What is Flaxseed?
Flaxseed, also known as linseed, is a small but mighty plant-based protein. Derived from the plant Linum usitatissimum (it’s scientific name), this seed packs a powerful punch in its overall health benefits for the human body. Now an emerging superfood, its name means “the most useful” because there are a variety of ways to consume it.
Flaxseeds are small, tan-colored seeds that take on the role of “host” to minerals such as manganese and thiamine and are a great source of dietary fiber. One of the most abundant forms of plant-based protein, flaxseed is also filled with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid that your body doesn’t naturally produce on its own. This means you have to consume it from outside sources, such as flaxseed. Readily available at most grocery store chains, flaxseeds are a budget-friendly source of nutrition. They have an earthy-nutty flavor that complements a lot of sweet and savory foods. You can add these small seeds to a lot of your regular day-to-day meals.
Flaxseeds can do so much good for the human body. This includes helping to improve hormonal imbalances, digestion, cardiovascular health and much more.
How Does Flaxseed Work?
The nutrient-rich fiber in flaxseed is found in the outer seed coat. They are available as whole or ground, but it is recommended to consume them ground. Whole flaxseeds can pass through the digestive tract without breaking down, thus not allowing their health benefits to absorb into your system.
Flaxseeds are very permeable and will “expand” in the stomach when taken with adequate water intake. It is best to drink plenty of water to counteract the denseness of the flaxseed. Research has shown that the fiber from the seeds bind with cholesterol in the small and large intestines, which prevents it from being absorbed, keeping the cholesterol levels at a healthy place (x, x).
High in Antioxidants
Flaxseeds are high in lignans, a type of antioxidant that assists the body to reduce free radical damage and help with anti-aging, cellular-regeneration and hormonal balancing. Lignans behave similarly to the hormone estrogen, but work within the hormonal status of an individual differently, depending on what their bodies need. This unique property of lignans make flax both estrogenic and anti-entropic. In essence, they will increase estrogen levels in individuals needing a boost. Conversely, they will also lessen estrogen in an individual with too much. Lignans even have antiviral and antibacterial properties and have been known to help combat common colds and cases of flu if taken on a regular basis (x).
An alternative source of protein that is not animal-derived, flaxseed is a plant-based choice. Its protein has high levels of amino acids, glutamic acid and aspartic acid. Numerous studies have shown that flaxseed protein can help improve the immune system, prevent cancerous growths and lower cholesterol (x, x).
Prevention of Cancer Cells
Included in the Budwig diet protocol, flaxseeds have presented proof of their ability to help lessen certain types of cancer such as breast, ovarian and colon cancer. Because the lignan levels are 100-800 times higher than in other plant sources, many believe flaxseed a powerful and natural form of cancer prevention. In fact, research-based studies support the notion that flaxseed, especially flaxseed that has higher levels of lignan, can be beneficial in preventing the growth of cancer cells. One thing to note, however, is when flaxseed oil is pressed, the lignan is removed from it, so if you are on the lookout for high lignan levels in your flaxseed, be careful to double check (x).
Fights Depression and Anxiety
Mental illnesses, especially depression and anxiety, have become increasingly prevalent. Many are starting to turn to more holistic and natural methods of improving their mental health. There are more studies coming out that show how the richness of omega-3s can help decrease the common symptoms of depression and anxiety. One study showed that 67 percent of a treatment group who had been taking consistent and high doses of omega-3s no longer met criteria for depression after supplementation and saw a significant reduction in depression symptomology (x).
Help Control Blood Sugar
A 2017 CDC report showed that a massive 84.1 million people in the United States have prediabetes, a condition that, if not treated, often leads to type 2 diabetes later on in life (x).
Characterized by the body’s inability to produce enough insulin, type 2 diabetes has become a significant health concern worldwide. One study corroborated that people with type 2 diabetes who increased their intake of flaxseed in their day-to-day diets saw an upwards of 20 percent reduction in their blood sugar levels. The blood sugar drop was notably caused by the flaxseeds’ fiber content that counteracts the release of sugar into the bloodstream. People with diabetes should consider adding this nutritious seed to their diet to help naturally combat the symptoms, and individuals who don’t have diabetes should consider adding flaxseed to their diet as a natural preventative measure (x, x).
Makes Skin and Hair Healthy
Do you want shiny and stronger hair? Healthier skin? Flax is a great, natural option to help with that. The fatty acids in flaxseeds offer essential vitamins to skin and hair that can reduce dryness. The omega-3 fats also aid in making hair stronger, preventing breakage, stopping hair loss and thinning (x, x).
Flaxseed is Incredibly Versatile
Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil can be added to many different foods, making it an easy addition to your daily diet (and you can have fun with it and get creative with recipes!). A few ways you can incorporate into daily food intake are:
- Mix them into meat patties
- Sprinkle on top of yogurt or ice cream
- Make homemade salad dressing with flaxseed oil
- Add into baking mixtures
If being a guru in the kitchen isn’t your strong point, consider adding flaxseed extract vitamins to your daily routine. You’ll get all the wonderful benefits that it has to offer in a small pill. You can also use the oil to make your own homemade skin detox and moisturizing facemasks!
These are just a handful of ways that you can add flaxseed to your daily life. Don’t be afraid to get creative with it or keep it simple with vitamins.
Side Effects of Flaxseed
As long as you take flaxseed supplements in the recommended dosages, they are safe to use and won’t have any adverse side effects. However, if taken in more substantial amounts or if the amount isn’t balanced by keeping yourself hydrated, there can be minor side effects such as:
- Abdominal cramping
- Stomach ache
Adding flaxseed to a daily diet can potentially cause an uptick in bowel movements during the day. This is a normal side effect from the additional consumption of fiber. It is also important to note that taking large amounts of flaxseed could potentially block the intestines because of the natural bulk-forming laxative properties. And, of course, always drink plenty of water to prevent any build-up (x).
It is best to take up to 1,000 mg of flaxseed daily. Of course, if a physician suggests otherwise, be sure to take their advice. Like all supplements, flaxseed isn’t perfect. Prior to adding to your regimen, be sure that it will not interfere with any preexisting health conditions. Otherwise, it could end up causing more harm than good.
Flaxseed for Weight Loss
There are differing opinions and research findings on the connection between flaxseed consumption and weight loss. One study published in the Journal of Nutrition found the flaxseed held potential benefits towards combating obesity. Reacher’s suggested that the fiber and fatty acids in flaxseed worked as interventions to lipid profiles and saw metabolic rates rise in the controlled clinical trials. Flax can also help an individual feel fuller for longer timeframes, which could assist in consuming fewer calories on a daily basis and lead to possible weight loss. Flax is also a natural inflammation reducer and hormone balancer, both of which could be preventing weight loss if they are out of whack (x).
Overall, flaxseed will not magically help shed weight, but it can be a beneficial addition to a healthy, balanced diet that encourages weight loss.
Flaxseed oil, or linseed oil, is made by grounding and pressing flaxseed, so their natural oils are released. Just like in its natural state, flaxseed oil has an impressive amount of heart-healthy nutrients. Only one tablespoon of this vital oil contains 7,196 mg of omega-3 fatty acids. It is an excellent alternative to flaxseeds and comes down to personal preference for which form you decide to take (x).
The Bottom Line
Flaxseeds, oils and extracts are small superfoods that more people are finding highly beneficial. Eco-rich nutrients that fill the seeds aid in supplying the body with its daily fiber, protein and fatty acids. Working towards living a happy and healthier life does not have to be complicated or expensive. There is a multitude of options out there; it just takes time to learn and experiment to figure out what works best for you.
By: Hannah Nelson