Flaxseeds (also called linseeds) are a rich source of micronutrients, dietary fiber, manganese, vitamin B1, and the essential fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid, also known as ALA or omega-3.
The seeds come from flax, one of the oldest fiber crops in the world - known to have been cultivated in ancient Egypt and China.
King Charlemagne of the 8th century believed so strongly in the health benefits of flaxseed that he demanded his loyal subjects eat the seeds and passed laws to make sure of it.
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods.
To reap the most benefits from flaxseeds, they should be bought in ground form or ground before consumption as whole flaxseeds can sometimes pass through the digestive tract undigested.
Possible health benefits of flaxseed
The therapeutic and beneficial properties of consuming flaxseed are not yet completely understood, and many claims still lack "high-quality" studies to back them up.
However, emerging research suggests that flaxseed might indeed be the wonder food many people claim it to be.
Flaxseed's possible health benefits include:
Flax flower in bloom.
Protecting against cancer: Consuming flaxseed may help protect against prostate, colon, and breast cancers. Flaxseed is thought to prevent the growth of cancerous cells because its omega-3 fatty acids disrupt malignant cells from clinging onto other body cells. In addition, the lignans in flaxseed have antiangiogenic properties - they stop tumors from forming new blood vessels.
One US study presented at the 43rd annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) revealed that consuming flaxseed can stop prostate cancer tumors from growing. Dr Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, lead investigator of the study said that the team was "excited that this study showed that flaxseed is safe and associated with a protective effect on prostate cancer."
Lowering cholesterol: Researchers at the Iowa State University's Nutrition and Wellness Research Center found that cholesterol levels lowered among men who included flaxseed in their diet. Suzanne Hendrich, lead author of the study, said that for "people who can't take something like Lipitor, this could at least give you some of that cholesterol-lowering benefit."
Preventing hot flashes: A study published in the Journal of the Society for Integrative Oncology suggests that a dietary intake of flaxseed can decrease the risk of hot flashes among postmenopausal women. "Not only does flaxseed seem to alleviate hot flashes, but it appears to have overall health and psychological benefits as well," concluded Dr. Pruthi.
Improving blood sugar: There is strong evidence to suggest that consuming flaxseed every day improves glycemic control in obese men and women with pre-diabetes4, according to a study published in Nutrition Research.
Protecting against radiation: A diet of flaxseed may protect skin tissue from being damaged by radiation, revealed researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. The investigators concluded that their "study demonstrates that dietary flaxseed, already known for its strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, works as both a mitigator and protector against radiation pneumonopathy."
On the next page of our flaxseed article we look at the nutritional profile for flaxseed and the possible side effects of consuming them.