Flaxseed oil has long been recognized for its numerous health-promoting benefits. However, there are problems associated with the processing and storing of the flaxseed oil that can counteract many of its potential benefits. A major obstacle is that flaxseed oil (principally, alpha-linolenic acid) is highly unsaturated and readily oxidizes (turns rancid) to form extremely toxic perodidatuib products such as malondialdehyde. Not only does this significantly decrease flaxseed oil’s shelf life, but it can pose hazards to the consumer.
Compared to flax oil, flaxseeds have a very long shelf life and can be stored for decades (or even centuries!) and still retain all the health promoting properties. Nature has provided the flaxseed with a shell that provides nearly absolute protection from oxidation. In addition to the benefits inherent in fresh flaxseed oil, flaxseeds provide fiber and valuable lignans. For these reasons, many healthcare professionals who once recommended flax oil now recommend the whole seed. As a result, flaxseeds are rapidly becoming rediscovered as one of the most exciting and sought-after health products today.
Flaxseeds are a rich source of essential fatty acids, particularly omega-3, dietary fiber and lignans-potent phyto-hormones which offer significant protective and preventive health benefits.
Essential Fatty Acids
When we say a nutrient is ‘essential,’ we mean it cannot be produced by the body, and must be obtained in the diet. This is the case with omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid) and omega-6 (linoleic acid) – two essential fatty acids (EFAs) vital to human health and performance.
EFAs are required for normal brain development, cell membrane and hormone formation, metabolism of cholesterol and triglycerides, and cellular energy production. They also serve as precursors to prostaglandins. Omega-3 is an especially important EFA lacking in the average American diet. The high amount of omega-3 fatty acid content in flaxseed oil improves cardiovascular function by lowering dangerous LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as decreasing the viscosity of thick blood, and reducing the build-up of atherosclerotic plaque on artery walls. It has also been used to decrease arthritic pain by blocking inflammation. Flaxseed oil is an excellent immune modular and helps to fight immune diseases such as lupus.
Another potent healing element found in the fibrous shell of the flaxseed are plant ‘lignans.’ Lignans are phyto-hormone precursors that exhibit immunostimulatory and anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral effects.
In the intestines, lignans are structurally modified by bacteria into mammalian lignans – enterlactone and enterodiol. These natural estrogen-like compounds have a buffering effect on estrogen metabolism.
Extensive evidence from numerous research institutions has revealed the potent anti-cancer properties of these amazing natural plant chemicals. Lignans have been shown to help prevent colon and breast cancers in the initiation stage by normalizing hormone metabolism contributing to the disease. Lignans also have been studied for the anti-atherosclerosis and anti-diabetic effects. In animal models, lignan supplements reduced the risk of atherosclerosis by 73 percent, and of diabetes by 87 percent.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has officially recognized dietary fiber as a key element in the prevention of many cancers. Adequate dietary fiber helps to prevent constipation, hemorrhoids, diverticulitis and irritable bowel disease, as well as colon and rectal cancer. Additionally, fiber plays an important role in weight control, stabilizing blood sugar, and reducing blood pressure and cholesterol. A study in the Journal of American Medical Association in 1996 examined the fiber intake of men, ages 40-75, for six years. Researchers found that ‘fiber, independent of fat intake, is an important dietary component for the prevention of coronary disease.’
The average American diet contains only 10-20 grams of fiber per day, well below the recommended 25-30 grams. One-quarter cup of flaxseeds provides 20 grams of both insoluble and soluble fiber, or 2/3 of the daily recommended amount.
The recommended supplemental dose for flaxseed is about 4 tablespoons per day. For some therapeutic effects, a higher dosage may be needed.