Flaxseed is a nutritional power house for both women and men and has some special properties that set it apart from other nuts and seeds. Flaxseed can help to manage hormone related health conditions in women AND men as well as lower the risk of heart disease. Flaxseed oil can help heal irritated skin and the lining of the GI tract.
§ Is an excellent source of mucilage, a “gum” type of fiber that can provide special nourishing support to the gastrointestinal tract.
§ Is helpful with hormone balance and decreased risk of hormone sensitive cancers for women and men.
§ May help to lower the risk of heart disease.
§ Flax seed extracts decreased urinary symptoms and the risk of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH-also known as prostate gland enlargement).
§ Decreased the uncontrolled growth of cancerous cells with prostate and breast cancer.
§ Significantly lowered cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar.
§ Is particularly high in an omega-3 fatty acid called alpha linoleic acid that has anti-inflammatory properties and is especially beneficial for skin conditions, intestinal irritation, and the inner lining of blood vessels.
§ Contains the highest source of dietary lignans of any food, a type of fiber that is rich in antioxidants and may provide protection against hormone related cancers.
Male and Female Hormone Balance
Flaxseed consumption in males may help to normalize excessive conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT) by downregulating an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase (whfoods.org). High DHT in comparison to testosterone is hypothesized to be associated with male pattern baldness (English, R.S., Jr., 2018), acne, and benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH). However, some DHT is necessary for good health. It might be expected that downregulating the 5-alpha reductase enzyme with a food such as flaxseed (a low potency source), as opposed to using powerful medications that block this enzyme altogether (such as the medications used to combat hair loss and BPH), would be far gentler on the body, and therefore, have far fewer negative side effects. More studies are needed to confirm this and flax seed itself has not been studied for hair loss and acne yet.
Flaxseed lignans are associated with decreased prostate tumor cell proliferation (uncontrolled cell growth) (Azrad et al., 2013). Both breast and prostate cancer patients had decreased tumor cell proliferation when the patients were fed flax seed for one month prior to surgery to remove the tumor compared to patients who didn’t receive flax seed (Azrad et al., 2013). In women, flaxseed consumption has been shown to reduce breast cancer risk by 33-70%, reduce all cause mortality by 40-53%, reduce breast cancer tumor growth, does not interfere with tamoxifen effectiveness, and is safe to consume with breast cancer (Mason & Thompson, 2014).
In rats with experimentally induced BPH, the consumption of a lignan extract of flax was associated with a significantly decreased weight of the prostate gland, thus concluding that flax seed might be a viable option for lowering the risk of developing BPH (Bisson, Hidalgo, Simons, & Verbruggen, 2014). In another study on subjects with BPH, the effects of using a flaxseed lignan extract on alleviating urinary tract symptoms, was shown to improve the urinary symptoms of BPH and improve quality of life similar to that of commonly used medication interventions. (Zhang et al., 2008). Ground flaxseed consumption at two tablespoons a day along with a low fat diet for six months, resulted in significantly decreased circulating prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels in men scheduled to undergo repeat prostate biopsies. (Demark-Wahnefried et al., 2004).
Cardiovascular Disease Risk
In terms of heart disease risk, flax seed consumption (2 tablespoons/day) has been shown to decrease plasma total and LDL cholesterol level, even beyond that of cholesterol lowering medications in those with documented cardiovascular disease (Edel et al., 2015). Ground flax seed (2 tablespoons/day) may be one of the most potent blood pressure lowering foods in those with cardiovascular disease markers (Rodriguez-Leyva et al., 2013). Two tablespoons a day of ground flax seed was shown to lower systolic blood pressure (the top number) 10-15 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) around 7 mm Hg. (Rodriguez-Leyva et al., 2013). Flax seed is considered to be a very beneficial addition to the diet in those with peripheral arterial disease for controlling all of the above risk factors, and does not appear to interfere with blood thinning medications. Lastly, ground flaxseed has been shown to lower blood sugar, most likely due to it’s fiber content.
Flaxseed oil for Gastrointestinal and Skin Benefits
It’s not just the fiber and lignans in flaxseed that are healthy, the oil can be helpful to the GI tract and skin as well. One property of flaxseed oil is that is soothing to the GI tract and it was found to heal intestinal ulcers in rats about as well as the medication zantac (Dugani, Auzzi, Naas, & Megwez, 2008). In fact, for those with inflammation in the intestinal tract, flax seed oil may have a healing benefit and be easier to tolerate than ground or whole flax seeds. Flax seed oil is also helpful in decreasing skin irritation and sensitivity. (Neukam et al., 2011). If you are using the oil, buy it in small containers as it can go rancid quickly, and do not cook with it or you will ruin the beneficial properties of the oil.
How to Consume Flaxseed
Not sure how to use flaxseed in your diet? First of all, it needs to be ground to make all the beneficial properties are available to absorb. Also, if you are gluten free make sure you buy flaxseed that is labeled as such. Bob’s Red Mill is one company that makes gluten free flaxseed. Keep it in the freezer so it doesn’t go rancid and if you prefer to grind it in advance then keep it in a dark storage container that blocks the light because light can encourage rancidity or “spoiling” of the beneficial fatty acids.
