A rich source of healing oil, flaxseed has been cultivated for more than 7,000 years. Among the oils most important uses are the prevention and treatment of cancer, heart disease, and a variety of inflammatory disorders and hormone-related problems.
What Is It
It began as a fiber for weaving-and it remains the basis of natural linen fabric. However, the medicinal properties of flaxseed quickly became legendary. A slender annual that grows up to three feet high and bears blue flowers from February through September, the flax plant was first grown in Europe, then later brought to North America, where it continues to thrive. Both the oil from the flaxseeds (also known as linseeds) and the seeds themselves are used for therapeutic purposes.
What Does It Do
Flaxseeds are a potent source of essential fatty acids (EFA5)-fats and oils critical for health, which the body cannot make on its own. One EFA, alpha-linolenic acid, is known as an omega-3 fatty acid. Found in fish and flaxseeds, omega-3s have been acclaimed in recent years for protecting against heart disease and for treating many other ailments. Flaxseeds also contain omega-6 fatty acids (in the form of linoleic acid (-the same healthy fats present in many vegetable oils. In addition, flaxseeds provide substances called lignans, which appear to have beneficial effects on various hormones and may help fight cancer, bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Ounce for ounce, flaxseeds boast up to 800 times the lignans in most other foods.
• Helps protect against cancer, heart disease, cataracts, and gallstones.
• Reduces inflammation associated with gout and lupus.
• Promotes healthy skin, hair, and nails; benefits acne, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, and sunburn.
• May be useful for infertility, impotence, menstrual cramps, and endometriosis.
• Aids in treating nerve disorders.
• Relieves constipation, gallstones, and diverticular disorders.
EFAs work throughout the body to protect cell membranes-the outer coverings that are gatekeepers for all cells, admitting healthy nutrients and barring damaging substances. That function explains why flaxseed oil has such far-reaching effects.
Flaxseed oil works to lower cholesterol, thereby protecting against heart disease. It may provide benefits as well against angina and high blood pressure. A recent five-year study at Simmons College in Boston indicated that it may be useful in preventing a second heart attack. As an anti-inflammatory, it improves the treatment of such conditions as lupus and gout. As a digestive aid, it can help prevent or even dissolve gallstones. Flaxseed oil also boosts the health of hair and nails and speeds healing of skin lesions, so it is effective for everything from acne to sunburn. In addition, it may facilitate the transmission of nerve impulses, making it potentially useful for numbness and tingling, as well as for chronic brain and nerve ailments such as Parkinsons or Alzheimers disease or nerve damage from diabetes. It may even help fight fatigue.
Crushed flaxseeds are an excellent natural source of fiber. They add bulk to stools, and their oil lubricates the stools, making flaxseeds useful for the relief of constipation and diverticular complaints.
Flaxseed oil seems to have cancer-fighting properties, though further studies are needed, It may reduce the risk of breast, colon, prostate, and possibly skin cancers, and studies at the University of Toronto found it may help treat women with both early and advanced breast cancer too.
Because flaxseeds contain plant-based estrogens (phytoestrogens) that mimic the female sex hormone estrogen, the oil can have beneficial effects on the menstrual cycle, balancing the ratio of estrogen to progesterone. It helps improve uterine function and can therefore treat fertility problems. As an anti-inflammatory, flaxseed oil can reduce menstrual cramps or the pain of fibrocystic breasts.
This oil can promote well-being in men as well. It has shown some promise against male infertility and prostate problems. In some studies, flaxseeds were also found to possess antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-viral properties, which may partly explain why flaxseed oil is effective against ailments such as cold sores and shingles.
How To Take It
Dosage: Liquid flaxseed oil is the easiest way to get a therapeutic amount, which ranges from I teaspoon to 1 tablespoon once or twice a day. To get I tablespoon of the oil in capsule form, youII need to swallow about 14 capsules, each containing 1,000 mg of oil. For flaxseed fiber, mix I or 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds with a glass of water and drink it up to three times a day; the treatment may take a day or so to act.
Guidelines For Use: Take flaxseed oil with food, which enhances absorption by the body. You can also mix it into juice, yogurt, cottage cheese, or other foods and drinks.
Possible Side Effects
Flaxseed oil appears to be very safe. Those using the ground seeds may experience some flatulence initially, but this should soon disappear.
Facts and Tips
• Flaxseed oil has a nutty, buttery taste that many people enjoy. You can add it to salad dressings or sprinkle it over foods; a tablespoon contains just over 100 calories. But do not cook with it, because heat breaks down its nutrients. You can add it to foods after they're cooked, though.
• Capsules are a costly way to take the oil: More than a dozen are needed to equal 1 tablespoon of oil. But capsules may be convenient when traveling or when spooning out or refrigerating the oil is difficult.
• Flaxseed oil spoils fast, so always check the expiration date on the label. To insure freshness, keep it refrigerated. Don't use oil that has a strong or pungent odor.
• Buy oil that is packaged in an opaque plastic bottle, which filters out oil-spoiling light even better than amber glass. And don't waste your money on "cold-pressed" oil-it's no purer or more healthful than oil processed another way, but it's usually much more costly.
• Flaxseed oil is also called linseed oil-but never ingest the industrial varieties sold at hardware stores. They are not intended for consumption and may contain toxic additives.