Flaxseed is high in phytochemicals, including many antioxidants. It is perhaps our best source of lignans, which convert in our intestines to substances that tend to balance female hormones. However, according to the Mayo Clinic and The North Central Cancer Treatment Group (NCCTG), this powerful "grain" (not technically) provides no benefit in easing hot flashes among breast cancer patients and postmenopausal women.

Flaxseeds are slightly larger than sesame seeds and have a hard shell that is smooth and shiny. Their color ranges from deep amber to reddish brown depending upon whether the flax is of the golden or brown variety. While whole flaxseeds feature a soft crunch, the nutrients in ground seeds are more easily absorbed.

Flaxseed does contain ligans, and there is evidence that lignans may promote fertility, reduce peri-menopausal symptoms, and possibly help prevent breast cancer. However, this new study begs to differ.

Sandhya Pruthi, M.D., of Mayo Clinic's Breast Diagnostic Clinic and a researcher with NCCTG explains:

"Hot flashes are a common symptom during the menopause transition or following breast cancer treatment. While our preliminary data from our 2007 pilot study showed a reduction in hot flashes associated with the consumption of ground flaxseed, our new study did not result in a significant decrease in hot flashes with eating flaxseed compared to placebo."

The randomized, placebo-controlled study was conducted on 188 women between October and December 2009 and found no statistically significant difference in mean hot flash scores between women taking flaxseed and those taking a placebo. Preliminary data published in 2007 by Mayo Clinic investigators suggested consuming 40 grams of crushed flaxseed daily might help manage hot flashes.

Flaxseed has a similar vitamin and mineral profile to grains, while the amount of fiber, antioxidants, and Omega-3 fatty acids in flax leaves grains in the dust. Additionally, flaxseed is very low in carbohydrates, making it ideal for people who limit their intake of starches and sugars. And its combination of healthy fat and high fiber content make it a great food for weight loss and maintenance. Many dieters have found that flaxseed has been a key to keeping them feeling satisfied.

Those persons who do not eat fish or wish to take fish oil supplements, flaxseed oil does provide a good alternative. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that flaxseed oil capsules providing 3 grams of alpha-linolenic acid daily for 12 week, an amount that would be provided by 3 tablespoons of flaxseed oil a day, increased blood levels of EPA by 60% in a predominantly African-American population with chronic illness.

Omega-3 fats are also needed to produce flexible cell membranes. Cell membranes are the cell's gatekeepers, allowing in needed nutrients while promoting the elimination of wastes. While important for everyone, flexible cell membranes are critical for persons with diabetes since flexible cell membranes are much better able to respond to insulin and to absorb glucose than the stiff membranes that result when the diet is high in saturated and/or hydrogenated (trans) fats. In the colon, omega-3 fats help protect colon cells from cancer-causing toxins and free radicals, leading to a reduced risk for colon cancer.

Sources: The Mayo Clinic and The Journal of Nutrition

Written by Sy Kraft