Flax Seeds: Powerful Medicine

There is one amazing little seed that you should really know about. You have probably already heard about it but may not know the extent of its benefits. I am talking about flax seeds. Flax seeds have been considered a health food since the time of Hippocrates. They are one of the richest plant sources of essential omega-3 fatty acids but are especially set apart by their lignan content. Lignans are present in other plant foods but are 100 times higher in flax seeds. Many people think of other sources of omega-3 fatty acids as interchangeable with flax seeds, such as chia seeds. But while chia seeds have significant omega 3, no food comes close to flax seeds as a source of lignans.

So what are lignans? Lignans are phytoestrogens than can decrease the effects of the body’s own estrogen.They are first line medical therapy for menstrual breast pain according to the Canadian medical society. Lignan intake is associated with significantly reduced breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women. Studies have shown decreased precancerous changes in women taking flaxseeds and also increased breast cancer survival by making the breast cancer less aggressive.

High lignans are found in the prostate fluids of men in regions with low rates of prostate cancer. Lignans are found to slow the growth of prostate cancer and increase cancer cell clearance. A study of men with prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia PIN which is a precancerous state showed significant drop in PSA and decreased tumor proliferation with the addition of ground flax seed to the diet.

You may be aware of the hormonal benefits of flax seeds but are you aware that flax seed also lowers blood pressure? One double blinded placebo controlled trial showed lower blood pressure after the addition of dietary flax seed. This was only a 15 point systolic and 7 point diastolic drop, but this translates to 46% fewer strokes and 29% less heart disease. Standard drugs such as calcium channel blockers (such as Cardizem and Norvasc) only resulted in a drop of 8 systolic points and 3 diastolic points. ACE inhibitors (such as Lisinopril) resulted in a 5 systolic points and 2 diastolic point reduction. So ground flax seeds work 2-3 times better than these standard medicines without harmful side effects. They also have been shown to control cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation, and successfully treat constipation.

With such an amazing food, I encourage all of my patients to add flax seed to their diet, at least one tablespoon per day. I discourage the use of flax seed oil since it is not so shelf stable. The best approach is to buy the whole flax seeds and grind in a coffee grinder no more than the amount you would use in about four months as it is shelf stable that long. I keep mine in the door of the refrigerator and grind about a months worth at a time. The good news is that you can cook with them without damaging their lignans or omega-3 fatty acids. In our house we add flax seeds to our daily green smoothie. You could also put them on cereal, in muffins, and ground flax seed also makes a great egg replacer: one tablespoon of ground flax seed plus 3 tablespoons of water mixed together and allowed to sit for about 5 minutes will form a gel like consistency.

So, add this little powerhouse seed to your daily diet. It is more powerful than common blood pressure medications and improves breast and prostate health with no negative side effects. Food really is the best medicine!

References

How Not to Die. Greger, MD, Michael. p. 134-135, p. 193-195, p. 220-221 Super Immunity, Fuhrman, MD, Joel.