By: Pallavi Vathiar. Practicing Clinical Nutritionist, Mumbai.
Flax seed is cultivated in many parts of world for fiber, oil as well as for medicinal purposes and also as nutritional product. Flax seed is an alternative to marine products. It is one of the richest sources of the plant-based Omega 3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) (1).
Culinary Uses Of flax Seeds
Flax seed meal is gluten free and has a pleasant nutty flavor. The protein content, combined with the gelling/binding properties of the soluble ﬁber found in flax seed meal, make it ideal for incorporating into gluten free baked goods, or as a gluten free thickening agent (2).
Cardio Vascular Disease
Flaxseed appear to improve cardiovascular risk factors primarily by modestly improving lipid profiles. Because flaxseed is rich in both ALA and lignans, flax also might modulate cardiovascular risk factors by other mechanisms (e.g., reducing oxidant stress, platelet adhesion, blood sugar, and blood pressure) (3).
Based on the results of clinical trials, epidemiological investigations and experimental studies, ingestion of ALA has been suggested to have a positive impact on CVD. Because of its high ALA content, the use of flaxseed has been advocated to combat CVD (4).
Reduces Blood Pressure
Research suggests that taking flaxseed or its oil, lignans or fiber, can reduce blood pressure. Also, eating milled flaxseed in bread daily for 6 months seems to reduce blood pressure in people with narrowed blood vessels and high blood pressure (5).
A Canadian study found eating 30 grams of flax seeds daily for six months lowered systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 10 mmHg and 7 mmHg, respectively.
For those who were already taking blood pressure medication, flax seeds lowered blood pressure even further and decreased the number of patients with uncontrolled high blood pressure by 17% (6).
Flax Seeds For Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a major health problem worldwide.
It’s characterized by high blood sugar levels as a result of either the body’s inability to secrete insulin or resistance to it.
A few studies have found that people with type 2 diabetes who added 10–20 grams of flax seed powder to their daily diet for at least one month saw reductions of 8–20% in blood sugar levels (7).
Flax seed supplementation reduced blood glucose in subjects with type 2 diabetes(7) and lowered blood glucose in subjects with pre-diabetes (8). Flax seed derived gum and lignan supplement also decreased blood glucose in subjects with Type 2 diabetes (9,10).
Flaxseed is already used extensively in most studies of cancer especially with respect to the impact of dietary flaxseed is breast cancer. In human trials, dietary flaxseed has significant protective effects against breast cancer.
A systematic review of 10 human trials led to the conclusion that flax seed reduced tumour growth in women with breast cancer (11,12). They also found evidence in support of flax-associated protection against primary breast cancer as well as a reduced risk of mortality in women living with breast cancer. Beneficial effects were observed with 25 g doses of milled flax seed (12).
People should try to avoid whole flaxseed and eat it ground, as the intestines may not absorb the nutrients in whole flaxseeds.
More generally, people who eat flaxseed should:
- Avoid raw and unripe flax seeds, as they may contain toxic compounds.
- Consume flax seed ground and with plenty of fluid, to prevent digestive problems.
- Buy only small bottles of flax seed oil in dark bottles and store them in the refrigerator, as the oil can spoil quickly. Also, avoid using the oil past the expiration date on the label.
- Avoid heating flax seed oil in cooking. Add the oil to already prepared dishes and avoid microwaving to reheat (13).