What is Flaxseed?
Flaxseed, or linseed (Linum usitatissimum L.), comes from the flax plant, which is an annual herb. The ancient Egyptians used flaxseed as both food and medicine. In the past, flaxseed was used mostly as a laxative. It is high in fiber and contains a gummy material called mucilage, both of which expand when they come in contact with water. They add bulk to stool and help it move more quickly through the intestines.
Flaxseed and flaxseed oil are rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid that may be helpful for heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), arthritis, and other health problems. Other omega-3 fatty acids include those found in fish oil, which are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Mackerel, salmon, and walnuts are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Flaxseed oil contains only ALA, not the fiber or lignans found in the flaxseed. Other plants that contain ALA include canola (rapeseed), soybean oil, walnuts, and pumpkin seed. Studies suggest that flaxseed may help prevent and treat of the following health conditions.
Benefits of Flaxseed
“Flaxseed contains fiber, which generally helps with constipation. However, there’s little research on the effectiveness of flaxseed for constipation.”
“Studies of flaxseed and flaxseed oil to lower cholesterol levels have had mixed results. A 2009 research review found that flaxseed lowered cholesterol only in people with relatively high initial cholesterol levels.”
“NCCIH is funding preliminary research on the potential role of substances in flaxseed for ovarian cancer, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, asthma, and inflammation.”
Flaxseed has received attention for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant role. A study was conducted to hypothesize if flaxseed added to a weight loss diet could improve the lipid and metabolic profiles and decrease risk factors related to cardiovascular disease.
A total of 27 men with cardiovascular risk factors were evaluated, with mean age of 33 ± 10 years to GriceLC and 40 ± 9 years to GflaxLC. Both groups experienced weight loss and systolic blood pressure reduction. A decrease in inflammatory markers (CRP and TNF-α) was observed after flaxseed intake (mean decrease of 25% and 46% for GflaxLC respectively). All groups also showed improvement in levels of total cholesterol, LDL-c, uric acid and adiponectin. Only GflaxLC group showed a decrease in triglyceride levels.
This study suggests that flaxseed added to a weight loss diet could be an important nutritional strategy to reduce inflammation markers such as CRP and TNF-α.
Flaxseed oil should be refrigerated. Use whole flaxseeds within 24 hours of grinding, otherwise the ingredients lose their activity. Flaxseeds are also available ground in a special mylar package so that the components in the flaxseeds stay active. Ripe seeds, linseed cakes, powder, capsules, and flaxseed oil are all available at health food and grocery stores.
How to Take it
Pediatric: Flaxseed oil may be added to a child’s diet to help balance fatty acids.
Children (2 to 12 years old): Ask your doctor to help you determine the right dose.
Adult: Grind before eating and take with lots of water.
Flaxseed effects on exercise
“Regular exercise enhances the improvement in plasma lipoprotein levels and cardiovascular protection that results from flaxseed supplementation by mitigating the pathophysiology of atherosclerosis. Elevation of HDL, the antioxidant PON 1 and the cardioprotective marker PTX 3 emphasizes the protective effects of flaxseed and muscular exercise mutually against the harmful effects of acute myocardial ischemia.”
“Don’t eat raw or unripe flaxseeds, which may contain potentially toxic compounds.”
“Flaxseed and flaxseed oil supplements seem to be well tolerated in limited amounts. Few side effects have been reported.”
“Avoid flaxseed and flaxseed oil during pregnancy as they may have mild hormonal effects. There’s little reliable information on whether it’s safe to use flaxseed when nursing.”
“Flaxseed, like any fiber supplement, should be taken with plenty of water, as it could worsen constipation or, in rare cases, cause an intestinal blockage. Both flaxseed and flaxseed oil can cause diarrhea.”
Flax (also known as common flax or linseed), Linum usitatissimum, is a member of the genus Linum in the family Linaceae. It is a food and fiber crop cultivated in cooler regions of the world. The textiles made from flax are known in the Western countries as linen, and traditionally used for bed sheets, underclothes, and table linen. The oil is known as linseed oil. In addition to referring to the plant itself, the word “flax” may refer to the unspun fibers of the flax plant. The plant species is known only as a cultivated plant, and appears to have been domesticated just once from the wild species Linum bienne, called pale flax.
Flaxseeds occur in two basic varieties: brown and yellow or golden (also known as golden linseeds). Most types have similar nutritional characteristics and equal numbers of short-chain omega-3 fatty acids. The exception is a type of yellow flax called solin (trade name Linola), which has a completely different oil profile and is very low in omega-3 FAs. Flaxseeds produce a vegetable oil known as flaxseed oil or linseed oil, which is one of the oldest commercial oils. It is an edible oil obtained by expeller pressing, sometimes followed by solvent extraction. Solvent-processed flaxseed oil has been used for many centuries as a drying oil in painting and varnishing.
Although brown flax can be consumed as readily as yellow, and has been for thousands of years, its better-known uses are in paints, for fiber, and for cattle feed.