Flax Seed: A Wonder Food for Health
06/26/2012 | 12:31 PM
Flax Seeds are an excellent source for fiber, antioxidants, and Omega-3’s. They are excellent for a heart-healthy diet and can help prevent certain cancers too. Flax seeds are small seeds, that either are golden or terracotta colored. They are a good source of soluble fiber and alpha linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid linked to heart health. Studies show that they may help in many health problems like diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer, and others.
Flax seeds contain large amounts of omega-3 fatty acid, lignans, dietary fibers, and numerous nutrients, photochemicals called lignans, and anti-oxidants. The flax seed may be tiny, but there its health benefits are huge. Studies have shown that using flax seeds gave a positive result to many inflammatory health concerns, including heart disease and arthritis. Flax seeds are an excellent source of lignans, antioxidants and non-soluble fiber. Several studies have shown that lignans can bind to the estrogen receptors in the body, and stop the build up of estrogen that has been linked to breast cancer.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), omega-3 fatty acids play a crucial role in brain function, as well as normal growth and development. According to research, omega-3 fatty acids have an effect on arthritis, heart problems, some cancers, and diabetes. Flax seed and flax seed oil both contain significant amounts of this compound.
- Dietary Fiber: Flax seed provides significant levels of dietary fiber. The seeds must be ground before consumption as the body cannot digest the hard outer casing. For extra fiber, add them to drinks, yogurt, cereal or salads.
- Phytochemicals: Phytochemicals are essential for fighting diseases, making the body stronger, and more disease resistant. In addition to phytochemicals, flax seeds also contain many anti-oxidants, which help in fight cell damage due to oxidation and aging.
- Lignans: Lignans are responsible for making women fertile, help in reducing the effects of premenstrual syndrome, and, most importantly, prevent breast cancer. Lignans are capable of binding the estrogen receptors to prevent breast cancers, which are estrogen related. People with diabetes can also benefit from lignans.
- Breast Cancer: Several studies prove that flax seeds contain phytoestrogens, which help in preventing the development of breast cancer in women. These phytoestrogens bind the estrogen receptors in the breast to stop tumor growth and prevent cell damage. This effect of flax seed is most effective when taken by women who have not yet entered menopause. Currently, studies are ongoing on whether flax seeds can help treat pre-existing breast cancers, although the data has yet to be released.
- Diabetes: In recent studies, flax seeds have been found to lower blood sugar levels. Flax seed is 28 percent fiber, of which two-thirds is soluble. Indeed, a recent study found that flaxseed carbohydrate (what remains after the oil is removed) lowered blood sugar and increased insulin levels after a meal. Other studies have found that flaxseed has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity.
- Heart problems: Flax seeds contain a rich amount of omega-3 fatty acid, which is known to be good for the heart, by making the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide more efficient. Unrefined omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in flax seeds, help the electrical charges of the heart become more efficient. Flax seeds are an excellent contribution to a heart-healthy diet, which can help prevent heart, stroke, and other cardio-vascular diseases.
- Cholesterol: Aside from being good for the heart, the omega-3 of the flax seeds may also help in reducing the cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the bloodstream. Studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids can help in decreasing the LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, while increasing the HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels.
To date, there have been very reported negative effects on consumption or over-consumption of flax seeds or flax seed oil. However, if they are a part of your diet, be careful of the following:
- Diarrhea: People who consume too many flax seeds may feel stomachaches and diarrhea. The high fiber content can have a laxative effect. Be careful if you have frequent diarrhea or a digestive disorder such as Crohn’s.
- Allergic reaction: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain are all signs of an allergic reaction to flax seeds.
- Slows blood clotting: Flax seed oil may slow the rate at which the blood clots, so you should talk to your doctor if you are already using blood-thinning medications.
- Possible toxicity: Raw flaxseeds or unripe flaxseeds can increase the level of cyanide in your bloodstream, according to MayoClinic.com. This effect has not been reported when flax seeds are eaten at the recommended dosages, and only at high ones.
Flax seeds are an excellent source of nutrients and can be an excellent edition to a heart-healthy diet. They are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, lignans, dietary fiber and anti-oxidants. Both flax seeds and flax seed oil provide similar benefits, however the oil does not provide dietary fiber. If consuming the oil, make sure that it hasn’t been damaged by light or heat, which turns it rancid. The highest quality flaxseed oil is made using fresh pressed seeds, bottled in dark containers, and processed at low temperatures in the absence of light, extreme heat, or oxygen. If consuming the seeds, make sure that they have been ground, otherwise they may pass straight through you without getting the full nutritional benefit. There is no recommended daily amount of flax, but many studies suggest that one to two tablespoons of ground flaxseed each day yields the essential benefits.
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