Flaxseeds or linseed are tiny brown or yellow seeds that have been used therapeutically for centuries. They have some excellent nutritional and medicinal benefits and can help with various health conditions, such as constipation, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and digestive disorders. Flaxseed has a unique combination of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and plant compounds, which make them a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.
Flaxseeds are an excellent source of dietary fiber. They contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, which contribute to digestive health by preventing both constipation and diarrhea. Two tablespoons of ground flaxseed provide 16% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of fiber for the whole day. They act as a stool softener, stimulating the digestive system and easing bowel movements. Flax can also help improve the microbiome of the bowel by nourishing good bacteria.
Flaxseeds lower cholesterol for a few reasons. First, soluble fiber is proven to lower LDL cholesterol levels by binding to the cholesterol and preventing it from entering the bloodstream. Flaxseeds are also high in omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALA prevents plaque buildup in the blood vessels due to high cholesterol, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Fatty acids, lignans, and fiber all work together to treat and prevent hypertension or chronic high blood pressure. In one study, 110 hypertensive patients were given either flaxseed or a placebo every day for six months. The test group showed a significant reduction in blood pressure compared with the control group. This study suggested flaxseed has some of the most potent dietary blood-pressure-reducing effects.
Flaxseeds may affect blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetics. According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements, flaxseed possesses hypoglycemic and hypolipidemic properties thanks to its abundant omega-3 and antioxidant and low carbohydrate content. The study noted a nearly 20% reduction in fasting blood glucose levels in subjects supplementing with flaxseed.
Flaxseed possesses powerful antioxidant properties that can help prevent the growth of cancer cells. One of the anti-cancer components of flaxseed is lignans -- phytoestrogens found in many fiber-rich plants. Flaxseed contains as many as 800 times more lignans than other plant foods. In addition to aiding cancer prevention, flaxseed may also reduce tumor growth in late stages of carcinogenesis among postmenopausal women with breast cancer, and could be beneficial in the treatment of colon, lung, and skin cancer.
The omega-3 fatty acids and lignans abundant in flaxseed can help reduce inflammation, improving symptoms of inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, atherosclerosis, and Parkinson's disease. One study shows that flaxseed may reduce inflammatory markers in people with obesity.
Some studies indicate flaxseed supplementation can reduce the occurrence of hot flashes in women going through menopause by up to 50 percent. This may be due to the presence of lignans, which have estrogenic effects. Other studies do not prove the efficacy of flaxseed in reducing menopausal symptoms, but experts agree that there are no adverse effects of supplementing with flaxseeds.
Flaxseeds contain omega-3 ALA and B vitamins, which contribute to smooth, healthy-looking skin. These essential nutrients can reduce dryness and flakiness and improve symptoms related to eczema, acne, and rosacea. Flaxseed can also help repair skin damage associated with aging, inflammation, immune dysfunction, and imbalanced epidermal homeostasis. According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, flaxseed oil may be especially effective in improving skin health by decreasing skin sensitivity, and transepidermal water loss, and increasing skin hydration and smoothness.
Flaxseeds don't stimulate weight loss on their own, but they are full of fiber and low in carbohydrates, making them a good addition to any weight loss regimen. The fiber fills up the body and slows digestion -- prolonging feelings of fullness -- without the addition of heavy carbs.
Reducing the consumption of animal products can reduce cholesterol and improve heart health, but doing so safely requires ensuring one is still getting enough protein. Many plant-based foods contain protein, including flaxseed, which offers about 10% of the RDI, or 5 grams, in just a few tablespoons.
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