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For centuries, flax seeds have been prized for their health-protective properties. Flax is one of the oldest fiber crops in the world. It is known to have been cultivated in ancient Egypt and China. In Asia, it has played a role in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years.
Nowadays, flax seeds are emerging as a “super food” as more scientific research points to their health benefits.
Some call it one of the most powerful plant foods on the planet. There’s some evidence it may help reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes. That’s quite a tall order for a tiny seed that’s been around for centuries.
In this article, you will find out the basics of how flax seeds work and what benefits can we reap from them!
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What is inside them
Nowadays, flax seeds are emerging as a “superfood” as more scientific research points to their health benefits. Although flaxseed contains all sorts of healthy components, it owes its primary healthy reputation to three of them:
- Omega-3 essential fatty acids, “good” fats that have been shown to have heart-healthy effects. Each tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains about 1.8 grams of plant omega-3s.
- Lignans, which have both plant estrogen and antioxidant Flaxseed contains 75 to 800 times more lignans than other plant foods.
- Fiber. Flaxseed contains both the soluble and insoluble types.
Incorporating Flaxseeds in your diet
Nutrition experts typically recommend ground flaxseed over whole seeds because grinding makes them easier to digest. If the flaxseeds pass through your system undigested, you don’t get all the health benefits. You can easily add flaxseeds to your diet without much complication. Sprinkle them over the tops of salads or casseroles to add a slightly nutty taste.
For centuries, flax seeds have been prized for their health-protective properties. Flax is one of the oldest fiber crops in the world.
You can purchase powdered flaxseed at specialty grocers or health food stores, or you can make your own by blending raw flaxseeds into a powder. Mix powdered flaxseed directly into baking recipes, soups and stews. The aforementioned healthy components then – either individually or in unison – provide several benefits. Some of them are listed below.
Lowering cholesterol and improving heart health
The fiber, phytosterols, and omega-3 content of flaxseed may help boost heart health. The lignans it contains may help protect against cardiovascular and other chronic diseases. Phytosterols are molecules that are similar in structure to cholesterol, but they help prevent the absorption of cholesterol in the intestine.
Eating foods that contain these nutrients may help reduce the levels of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, in the body. In 2010, researchers at the Iowa State University’s Nutrition and Wellness Research Center looked at the effect on cholesterol levels in men who consumed at least 3 tablespoons of flaxseed a day, including at least 150 milligrams (mg) of lignans.
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The men saw a decrease of nearly 10 percent in their cholesterol levels after 3 months. However, it did not have the same effect on women. Prof. Suzanne Hendrich, who led the Iowa research, suggested that the different may be due to testosterone levels in men, which are lower in women.
In 2008, a study of 55 Native American women who had undergone menopause suggested that a daily intake of 30 g of flaxseed reduced their LDL cholesterol levels by up to 10 percent.
The fiber, phytosterols, and omega-3 content of flaxseed may help boost heart health.
Fiber is also thought to help reduce cholesterol and the risk of cardiovascular disease. Flaxseed contains both soluble and insoluble fiber. According to the Mayo Clinic, soluble fiber dissolves to produce a gel-like substance that can help reduce cholesterol and glucose levels.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommend eating more fiber as part of a heart-healthy diet. One benefit is that it makes you feel full, so you are less likely to overeat. Omega-3 oils, usually found in oily fish, have been linked to reductions in cardiovascular risk. Some researchers have suggested that flaxseed could offer an alternative to marine sources of omega 3.
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Does flaxseed prevent hot flashes?
In 2005, a study of 30 women suggested that consuming 40 g a day of flaxseed may help reduce the incidence or severity of hot flashes in women who are not using estrogen therapy during menopause.
Fiber is also thought to help reduce cholesterol and the risk of cardiovascular disease. Flaxseed contains both soluble and insoluble fiber.
A study of 188 women, published in the journal Menopause, found that a daily intake 40 g of flaxseed, representing 400 mcg of lignans, improved the symptoms of hot flashes by around half.
However, women taking a placebo also experienced a reduction, and it was not clear that effects were due to the flaxseed. The crushed flaxseed was sprinkled onto cereal, yogurt, or mixed into a drink.
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There were hopes that flaxseed could become an alternative or complementary therapy for hot flashes, but the researchers concluded that the study “was not able to provide support for the use of flaxseed in reducing hot flashes more than a placebo.”
Improving Blood Sugar
The lignans and other phytoestrogens are thought to help reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, because of an anti-inflammatory effect. In a small study published in 2013, scientists gave 25 people 0 g, 13 g or 26 g of flaxseed every day for 12 weeks.
In 2016, researchers published results of a study in which 99 people with prediabetes were given 40 g, 20 g, or no flaxseed and no placebo each day for 12 weeks.
The participants had prediabetes, and they were either men with obesity or overweight or women who had undergone menopause. Those who took 13 g of flaxseed had lower glucose and insulin levels and improved insulin sensitivity.
A study on rats, published in 2016, suggested that compounds found in flaxseed may help reduce the incidence of type 1 diabetes and delay the onset of type 2 diabetes in humans, but more studies are needed.
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In 2016, researchers published results of a study in which 99 people with prediabetes were given 40 g, 20 g, or no flaxseed and no placebo each day for 12 weeks. The results indicated that consuming flaxseed powder every day may reduce blood pressure in people with prediabetes, but it does not improve levels of blood sugar and insulin resistance.
The benefits of flaxseed on the symptoms of diabetes remain unclear.
Flaxseed is rich in both soluble fiber, which dissolves in water, and insoluble fiber, which does not dissolve in water. Insoluble fiber remains in the intestinal tract. It absorbs water and adds bulk to the digestive tract. This helps keep movement through the gut regular.
However, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), there is little evidence that flaxseed helps reduce constipation. Consuming it with too little water can make constipation worse and possibly lead to an intestinal blockage. Too much flaxseed or flaxseed oil can cause diarrhea.
The best gift that a few spoonfuls of ground flaxseed can give you, will be the short chain omega 3 fatty acids. Whatever your area of interest, or your choice of food groups, omega 3 fatty acids spell good news. Omega 3 fatty acids are present in fish oil.
This seed also has skin rejuvenating properties. Flaxseeds is touted to be one of the strongest exfoliants and using it topically can help get rid of the dead skin, leaving you with a flaunt-worthy skin.
If you are like me and eat fish rarely and only if it is fried, you will certainly miss out the benefits of beautiful skin. But if you are regular, congratulations, you have found yourself an excellent source for your skin radiance without having to burn a hole in your pocket on expensive cosmetics.
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The nutrients in flaxseed may not benefit everyone. Too much flaxseed can lead to:
- flatulence and bloating
- abdominal pain
- constipation or diarrhea
In people with a bowel obstruction, flaxseed could cause or worsen these symptoms. Raw and unripe flaxseeds are not suitable for consumption, as they may be toxic. Flaxseed should always be consumed with plenty of fluid.
During pregnancy, women are advised not to consume it, because the phytoestrogens it contains could have an adverse effect. It may not be suitable while breastfeeding. There is also a chance that the phytoestrogens in flaxseed may interfere with the action of birth control pills or hormone therapy. The USDA notes that up to 12 percent flaxseed is safe to use in food.