Did you know the Emperor Charlemagne, ruler of a large part of Europe in the 8th century, was so keen on flaxseed benefits that he passed laws to promote the food? Every citizen loyal to the king was expected to eat flaxseed for health.
Now, twelve centuries later, we have the research to back up what Charlemagne suspected.
Some of us don’t need more convincing. Flaxseed is already a popular health food. You can find it everywhere and in wide a range of products, from frozen waffles to oatmeal. Flaxseed is used to feed chickens that lay eggs said to have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids. And well over 300 new flax-based products came out in the market over the past several years.
Here’s why flaxseeds are so astounding, and why they’re worthy of all the fanfare.
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A tiny seed with a power-punch of health benefits
You’ll find two types of flax seeds in most health food stores: brown and yellow/golden. When put through an expeller press (also known as oil pressing), they create a vegetable oil. Both can be consumed, though brown flax oil is most commonly used in paints and for cattle feed.
A good nutritionist tells me there’s no nutritional difference between them.
We know flaxseeds (also called linseeds) have high levels of both fiber and lignans, along with various micronutrients and omega-3 fatty acids. They’re also high in manganese and vitamin B1.
Lignans play an important role in flaxseed’s health benefits. They’re a group of highly-concentrated phytochemicals found in plants. They’re also part of a major class of phytoestrogens, which are basically chemicals similar to human estrogen that can act as antioxidants when consumed. Along with that, lignans have beneficial hormone-like effects on the body.
Flaxseeds have a higher level of lignans than most other foods, although lignans can also be found in some cereal grains, fruits (especially strawberries and apricots), and vegetables (particularly the cruciferous ones like broccoli and cabbage).
A diet rich in flaxseed appears to lower cholesterol — especially so for women — along with helping to lower high blood pressure. The little seeds also help stabilize blood sugar levels and thereby help prevent or treat diabetes. Thanks to their dietary fiber content, they can be used to help with constipation. Flaxseed appears to be effective in reducing menopausal symptoms as well.
Yes, flaxseed helps with cancer…
Studies suggest that consuming flax seeds may benefit people with certain types of cancer, especially breast and prostate cancers.
A Duke University study suggested eating flaxseed might inhibit the growth of prostate tumors. And the lignans in flaxseed are believed to cause the body to produce less active forms of estrogen, which lowers breast cancer risk.
Evidence also suggests that consuming ground flaxseed on a regular basis decreases cell growth in breast tissue. Plus, animal studies have shown that both flaxseed oil and lignans can reduce breast tumor growth and the spread of cancer cells, including estrogen receptor positive (ER+) cells.
Yet, in total contrast, because flaxseed has been shown to affect intracellular signals in the body, some researchers believe it could help promote breast and prostate cancer growth. For this reason, they urge patients with ER+ breast cancer to use flaxseed with caution. Lignans are at the center of the controversy because of their potential estrogenic effects in the body. It’s the same hormone-related cloud that hangs over soy products.
This controversy over the phytoestrogens in soy and flaxseed is one of the most vexing in alternative health. I wonder if it will ever be resolved. Those who favor the use of phytoestrogens in treating breast and prostate cancer say the phytoestrogens occupy the estrogen receptors on cancer cells without doing any harm. They elbow out human estrogen and prevent it from worsening these types of cancer.
I come down (with some misgivings) on the side of those who say “Eat your flaxseed.” This is partly because of what I know about the Budwig Protocol.
The Budwig Protocol is one of the most acclaimed and popular alternative cancer treatments. It features flaxseed oil mixed with cottage cheese. My friend Bill Henderson, author of How to Cure Almost Any Cancer at Home on $5.15 a Day, swears by the Budwig Protocol. While flaxseed oil lacks the fiber, it enables you to take in a much larger dose of the lignans and omega-3s than you are ever likely to get from consuming the ground seed.
Thousands of people report controlling and even curing their cancer thanks to the Budwig Protocol (usually used along with other measures such as those Bill recommends in his book.)
There may be some controversy where the estrogen-sensitive cancers are concerned, but for other types of cancer — and as a preventive measure — flaxseed seems to be effective. And lignans also have antiangiogenic properties, meaning they can keep tumors from forming new blood vessels.
Also on the cancer-fighting front, the omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseed are believed to keep malignant cells from hanging on to other body cells.
What’s better: Ground or whole flaxseed?
Most nutrition experts recommend ground flaxseed over whole. Ground flaxseed is easier for your body to digest, while whole flaxseeds can pass through your entire system and remain intact — meaning you won’t get the health benefits.
If you’re looking for a fiber boost, always choose ground flaxseed over flaxseed oil. The fiber is found in the seed coat, which is why you’re better off eating the seed itself.
A single tablespoon of ground flaxseed has roughly two grams of dietary fiber and two grams of polyunsaturated fatty acids (that includes omega 3s). A tablespoon of flax registers at only 37 calories.
Best ways to get your daily dose of flaxseed
For the most part, flaxseed is safe to consume. There could be some complications with toxicity if you eat a massive amount, but that’s true for just about any food. As I noted earlier, flaxseed can act as a laxative and give you diarrhea.
You can buy both whole and ground flaxseed in bulk at most grocery stores and health food stores. If you prefer to grind your own flaxseed, a coffee grinder does the trick. Just be sure to store all ground flaxseed in an airtight container and it will last up to several months. I recommend refrigerating the seeds as well.
Some easy ways to add flaxseed to your diet include:
- A tablespoon of ground flaxseed in your breakfast cereal (hot or cold)
- A tablespoon mixed into a serving of yogurt
- A tablespoon mixed into the mayonnaise or mustard on any sandwich
- Various amounts baked into breads, cookies, and muffins (I would have some concern about heat reducing the nutritional value)
Don’t eat more than two or three tablespoons of ground flaxseed per day, or you might spend a lot of time in the bathroom.
In our last issue, we explained why mainstream medicine’s current high-tech “new hope for cancer” is a bust. If you missed the news, you can read it now, just below.