergies, osteoporosis, migraines, and psoriasis.
Disable Diabetes. Regular use of flaxseed lignans reduces the risk of diabetes by 75 percent, say University of Saskatchewan researchers. Also, the fiber in flaxseed helps stabilize blood sugar as well as protect the kidneys from the damage that often comes with this disorder.
Dry-Eye Relief. Reduce dry eye syndrome and conjunctivitis with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a natural component of flaxseed (also found in cold-water fish) that helps repair free-radical damage to retinal membranes; 300 to 500 milligrams a day does the trick.
Autoimmune Ammunition. Flaxseed is a potent source of omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs), which provide protection against auto-immune disorders such as Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, rheumatism, and inflammatory respiratory conditions.
Flax Lax. Flaxseed supplies 3 grams of fiber per ground tablespoon (as much fiber as a cup of raw carrots) to keep the intestinal tract healthy and prevent constipation. Use ground flax as a laxative in bran muffins, brew as a tea (pour 1 cup of boiling water over 2 tablespoons of flaxeed meal and steep for 10 minutes; strain and sweeten), or sprout flaxseed and use the sprouts on top of everything.
ALA for PMS. Plant-based fats such as the alpha-linolenic acid in flax can help alleviate menstrual symptoms. Sprinkle a little flaxseed on your morning cereal; dribble a little flaxseed oil on your tossed greens.
Buying, Storing, and Preparing
- What you take may not be what you get. For flaxseed’s ALA fats to be converted to EPA, healthy levels of the enzyme delta-6 must be present. It is less available or less active in some of us, especially for people with diabetes or when eaten with alcohol and saturated fats. Take more flaxseed to get the same benefits you would with fish oils: three to four capsules of flaxseed oil for one fish oil capsule (or consult your health care professional). If you are a nonvegetarian, take both flax and fish oil supplements.
- Flaxseed is sold as a whole seed (the most potent), preground, as an oil, and in tablets, powders, and capsules. Use either the seeds or powder, plus the oil, to get the most lignans and fiber.
- Flaxseed is highly perishable. Don’t buy more than you can use (bad oil is not good oil); be sure to refrigerate and use the oil up within three months.
- Use 1 to 2 tablespoons oil, seeds, or powder daily on salads, grains, and pasta. If you don’t make your quota, take flaxseed oil capsules.
- Sprout whole flaxseeds. Flaxseed is mucilaginous and more challenging to sprout. So for best results, use a clay or bag sprouter (see Resources). Or mix the seeds with alfalfa and clover for a better harvest.