Flaxseeds are the hard, tiny seeds of Linum usitatissimum , the flax plant, which has been widely used for thousands of years as a source of food and clothing. There are at least three flaxseed components with potential health benefits. The first is fiber, valuable in treating constipation . Flaxseed also contains alpha-linolenic acid, a type of omega-3 fatty acid similar to the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, but significantly different in other ways, and perhaps offering some of the same benefits. Finally, substances called lignans in flaxseed have phytoestrogenic properties making them somewhat similar to the isoflavones in soy.
What Is Flaxseed Used for Today?
What Is the Scientific Evidence for Flaxseed?
The lignans in flaxseed are phytoestrogens , plant chemicals mimicking the effects of estrogen in the body: Phytoestrogens hook onto the same spots on cells where estrogen attaches. If there is little estrogen in the body, for example after menopause, lignans may act like weak estrogen. However, when natural estrogen is abundant, lignans may reduce the hormone's effects by displacing it from cells; displacing estrogen in this manner might help prevent those cancers that depend on estrogen, such as breast cancer, from starting and developing. (This is also, in part, how soy is believed to work in breast cancer prevention, although the phytoestrogens in soy are isoflavones .)
This preliminary research is promising, but much more is needed before we can draw any conclusions.
Like other sources of fiber, flaxseed should be taken with plenty of fluids, or it may actually worsen constipation. Also, it's best to start with smaller doses and then increase.
Flaxseed is generally believed to be safe. However, there are some potential risks to consider.
As with many substances, there have been reports of life-threatening allergic reactions to flaxseed.
- Reviewer: EBSCO CAM Review Board
- Review Date: 09/2014 -
- Update Date: 09/18/2014 -