The Health Benefits of Flaxseed

health benefits of flax seedsFlax seeds have been cultivated for their health benefits for 5,000 years but it’s only in the last few decades that nutritional science has realized just how good they are for us. They were already known to be beneficial for health by many cultures. The European King Charlemagne made it compulsory for his subjects to consume flaxseeds daily.

However, somewhere between then and now, the seed got pushed to the back shelf. Their popularity declined and they weren’t consumed as much in the last thousand years as they once were, probably due to the fact that many new edible seeds and grains were discovered. Thankfully nutritional science has recognized the flaxseed’s incredible benefits and has once again pushed it to the forefront of healthy dieting.

Flax seeds may be small, but they contain high amounts of fiber, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, all of which are essential to health.

As far as the nut and seed family goes, flaxseed is among the most nutritious. These mildly nutty-flavored seeds have a relatively short shelf life and have to be chopped or ground before eating. This may be the reason why they weren’t popular centuries ago. Today we generally consume them in ground or powdered form.

The seeds from the flax plant can also be used to create flaxseed oil (or linseed oil).

Nutritional Highlights and Methods of Consumption

Flaxseed is one of the most concentrated plant sources of omega-3 fats. Flaxseeds contain 50 to 60 percent omega-3 fatty acids in the form of alpha linolenic acid.

They’re also rich in antioxidants, B vitamins, dietary fiber, phytoestrogens, protein, and potassium.

The seeds’ high fiber content is beneficial for heart health, and the fact that they are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids can help lower blood cholesterol and blood pressure. Ground flaxseeds have been shown to slow the growth of prostate cancer tumors.

Experts seem to agree that if you need some help with hair health (especially if your hair is falling) try a regular dose of flax seeds. A tablespoon of flaxseeds a day will go a long way toward helping you meet your essential, daily nutritional requirements.

Keep in mind that the omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseeds aren’t taken up as well by the human body as the omega-3 in fish oil, which is why greater levels of flaxseed need to be consumed to meet your omega-3 needs. They’re ideal for those who don’t eat sufficient oily fish or who don’t like to tkae fish oil supplements.

Flaxseeds are an unsaturated fat, so they have unique storage requirements. Unless they’re stored in a sealed container in a cool place, they can go rancid. Yet another reason why they might have fallen out of favor for a while.

Flaxseeds have a very high fiber content whether they’re ground or whole, so if you’re introducing them into your diet, it’s best to start slowly and increase the levels gradually to avoid cramping, bloating or an excessive laxative effect.

The best way to use flaxseeds is to buy them whole and grind them in a blender. Flaxseed meal can also be used as a binder or egg substitute in baked goods for people who are allergic to eggs.

The ground up seeds seeds can be sprinkled on fruit, veggies, cereal and yogurt, while flaxseed meal can be used in baking or as a filling to bulk out meat dishes. This way you increase your omega-3 levels and fiber intake at the same time.

Benefits of Flaxseeds

1. Prevents Cancers ​
The antioxidants in flaxseeds provide protection from several forms of cancer (as well as heart disease). Recent studies concluded that flaxseeds can significantly lower the risk of developing breast, prostate and colon cancer. The lignans in flaxseeds have antigenic properties and can prevent tumors from forming new blood cells.

The seeds also contain ALA, an omega 3 fatty acid that inhibits tumor incidence and interferes with the growth and spread of cancer.

Those prone to skin cancers from excessive tanning can also greatly benefit from a steady consumption of flax seeds. Research found mice that received flaxseed supplements were able to reduce melanoma (skin cancer) tumors by as much as 63%.

The antioxidants in flaxseeds fight free radicals throughout the body, which is one of the most common ways to prevent cancers from developing.

2. Lowers High Cholesterol and Boosts Cardiovascular Health
Research suggests that eating flaxseeds daily can reduce cholesterol levels significantly. It contains omega 3 fatty acids, fiber and lignan, which work together to reduce cholesterol as well as improve general cardiovascular health.

