I can’t say that I love flaxseed. I mean, it doesn’t really have a memorable taste! What I do love is how good it is for me and how easy it is to incorporate into my day! You can have it whole, ground, or as an oil. Add it to cereal, smoothies, salads, and more! Just don’t heat it up. Heating can destroy the health benefits of this wonderful seed.

King Charlemagne, in the 8th century, required his subjects to consume it. In fact, it was law! He believed in its health benefits that strongly. Some of those benefits include a decrease in heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes. That’s a lot of power for a little seed! But what else might it do?

It is such a tiny seed and some of its benefits come from the oil and others come from ingesting it from a ground-up state. It does have a short shelf life so if you don’t use it very much it will go rancid sooner than you’d like. Flaxseed oil contains vitamins such as B1, B2, C, E, and carotene, a form of vitamin A. The oil also contains omega-6 and omega-9 essential fatty acids, zinc, iron, and trace minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium. It is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids that promotes heart health .Flaxseed oil does not contain fiber and phytoestrogens (plant-based estrogen-like compounds) like the whole seed does.

The best option is to freshly grind it yourself and add it to your foods. I use a coffee grinder just for seeds and it works perfectly! Another good option is to buy it whole or ground and store it in the freezer. Finally, you can use the whole seeds but chew your food well. You should anyway, right? Whole seeds look really nice in muffins and in salads. Seeing the seeds is a nice reminder that you’re choosing a healthy lifestyle!

And just what are those benefits? Here we go!

1. Cancer

Two of the most important components of flaxseed that may help protect against cancer are omega-3 fatty acids and lignans. Omega-3 fatty acids found in flaxseed, called ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), have been shown to inhibit tumor incidence and growth.

Lignans (which are phytochemicals such as phytoestrogen) may help protect against hormone-related cancers like breast and prostate cancers by blocking enzymes that are involved in hormone metabolism. This phytoestrogen binds to the cell receptors, blocking the ability of the body’s own hormones to bind. This interferes with the growth and spread of tumor cells.

2. Cardiovascular disease

Cardiovascularly, flaxseed oil is like a blood vessel lubricant. It appears to keep the white blood cells from sticking to the inner walls of the blood vessels. This, in turn, prevents plaque from being deposited thereby preventing hardening of the blood vessels. Apparently, flaxseed oil is also useful in treating an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) and heart failure!

3. Diabetes

By using the whole seed, flaxseeds may improve sensitivity to glucose in glucose-intolerant people. This may be related to the antioxidant properties of the seed. In other words, it may modestly improve blood sugar.

4. Inflammation

ALA has been shown to decrease inflammatory reactions in humans. Reducing inflammation associated with plaque buildup in the arteries may be another way flaxseed helps prevent heart attacks and strokes.

5. Lupus

Flaxseed has also been shown to improve kidney function in people with lupus.

6. Stroke

As stated above, by reducing inflammation in the body, you reduce your chances of a stroke. However, there have also been indications that flax may bring on a stroke. You need to talk to your doctor to see if supplementing with flax is right for you.

7. Cholesterol

Again, by lubricating your blood vessels with flaxseed oil, you prevent plaque build-up and lower your risk of high cholesterol.

8. Dry eyes syndrome

According to Jack Greiner, DO, PhD, of Schepens Eye Research Institute in Boston, a high-fat diet is partly responsible for this syndrome. Eating a high-fat diet prevents the oil in the eye glands from moving out. They get too thick! He believes that the omega-3 fat in flaxseed oils soften the glandular secretions so they can flow.

9. Arthritis

Other chemicals as well as ALA, as stated earlier, decrease inflammation in the body. That is why flaxseed oil is useful for rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory (swelling) diseases.

10. Depression

Flaxseed oil and omega-3 contains docosahexaenoic and eicosapentanoic acids. People with significant depression suffer from low levels of these compounds. These compounds are also found in walnuts and fish.

11. Liver disease

The lignans (phytochemicals) in flaxseeds may reduce liver disease risk factors.

The Cons

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 our omega-3 needs. Flaxseeds have very high fiber content, so it’s best to start slowly and increase the levels gradually to avoid cramping, bloating, or an excessive laxative effect.

Precautions

Interactions

If you take any medicines or other supplements regularly, talk to your doctor before you start using flaxseed. Flaxseed may block the normal absorption of medicines. Flaxseed and flaxseed oil may also interact with drugs like blood thinners, NSAID painkillers, hormone treatments, and medicines for blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes. Use caution when taking flaxseed or flaxseed oil with supplements like St. John’s wort and Valerian, which are often used for people with depression.

Risks

Never eat raw or unripe flaxseed — it could be poisonous. Talk to a doctor before using flaxseed or flaxseed oil if you have diabetes, bipolar disorder, high triglycerides, bleeding disorders, or prostate cancer. Don’t use flaxseed if you have digestive problems (like Crohn’s disease, IBS, or colitis) and women with hormone-sensitive diseases (like endometriosis, PCOS, breast cancer, and uterine cancer) should not use flaxseed.

Storage Tip

Keep it in the freezer.

The best place to store ground flaxseed is the freezer. Freeze ground flaxseed in a plastic sealable bag. The freezer will keep the ground flax from oxidizing and losing its nutritional potency.

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