Tuesday, September 22, 2020

How Flaxseed Can Help

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Since the days of Hippocrates, flax has been used to ease gastrointestinal problems. Now researchers are finding that the seed’s compounds show promise in the prevention and treatment of many conditions, including cancer and high cholesterol. I recommend eating 2 tablespoons of freshly ground flaxseed every day. In addition to its health benefits, flax adds a sweet, nutty flavor to foods.

Known for its high fiber content, flax’s greatest value may come from its abundance of lignans, a class of phytoestrogens. These plant compounds with estrogen-like activity may protect against hormone-driven cancers and also act as antioxidants. In addition, the alpha-linolenic acid (LNA) found in flax also provides the body with much-needed omega-3 fatty acids. LNA is converted in the body to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the omega-3s found in oily fish like salmon (but because the conversion is inefficient, I also recommend eating fish or taking fish oil).

Recent human studies of flax support positive results from a decade of encouraging test-tube and animal findings. Here I’ll discuss some health benefits of this ancient seed.

Health Benefits of Flaxseed

1. Gastrointestinal problems.

Flax contains 3 grams of insoluble fiber in every 2 tablespoons, which helps promote good digestion and protects against common conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, and diverticulitis. Fiber-rich foods also reduce risks of colon and rectal cancers.

Flax contains 3 grams of insoluble fiber in every 2 tablespoons, which helps promote good digestion and protects against common conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, and diverticulitis. Fiber-rich foods also reduce risks of colon and rectal cancers.

Latest study here.

2. Menopausal symptoms.

In a study of 25 menopausal women, consuming 40 grams (6 tablespoons) of flaxseed a day was shown to be as effective as taking a combination of estrogen and progesterone for improving mild menopausal symptoms (Obstetrics & Gynecology, September 2002). Scientists believe the lignans may regulate the use of estrogen when the body isn’t producing enough, as is the case with menopause.

Latest study here.

3. Prostate cancer.

One small study of men with prostate cancer showed daily consumption of flaxseed combined with a low-fat diet slowed the growth of cancer between diagnosis and surgery (Urology, July 2001). Although another study suggested an association between LNA and an increased risk of advanced prostate cancer, I’m not convinced flax was the culprit. Researchers weren’t able to pinpoint one food source of LNA as being responsible, and the LNA content in fatty foods like meat, creamy dressings, and mayonnaise may have contributed to the increased risk.

Latest study here.

4. Breast cancer.

In a small study of women with breast cancer, regular flax consumption slowed cancer cell proliferation and tumor growth (Clinical Cancer Research, May 15, 2005). Although it’s not known how flax fights cancer, it has been suggested that the lignans in flax may make cancer cells less aggressive. Flax may also be an important chemopreventive. “We just finished an epidemiological study involving thousands of subjects that showed exposure to lignans in adolescence is protective against breast cancer later in life,” says Lilian Thompson, PhD, a leading flax researcher and professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto.

Latest study here.

5. High cholesterol.

Two tablespoons of flax contains about 1.5 grams of soluble fiber, which is known to lower cholesterol. This may explain the results of a study in which women who added 2 tablespoons of ground flax to their daily diet for four weeks had a 9 percent drop in total cholesterol and an 18 percent drop in LDL cholesterol; HDL levels stayed the same (Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, April 2002).

Latest study here.

6. Diabetes.

The soluble fiber in flax may also help people with diabetes normalize blood sugar. In rats, the antioxidants found in flax slowed the development of diabetes (Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine, July 2001).

Latest study here.

The Practical Side of Flax

Despite my enthusiasm for flax, I recommend people avoid flax oil, which is available in liquid and capsules. When most flax oil is made, the beneficial lignans and fiber from flaxseed are eliminated. The oil also goes rancid quickly. Grinding your own flaxseed, which is sold at most natural food stores, is much less expensive; a 30-day supply costs about $1. Grind a half-cup at a time in a coffee grinder or blender and refrigerate in an airtight opaque container for up to 30 days. (You’ll know that the flax meal has spoiled when it smells like oil paint.) Sprinkle on cereals, salads, and cooked vegetables, or add to shakes and nut butters. Two tablespoons of ground flaxseed has about 4.5 grams of fiber, 3 grams of omega-3s as LNA, 3 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat, less than 6 grams of carbohydrates, and 80 calories. I still recommend adults consume oily fish two to three times a week or take 1 to 2 grams of fish oil each day to get enough preformed EPA and DHA. (Vegetarians can take DHA supplements derived from algae.)

Although not all products containing flaxseed will list whether it’s ground or whole, when buying products look for flax meal as an ingredient, since flax must be ground for your body to absorb its nutrients. To bake and cook with flax, consult The Flax Cookbook by Elaine Magee (Marlowe & Company, 2002). In some recipes, you may want to use the more expensive golden flax for color, but there is no nutritional difference between it and brown flax.

Flax is not known to interact with drugs or supplements, but hypothetically the fiber may interfere with their absorption. If this concerns you, take your medications and supplements at least two hours before or after you eat flax.

Nathan
Writes in the lane of nutrition and natural treatment.

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