Linseed or flax seed are different names for the same seed. The seed is a product of the Flax plant (Linum usitatissimum) the boiled oil of which is used in oil based paints, glazing putties for window applications and as a wood grain protector/enhancer. Boiled linseed should never be taken internally. There are no health benefits; the thick, chemically changed resultant oil is non-digestible and harmful. Remember, boiled oil is a wood preservative not a food.
On the other hand the raw seeds have many health and nutritional benefits. Flaxseeds have up to 800 times the lignans, or healthful plant hormones, of other foods. Unlike hormones produced by the human body, lignans do not stimulate cancerous cell growth.
Flaxseeds contains numerous beneficial components including Palmitic, Stearic, Arachidic and Oleic fatty acids. Perhaps the most important of these components are Linoleic and alpha-Linolenic acid. Some health care practitioners will prescribe flax seed oil to treat conditions in their patients.
Linoleic acid is a found in the cell membranes and is essential for proper cell functioning. Linoleic acid is considered an omega-6 fatty acid. Deficiencies of this health aid include: dry or brittle hair, hair loss, and a marked reduction in the body’s ability to heal. While this acid is relatively common and is found in cooking oils, most of the nutritional and health value is eliminated during the cooking process. To get the benefits of such oils, you would have to consume 1 or more tablespoons of polyunsaturated plant oil per day - an unappetizing thought.
Alpha-Linolenic acid belongs to the omega-3 fatty acid group. This fatty acid group is known for the prevention of heart disease, arrhythmia and the reduction of inflammation leading to such circulatory problems as atherosclerosis. There are studies pertaining to the reduction of stroke and cancer risks, as well.
Omega-3 fatty acids are also helpful in relieving night sweats and hot flashes which occur during menopause. Raw flax seed oil itself should be used. Raw flaxseed oil should be kept in the refrigerator. It is highly unstable and many healthful qualities are lost when heated to extract the oil. Cold-pressed linseed oil, although safe when used as soon after purchase, lacks many of the beneficial qualities of the raw seed.
When wet flaxseeds have high mucilage content and are an excellent source of fiber. Flaxseed is widely touted as essential in bowel cleansing and maintaining regularity. Bulk fiber is equally beneficial in treating constipation and diarrhea therefore flaxseed is an excellent treatment for irritable bowel syndrome. As with any bulking agent, a spoonful of linseeds taken with or before a meal causes a feeling of fullness and reduces hunger. Weight loss from both bowel cleansing and reduced intake of food are documented.
Linseed has an excellent nutty taste and can be sprinkled on salads, added to cereals or mixed into fruit smoothies. Be sure to drink at least 8 ounces of water when taking linseed. This enables the mucilage to form and is essential to providing enough moisture for the seed to be properly digested.
A mere table spoon of linseed is the health equivalent in lignans, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants of 30 cups of broccoli. Imagine eating 30 cups of vegetables every day! You would need to consume 50 slices of whole wheat bread to get the fiber equivalent of that same tablespoon of linseed.
Flaxseeds are rich in alpha linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fat that is a precursor to the form of omega-3 found in fish oils called eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA. Since the fats are found in their isolated form in flaxseed oil, it is a more concentrated source of ALA than the seeds themselves (although it doesn’t have the other nutrients that the seeds do). ALA, in addition to providing several beneficial effects of its own, can be converted in the body to EPA, thus providing EPA’s beneficial effects. For this conversion to readily take place, however, depends on the presence and activity of an enzyme called delta-6-destaurase, which, in some individuals, is less available or less active than in others. In addition, delta-6-desaturase function is inhibited in diabetes and by the consumption of saturated fat and alcohol. For these reasons, higher amounts of ALA-rich flaxseeds or its oil must be consumed to provide the same benefits as the omega-3 fats found in the oil of cold-water fish.
Yet research indicates that for those who do not eat fish or wish to take fish oil supplements, flaxseed oil does provide a good alternative. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that flaxseed oil capsules providing 3 grams of alpha-linolenic acid daily for 12 weeks-an amount that would be provided by 3 tablespoons of flaxseed oil a day-increased blood levels of EPA by 60% in a predominantly African-American population with chronic illness.
