11 Nov The Benefits of Flaxseed
The Benefits of Flaxseed
Is flaxseed the new wonder food? Preliminary studies show that flaxseed may help fight everything from heart disease and diabetes to breast cancer.
By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Feature Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD
Some call it one of the most powerful plant foods on the planet. There’s some evidence it can help reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes. That’s quite a tall order for a tiny seed that’s been around for centuries: flaxseed.
Flaxseed was cultivated in Babylon as early as 3000 BC, according to the Flax Council of Canada. By the 8th century, King Charlemagne believed so strongly in the health benefits of flaxseed that he passed laws requiring his subjects to consume it. Fast-forward 13 centuries, and some experts would say we have preliminary research to back up what Charlemagne suspected all those years ago.
These days, flaxseed is found in all kinds of foods, from crackers to frozen waffles to oatmeal. In the first 11 months of 2006, 75 new products were launched that listed flax or flaxseed as an ingredient. Not only has consumer demand for flaxseed gone up, agricultural use has also increased — to feed all those chickens laying eggs that are higher in omega-3 fatty acids.
Although flaxseed contains all sorts of healthy components, it owes its healthy reputation primarily to three ingredients:
Omega-3 essential fatty acids, “good” fats that have been shown to have heart-healthy effects. Each tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains about 1.8 grams of plant omega-3s.
Lignans, which have both plant estrogen and antioxidant qualities. Flaxseed contains 75- 800 times more lignans than other plant foods
Fiber. Flaxseed contains both the soluble and insoluble types.
The Health Benefits of Flax
Although Lilian Thompson, PhD, an internationally known flaxseed researcher from the University of Toronto, says she wouldn’t call any of the health benefits of flax “well established,” research indicates that flax’s possible health benefits include reducing the risks of certain cancers as well as cardiovascular disease and lung disease. Here are more details:
Recent studies have suggested that flaxseed may have a protective effect against cancer, particularly breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer. At least two of the components in flaxseed seem to contribute, says Kelley C. Fitzpatrick, M.Sc., director of health and nutrition with the Flax Council of Canada.
In animal studies, the plant omega-3 fatty acid found in flaxseed, called ALA, inhibited tumor incidence and growth.
Further, the lignans in flaxseed may provide some protection against cancers that are sensitive to hormones. Some studies have suggested that exposure to lignans during adolescence helps reduce the risk of breast cancer, Thompson says.
Lignans may help protect against cancer by:
Blocking enzymes that are involved in hormone metabolism.
Interfering with the growth and spread of tumor cells.
Some of the other components in flaxseed also have antioxidant properties, which may contribute to protection against cancer and heart disease