This works by preventing the deposition of plaque in the arteries by keeping the white blood cells from sticking to the blood vessels’ inner lining.

In addition, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) in the blood is often linked with heart disease, obesity, and metabolic syndrome. Flaxseed can reduce LDL levels.

Flaxseed is also useful in treating irregular heartbeat. The alpha linolenic acid protects blood vessels from inflammatory damage.

If you’re looking for a drug-free, relatively inexpensive way to treat your cardiovascular problems, consider taking flaxseed lignan tablets or sprinkling some ground flaxseed over your meals.

4. Fights Depression
There are plenty of prescription antidepressants, however a simple dietary addition may also prove useful, according to a Japanese study. The study found that depression levels frequently went hand in hand with lower levels of docosahexaenoic and eicosapentanoic acids (also found in various foods including fish and walnuts) in patients.

If you’re depressed and haven’t investigated the effects your diet may be having on you, now is the time to start. A tablespoon of flaxseed a day might just help.

5. Beneficial for Diabetics
According to several studies, diabetics who consumed flaxseed regularly saw a considerable reduction in insulin resistance and also had stabilized blood sugar levels. This is due to the drop in oxidant stress which is caused by the high antioxidant levels in flaxseed.

Several researchers have concluded that daily intake of lignan-rich foods such as flaxseed stabilizes blood sugar levels by improving insulin sensitivity.

6. Improves Skin Health
The omega 3 fatty acids in flaxseeds increase the rate at which wounds heal. Flaxseed is best known for its high anti-inflammatory levels.
This means that you can successfully minimize skin irritation, rashes, inflammation and redness by regularly consuming them.

Steady flaxseed consumption can also shrinks the possibility of acne, dermatitis and psoriasis.

7. Fights Inflammation
Inflammation throughout the body can be reduced by increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Compounds in flaxseeds reduce inflammation by blocking the release of certain pro-inflammatory agents.

Consumption of flaxseeds increases the production of two other omega 3 fatty acids, namely eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosapentaenoic acid (DPA), which provide further inflammatory protection.

Possible Side Effects

  • Although flaxseeds offer numerous health benefits, you should be careful about using them as a dietary supplement.
  • Flaxseeds are high in calories and can have a laxative effect if consumed in large quantities. People with irritable bowel syndrome can have an adverse reaction.
  • People suffering from a seizure disorder should avoid flaxseeds as they can aggravate the condition.
  • Individuals taking blood thinning, blood sugar, topical steroids, anti-inflammatory and cholesterol lowering medications should also avoid eating flaxseeds.
  • Flaxseeds contain small amounts of cyanide compounds, which can have neurotoxic effects in the body. Avoid consuming them in large quantities. Heating the flax seeds can help break these compounds. Never eat unripe or raw flaxseed.
  • Pregnant and lactating mothers should not supplement with flaxseeds as they have estrogen-like properties. Over-consumption of flaxseeds may also cause birth defects and spontaneous abortion in pregnant women.
  • It’s important to drink plenty of water while consuming flaxseeds so they do not swell up or obstruct the throat or digestive tract.
  • Other potential side effects of flaxseeds include itching, rashes, and shortness of breath.
  • People suffering from bleeding disorders, diabetes and high triglycerides should seek medical advice before consuming flaxseeds.

Conclusion

While more research is needed to fully understand the effect flaxseeds have on cholesterol and other aspects of your health,, their high fiber and confirmed many health benefits make them a valuable addition to your diet.

Just remember: In order to get the maximum benefit, skip the oil and go for the whole or ground seed. Grinding the seeds is a great way to incorporate all the components into those favorite foods and might even help the body digest more of their nutrients.

In order to keep the lignans and omega-3s from oxidizing (which causes them to lose their nutritional value), it’s best to grind them fresh.

Try sprinkling some fresh-ground flax into a protein shake or morning oatmeal. Your digestive system and your body’s will thank you!

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