Like many herbal remedies flaxseed has been around for a long time. The Ancient Egyptians used it both for food and medicine. Today we do much the same - flaxseed often get added to cakes or breads but is also available as a health supplement.
What is Flaxseed?
Flaxseed comes from the flax plant and is high in fibre. The seeds of the plant contain oil - known as flaxseed or linseed oil. This oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids known for improving heart health.
Why do I need Flaxseed?
Flaxseed was originally used as a laxative - because it contains lots of fibre which adds bulk to stools (poo) and helps it move through the intestines quickly.
Flaxseed oil contains an omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). This is thought to have many health benefits including lowering ‘bad’ cholesterol and other unhealthy fats in the blood. In one study adults who took flaxseed supplements had lower levels of LDL cholesterol after five weeks*.
Omega 3 fatty-acid also thins the blood and so reduces the risk of blood clots and helps to protect the heart. There is plenty of evidence linking omega-3 fatty acids (including ALA) to a reduced risk of heart attacks and stroke.
Interestingly, in a recent study, cows who were fed flaxseed produced more nutritious milk (the milk was lower in unhealthy fats). Nutritionists believe flaxseed may also help relieve menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes.
It may even be protective against certain cancers. Flaxseed contains oestrogen-like chemicals called lignans which, in some studies, have been shown to reduce a woman’s risk of breast cancer*. Although the research is mixed, flaxseed may also lower the risk of prostate cancer. Flaxseed is the richest source of plant lignans (although not flaxseed oil). To get the greatest benefit it is best to use ground or crushed flaxseeds.
Can too much Flaxseed be bad for you?
Flaxseed may thin your blood and also lower blood sugar levels. If you want to try flaxseed supplements consult your doctor first if you are already taking blood-thinning medication such as warfarin or you are being treated for diabetes.
As flaxseeds are rich in fibre they may cause diarrhoea if taken in large quantities. You should never eat raw or unripe flaxseeds as these can be toxic.