Flax Seed & Flax Seed Oil (Linum usitatissimum)
This is the seed of the flax plant, which is believed to have originated in Egypt. It was cultivated in Babylon as early as 3000 BC. In the 8th century, King Charlemagne believed so strongly in the health benefits of flax seed that he passed laws requiring his subjects to consume it. Flax seed oil comes from cold pressed flax seeds. The most common folk or traditional use is as a laxative; it is also used for hot flashes and breast pain.
Flax seed oil has different folk or traditional uses, including arthritis. Both the seed and seed oil have been used for high cholesterol levels and in an effort to prevent cancer. Whole or crushed flax seed can be mixed with water or juice and taken by mouth. The oil is available in liquid and capsule forms. The seed contains lignans (phytoestrogens, or plant estrogens), while flax seed oil preparations lack lignans.
Benefits of Consuming Flax
Flax seed contains soluble fiber, like that found in oat bran, and may have a laxative effect. Omega-3 essential fatty acids, “good” fats that have been shown to have heart-healthy effects. Each tablespoon contains about 1.8 grams of plant omega-3s.
Lignans, which have both plant estrogen and antioxidant qualities. Flax contains 75 to 800 times more lignans than other plant foods.
Several studies have suggested that diets rich in flax seed omega-3s help prevent hardening of the arteries and keep plaque from being deposited in the arteries partly by keeping white blood cells from sticking to the blood vessels’ inner linings. Lignans in it have been shown to reduce atherosclerotic plaque buildup by up to 75%.
Because plant omega-3s may also play a role in maintaining the heart’s natural rhythm, they may be useful in treating arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and heart failure. More research is needed on this.
Eating these daily may also help your cholesterol levels. The level of LDL or “bad” cholesterol in the bloodstream has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. A study of menopausal women showed a decrease in LDL level after the women ate 4 tablespoons each day for a year. Fitzpatrick says the cholesterol-lowering effects of it are the result of the combined benefits of the omega-3 ALA, fiber, and lignans.
Preliminary research also suggests that daily intake of the lignans in may modestly improve blood sugar (as measured by hemoglobin A1c blood tests in adults with type 2 diabetes).
Some studies suggest that alpha-linolenic acid may benefit people with heart disease
Flax seed, like any supplemental fiber source, should be taken with plenty of water; otherwise, it could worsen constipation or, in rare cases, even cause intestinal blockage.
The fiber may lower the body’s ability to absorb medications that are taken by mouth. It should not be taken at the same time as any conventional oral medications or other dietary supplements.