Flaxseed, is this seed healthful or not? This question has one answer, yes they are healthful but let see first what are flax seeds and what are the health benefits of consuming it daily.
Flax, also known as common flax or linseed, 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.
Flaxseed is a rich source of healthy fat, antioxidants, and fiber. The seeds contain protein, lignans, and the essential fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid, also known as ALA or omega-3.
The nutrients in flaxseed may help lower the risk of diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. For this reason, it is sometimes thought of as a functional food, a food that can be consumed to achieve health purposes.
Flax is one of the oldest fiber crops in the world. It is known to have been cultivated in ancient Egypt and China. In Asia, it has played a role in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years.
Today, flaxseed is available as seeds, oil, powder, tablets, capsules, and flour. It is consumed as a dietary supplement to prevent constipation, diabetes, cholesterol, cancer, and other conditions.
Fast facts about flaxseed
- Flaxseed has long been thought to offer health benefits.
- It contains fiber, fat, protein, and various minerals and vitamins.
- These nutrients may offer protection against cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular problems.
- Consuming ground flaxseeds enables the body to absorb the nutrients more effectively.
Health Benefits of Flaxseed
The therapeutic and beneficial properties of consuming flaxseed are not yet completely understood, and there is little evidence from high-quality research to confirm its benefits.
However, it contains nutrients that may help prevent several health problems.
Possible benefits include helping prevent cancer, reducing cholesterol and blood pressure, and protecting against radiation.
Flaxseed contains omega-3 fatty acids. These are thought to disrupt the growth of cancer cells and to prevent their development. Consuming omega-3 oils may help protect against different types of cancer.
It also contains lignans. Lignans are thought to have antiangiogenic properties. This means they stop tumors from forming new blood vessels. The lignan content of flaxseed is thought to be over 800 times higher than that of other foods.
The lignans in flaxseed may help it protect against a variety of cancers, especially if consumed for life as a part of a healthful diet and lifestyle.
In a study of 161 men, published in 2008, consuming flaxseed appeared to stop prostate cancer tumors from growing, especially if the men also consumed a low-fat diet.
There have been several studies on breast cancer prevention and one large study found that flaxseed in the diet reduced the risk for breast cancer.
Lowering cholesterol and improving heart health
The fiber, phytosterols, and omega-3 content of flaxseed may help boost heart health. The lignans it contains may help protect against cardiovascular and other chronic diseases.
Phytosterols are molecules that are similar in structure to cholesterol, but they help prevent the absorption of cholesterol in the intestine. Eating foods that contain these nutrients may help reduce the levels of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, in the body.
In 2010, researchers at the Iowa State University’s Nutrition and Wellness Research Center looked at the effect on cholesterol levels in men who consumed at least 3 tablespoons of flaxseed a day, including at least 150 milligrams (mg) of lignans.
The men saw a decrease of nearly 10 percent in their cholesterol levels after 3 months. However, it did not have the same effect on women.
Prof. Suzanne Hendrich, who led the Iowa research, suggested that the difference may be due to testosterone levels in men, which are lower in women.
In 2008, a study of 55 Native American women who had undergone menopause suggested that a daily intake of 30 g of flaxseed reduced their LDL cholesterol levels by up to 10 percent.
Fiber is also thought to help reduce cholesterol and the risk of cardiovascular disease. Flaxseed contains both soluble and insoluble fiber.
According to the Mayo Clinic, soluble fiber dissolves to produce a gel-like substance that can help reduce cholesterol and glucose levels.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating more fiber as part of a heart-healthy diet. One benefit is that it makes you feel full, so you are less likely to overeat.
Omega-3 oils, usually found in oily fish, have been linked to reductions in cardiovascular risk. Some researchers have suggested that flaxseed could offer an alternative to marine sources of omega 3.
Does flaxseed prevent hot flashes?
In 2005, a study of 30 women suggested that consuming 40 g a day of flaxseed may help reduce the incidence or severity of hot flashes in women who are not using estrogen therapy during menopause.
A study of 188 women, published in the journal Menopause, found that a daily intake of 40 g of flaxseed, representing 400 mcg of lignans, improved the symptoms of hot flashes by around half.
However, women taking a placebo also experienced a reduction, and it was not clear that the effects were due to the flaxseed. The crushed flaxseed was sprinkled onto cereal, yogurt, or mixed into a drink.
There were hopes that flaxseed could become an alternative or complementary therapy for hot flashes, but the researchers concluded that the study “was not able to provide support for the use of flaxseed in reducing hot flashes more than a placebo.”
Improving blood sugar
The lignans and other phytoestrogens are thought to help reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, because of an anti-inflammatory effect.
In a small study published in 2013, scientists gave 25 people 0 g, 13 g or 26 g of flaxseed every day for 12 weeks. The participants had prediabetes, and they were either man with obesity or overweight or women who had undergone menopause.
Those who took 13 g of flaxseed had lower glucose and insulin levels and improved insulin sensitivity.
A study on rats, published in 2016, suggested that compounds found in flaxseed may help reduce the incidence of type 1 diabetes and delay the onset of type 2 diabetes in humans, but more studies are needed.
In 2016, researchers published results of a study in which 99 people with prediabetes were given 40 g, 20 g, or no flaxseed and no placebo each day for 12 weeks.
The results indicated that consuming flaxseed powder every day may reduce blood pressure in people with prediabetes, but it does not improve levels of blood sugar and insulin resistance.
The benefits of flaxseed on the symptoms of diabetes remain unclear.
Flaxseed is rich in both soluble fiber, which dissolves in water, and insoluble fiber, which does not dissolve in water.
Insoluble fiber remains in the intestinal tract. It absorbs water and adds bulk to the digestive tract. This helps keep moving through the gut regularly.
However, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), there is little evidence that flaxseed helps reduce constipation. Consuming it with too little water can make constipation worse and possibly lead to an intestinal blockage.
Too much flaxseed or flaxseed oil can cause diarrhea.
Flaxseed is an excellent source of fiber, lignans, and linoleic and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), two omega-3 fatty acids that are essential for human health.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a 2.5-gram, or 1-teaspoon, serving of flaxseed contains:
- 13 calories
- 0.72 g of carbohydrates, of which 0.04 g are sugars
- 0.46 g of protein
- 0.7 g of fiber
- 1.05 g of fat, of which 0.906 g are unsaturated
- 0 cholesterol
- 6 mg of calcium
- 0.14 mg of iron
- 10 mg of magnesium
- 16 mg of phosphorus
- 20 mg of potassium
- 1 mg of sodium
- 0.11 mg of zinc
- 2 micrograms (mcg) of folate
- 0.1 mcg of vitamin K
The USDA also notes that flaxseed contains phytosterols. In every 100 g of flaxseed, there is 49.0 mg of phytosterols.
Lignans are also present in large amounts. Lignans are a type of phytoestrogen. Phytoestrogens are estrogen-like chemical compounds with antioxidant qualities. They can reduce levels of free radicals in the body.
Flaxseed is considered a good source of lignans, containing 0.3 g for every 100 grams (g) of flaxseed.
Lignans may help protect against cardiovascular disease and a range of chronic conditions if consumed for life as part of a healthful diet and lifestyle.
However, more research is needed to confirm the exact role they can play.
Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to be beneficial for the heart. They can only be obtained by eating the right foods, as the human body does not produce them.
Flaxseeds should be consumed in ground form, as whole flaxseeds can pass through the digestive tract undigested.
Conclusion: Flaxseeds should be consumed in ground form, they are very nutritious food and can help with multiple health conditions.