Flaxseed is a plant-based food that provides healthful fat, antioxidants, and fiber. Some people call it a “functional food,” which means that a person can eat it to boost their health.
People grew flax as a crop in ancient Egypt and China. In Asia, it has had a role in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years.
Today, flaxseed is available in the form of seeds, oils, powder, tablets, capsules, and flour. People use it as a dietary supplement to prevent constipation, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, cancer, and several other conditions.
However, there is not currently enough evidence to support all of these claims. Here, find out what the research says about flaxseed and its possible health benefits.
Flaxseed contains some nutrients that may have various health benefits.
Like other plant-based foods, flaxseed is rich in antioxidants. These
Free radicals occur as a result of natural processes and environmental pressures. If there are too many free radicals in the body, oxidative stress can develop, leading to cell damage and disease. Antioxidants help remove free radicals from the body.
Flaxseed is a good source of lignans, which appear to have antioxidant properties.
The following sections discuss the possible health benefits of flaxseed in more detail.
Reducing the risk of cancer
Flaxseed contains omega-3 fatty acids.
Flaxseed also contains lignans, which are antioxidants that may
Lignans are a type of phytoestrogen, which is a plant-based nutrient that acts in a similar way to estrogen. There has been some concern that phytoestrogens may increase the risk of breast cancer, but recent research suggests that they may play a protective role.
How does diet affect cancer risk? Find out here.
Improving cholesterol and heart health
Flaxseed also contains phytosterols. Phytosterols have a similar structure to cholesterol, but they help prevent the absorption of cholesterol in the intestines.
Consuming phytosterols may therefore help reduce levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad,” cholesterol in the body.
Cholesterol levels fell after taking lignans, especially in those who took the 100 mg capsules.
The researchers behind a 2012
Some scientists have also linked omega-3 oils, which are usually present in oily fish, to reductions in cardiovascular risk.
Learn more about soluble and insoluble fiber here.
Easing the symptoms of arthritis
They add that there is a lack of evidence to support its use for this purpose, but they say that the ALA in flaxseed may help reduce inflammation.
People can take it:
- ground (one tablespoon per day)
- as an oil (one to three tablespoons per day)
- in capsules (1,300–3,000 mg per day)
What is the anti-inflammatory diet? Find out here.
Reducing hot flashes
In 2007, a team of scientists published results suggesting that flaxseed may help reduce the incidence or severity of hot flashes in women not using estrogen therapy during menopause.
In 2012, however, further
Improving blood sugar
Lignans and other phytoestrogens may help reduce the risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes.
The 13 g dosage appeared to lower glucose and insulin levels and improve insulin sensitivity, but the other dosages did not have this effect.
Also, a 2016 rodent study suggested that the compounds in flaxseed may help reduce the incidence of type 1 diabetes and delay the onset of type 2 diabetes. These results may not be applicable to humans, however.
The same year, 99 people with prediabetes took 40 g or 20 g of flaxseed or no flaxseed and no placebo each day for 12 weeks. Consuming flaxseed
The benefits of flaxseed on the symptoms of diabetes remain unclear.
Flaxseed is a good source of insoluble fiber, which does not dissolve in water, instead remaining in the digestive tract after eating. There, it absorbs water and adds bulk, which may help promote regularity.
The NCCIH add that consuming flaxseed with too little water can worsen constipation and may lead to an intestinal blockage.
Also, too much flaxseed or flaxseed oil can cause diarrhea.
Which foods can help relieve constipation? Learn more here.
Reducing the impact of radiation
In 2013, scientists found evidence to suggest that dietary lignans from flaxseed helped mice recover from radiation exposure.
The mice that consumed lignans had lower levels of inflammation, injury, oxidative damage, and fibrosis, as well as a better survival rate, compared with those that did not.
If further tests in humans show similar results, lignans from flaxseed could help treat lung issues following exposure to radiation or radiation therapy.
Uses of flaxseed in Ayurvedic medicine
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a tablespoon of ground flaxseed
- energy: 37.4 calories
- protein: 1.28 g
- fat: 2.95 g
- carbohydrate: 2.02 g
- fiber: 1.91 g
- calcium: 17.8 mg
- magnesium: 27.4 mg
- phosphorus: 44.9 mg
- potassium: 56.9 mg
- folate: 6.09 micrograms (mcg)
- lutein and zeaxanthin: 45.6 mcg
A teaspoon of flaxseed also contains traces of various vitamins and minerals, but not in significant quantities. It also provides lignans, tryptophan, lysine, tyrosine, and valine, as well as healthful fats, which are mostly unsaturated.
People should try to avoid whole flaxseed and eat it ground, as the intestines may not absorb the nutrients in whole flaxseeds.
Chia seeds may be another healthful addition to the diet. Learn about them here.
The nutrients in flaxseed may not benefit everyone. People should avoid flaxseed products or speak to a doctor first if they:
- are using blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin) or aspirin
- are using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- are using cholesterol-lowering drugs
- have hormone-sensitive breast or uterine cancer
pregnant or breastfeeding
- have an allergy to flaxseed
More generally, people who eat flaxseed should:
Avoid raw and unripe flaxseeds, as they may contain toxic compounds.
Consume flaxseed ground and with plenty of fluid, to prevent digestive problems.
Buy only small bottles of flaxseed oil in dark bottles and store them in the refrigerator, as the oil can spoil quickly. Also, avoid using the oil past the expiration date on the label.
Avoid heating flaxseed oil in cooking. Add the oil to already prepared dishes and avoid microwaving to reheat.
People can use flaxseed ground, as an oil, or in capsules.
People can add ground flaxseed to:
- breakfast cereals
- soups and stews
- salads and sandwiches
People can also add a spoonful of flaxseeds to a muffin mix or use it to coat chicken, instead of breadcrumbs.
However, using too much flaxseed can give food a bitter taste that some people may not like. One solution is to start with small amounts and gradually add more, according to taste.
Flaxseed and flaxseed products are rich in antioxidants, especially lignans. They may have some health benefits, but there is not currently enough evidence to confirm these.
Anyone who is considering using flaxseed should first speak to a doctor, to ensure that it is safe for them to use.
There are a selection of flaxseed products available for purchase online.