The beneficial properties of flaxseed remain intact with cooking (compared to using the oil). To make your bake goods healthier and give them a lower glycemic index, start adding ground flaxseed to pancakes, waffles, muffins, or bread. You can also blend it into smoothies, stir it into oatmeal or yogurt or put it on top of a whole grain cereal. The website World’s Healthiest Foods (whfoods.com) has more information about how to use flaxseed. This is one of my favorite websites about the health properties of foods so please check it out.
Risks of Too Much Flaxseed
Flax can pack a punch with fiber and has a mild laxative effect so it is great for those with bowel elimination concerns. You need to work up slowly with flaxseed. Start with 1-2 teaspoons a day and then work up to about two tablespoons per day.
Beware of too much flaxseed in young children. While an excellent source of fiber it may be irritating to the gastrointestinal tract and dull their appetite, or cause upset stomach and diarrhea. Incorporating ground flaxseed in baked goods is likely enough for children without going overboard and adding it to smoothies, etc. Likewise for adults with inflammation in the intestinal tract, flaxseeds might be irritating, so start with a small amount (around 1 teaspoon) and slowly work up, knowing that you might not be able to tolerate two tablespoons.
The Bottom Line
Ground flaxseed has hormone balancing effects, cancer protective effects, and cardiovascular protective effects for both men and women. Flaxseed oil can help with skin and gastrointestinal irritation. Try to incorporate flaxseed on a regular basis in baked goods, smoothies and cereal. Be careful not to over consume flaxseed, especially in children. Overdoing any seeds and nuts can be irritating to people with certain bowel conditions so use common sense when consuming any nuts and seeds, including flaxseed.
Please see the recipes on my website for morning glory muffins and homemade gluten free bread (coming soon).
Azrad, M., Vollmer, R. T., Madden, J., Dewhirst, M., Polascik, T. J., Snyder, D. C., . . . Demark-Wahnefried, W. (2013). Flaxseed-derived enterolactone is inversely associated with tumor cell proliferation in men with localized prostate cancer. J Med Food, 16(4), 357-360. doi:10.1089/jmf.2012.0159
Bisson, J. F., Hidalgo, S., Simons, R., & Verbruggen, M. (2014). Preventive effects of lignan extract from flax hulls on experimentally induced benign prostate hyperplasia. J Med Food, 17(6), 650-656. doi:10.1089/jmf.2013.0046
Demark-Wahnefried, W., Robertson, C. N., Walther, P. J., Polascik, T. J., Paulson, D. F., & Vollmer, R. T. (2004). Pilot study to explore effects of low-fat, flaxseed-supplemented diet on proliferation of benign prostatic epithelium and prostate-specific antigen. Urology, 63(5), 900-904. doi:10.1016/j.urology.2003.12.010
Dugani, A., Auzzi, A., Naas, F., & Megwez, S. (2008). Effects of the oil and mucilage from flaxseed (linum usitatissimum) on gastric lesions induced by ethanol in rats. Libyan J Med, 3(4), 166-169. doi:10.4176/080612
Edel, A. L., Rodriguez-Leyva, D., Maddaford, T. G., Caligiuri, S. P., Austria, J. A., Weighell, W., . . . Pierce, G. N. (2015). Dietary flaxseed independently lowers circulating cholesterol and lowers it beyond the effects of cholesterol-lowering medications alone in patients with peripheral artery disease. J Nutr, 145(4), 749-757. doi:10.3945/jn.114.204594
English, R.S., Jr. (2018). A hypothetical pathogenesis model for androgenic alopecia, clarifying the dihydrotestosterone paradox and rate-limiting recovery factors.Med Hypothesis. 111., 73-81., doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2017.12.027
Mason, J. K., & Thompson, L. U. (2014). Flaxseed and its lignan and oil components: can they play a role in reducing the risk of and improving the treatment of breast cancer? Appl Physiol Nutr Metab, 39(6), 663-678. doi:10.1139/apnm-2013-0420
Neukam, K., De Spirt, S., Stahl, W., Bejot, M., Maurette, J. M., Tronnier, H., & Heinrich, U. (2011). Supplementation of flaxseed oil diminishes skin sensitivity and improves skin barrier function and condition. Skin Pharmacol Physiol, 24(2), 67-74. doi:10.1159/000321442
Rodriguez-Leyva, D., Weighell, W., Edel, A. L., LaVallee, R., Dibrov, E., Pinneker, R., . . . Pierce, G. N. (2013). Potent antihypertensive action of dietary flaxseed in hypertensive patients. Hypertension, 62(6), 1081-1089. doi:10.1161/hypertensionaha.113.02094
Whfoods.org retrieved on 2/8/18 from: http://whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=81
Zhang, W., Wang, X., Liu, Y., Tian, H., Flickinger, B., Empie, M. W., & Sun, S. Z. (2008). Effects of dietary flaxseed lignan extract on symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia. J Med Food, 11(2), 207-214. doi:10.1089/jmf.2007.602