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February 2021

Get the Flax: Tiny Seeds with Huge Health Rewards

 

They can take many forms—including liquids or crunchy solids—or go undercover in supplements or baked goods. A hard outer armor protects them. And they even have an alter ego, linseeds.

Flaxseeds might sound a little like shape-shifting secret agents—but in fact, they’re key allies in your quest for better health. Here’s how products containing flaxseeds and their extracts can benefit your heart, brain, and more.

Where flaxseeds get disease-fighting powers

Many of flaxseeds’ perks come from alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid. Inside your body, it’s converted into other types of fatty acids that can improve eye, heart, and brain health. Flaxseeds also serve up ample fiber, a super-nutrient that helps manage cholesterol, control blood glucose levels, and keep your digestive system running smoothly, among other functions.

And if that weren’t enough, flaxseeds contain compounds called lignans, which reduce inflammation and work as antioxidants, protecting cells from damage. They’re similar in some ways to the hormone estrogen and appear to ease symptoms like hot flashes in postmenopausal women.

All these components may add up to a cancer-fighting conclusion. Scientists are also studying whether flaxseeds might prevent some malignancies—including breast and prostate cancer—or help treatments work better. More research is needed, but early studies show promise.

From the bakery to the supplement aisle

Flaxseed comes in many forms. You can buy flaxseed whole or pre-ground, which you can then sprinkle on foods like yogurt or fold into baked goods. Some products are pre-infused with flaxseeds, from bars to muffins to pasta.

In the supplement section, you can buy capsules and powders made from flaxseeds. Flaxseed oil is also a popular choice and contains more essential fatty acids than any other plant-based product. But it breaks down easily, so if you choose the liquid form, don’t cook with it. Instead, drizzle on salads or vegetables, or blend into smoothies.

On the whole, flaxseeds and products containing them have few risks or downsides. They may decrease drug absorption, so it’s best to ingest them one hour before, or two hours after, any medicine. Talk with your healthcare provider or pharmacist if you’re also taking fish oil, other omega-3 supplements, or blood-thinning medicines, as interactions may occur.

When adding flaxseed products to your diet, go slowly. Though the fiber contained in flaxseed is good for your gut in the long run, too much too soon can cause gastrointestinal discomfort. Aim to increase your fiber intake by no more than 5 grams per day—that’s less than the amount in 2 tablespoons of whole flaxseeds.

 

 

Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, BSN, MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2020
© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.