A recent MedLine check (MedLine provides access to the published peer-reviewed medical literature) revealed 1,677 research articles on linolenic acid, investigating its effects on numerous physiological processes and health conditions.
Omega-3 fats are used by the body to produce Series 1 and 3 prostaglandins, which are anti-inflammatory hormone-like molecules, in contrast to the Series 2 prostaglandins, which are pro-inflammatory molecules produced from other fats, notably the omega-6 fats, which are found in high amounts in animal fats, margarine, and many vegetable oils including corn, safflower, sunflower, palm, and peanut oils. Omega-3 fats can help reduce the inflammation that is a significant factor in conditions such as asthma, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, migraine headaches, and osteoporosis.
Omega-3-rich Flaxseeds Protect Bone Health
Alpha linolenic acid, the omega-3 fat found in flaxseed and walnuts, promotes bone health by helping to prevent excessive bone turnover-when consumption of foods rich in this omega-3 fat results in a lower ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats in the diet.(Griel AE, Kris-Etherton PM, et al. Nutrition Journal)
Other studies have shown that diets rich in the omega-3s from fish (DHA and EPA), which also naturally result in a lowered ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats, reduce bone loss. Researchers think this is most likely because omega-6 fats are converted into pro-inflammatory prostaglandins, while omega-3 fats are metabolized into anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. (Prostaglandins are hormone-like substances made in our bodies from fatty acids.)
In this study, 23 participants ate each of 3 diets for a 6-week period with a 3 week washout period in between diets. All 3 diets provided a similar amount of fat, but their ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats was quite different:
Diet 1 provided 34% total fat with omega-6 and omega-3 fats in amounts typically seen in the American diet: 9% polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) of which 7.7% were omega-6 and only 0.8% omega-3 fats, resulting in a pro-inflammatory ratio of 9.6:1.
Diet 2, an omega-6-rich diet, provided 37% total fat containing 16% PUFAs of which 12% were omega-6 and 3.6% omega-3, a better but still pro-inflammatory ratio of 3.3:1.
Diet 3, which provided 38% in total fats, was an omega-3-rich diet, containing 17% PUFAs, of which 10.5% were omega-6 and 6.5% omega-3, resulting in an anti-inflammatory ratio of 1.6:1.
After each diet, subjects’ blood levels of N-telopeptides, a marker of bone breakdown, were measured, and were found to be much lower following Diet 3, the omega-3-rich diet, than either of the other two.
The level of N-telopeptides seen in subjects’ blood each diet also correlated with that of a marker of inflammation called tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha). Diets 1 and 2-the diets which had a significantly higher ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats-also had much higher levels of TNF-alpha than the Diet 3, which was high in omega-3 fats from walnuts and flaxseed. Practical Tip: Protect your bones’ by making anti-inflammatory omega-3-rich flaxseed and walnuts, as well as cold water fish, frequent contributors to your healthy way of eating.
Protection Against Heart Disease, Cancer and Diabetes
Omega-3 fats are used to produce substances that reduce the formation of blood clots, which can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke in patients with atherosclerosis or diabetic heart disease.
Omega-3 fats are also needed to produce flexible cell membranes. Cell membranes are the cell’s gatekeepers, allowing in needed nutrients while promoting the elimination of wastes. While important for everyone, flexible cell membranes are critical for persons with diabetes since flexible cell membranes are much better able to respond to insulin and to absorb glucose than the stiff membranes that result when the diet is high in saturated and/or hydrogenated (trans-) fats. In the colon, omega-3 fats help protect colon cells from cancer-causing toxins and free radicals, leading to a reduced risk for colon cancer.
Flaxseeds Help Prevent and Control High Blood Pressure
Individuals whose diets provide greater amounts of omega-3 fatty polyunsaturated fatty acids-and flaxseed is an excellent source of these essential fats-have lower blood pressure than those who consume less, shows data gathered in the International Study of Macro- and Micro-nutrients and Blood Pressure (INTERMAP) study (Ueshima H, Stamler J, et al. Hypertension).
The INTERMAP is a study of lifestyle factors, including diet, and their effect on blood pressure in 4,680 men and women aged 40 to 59 living in Japan, China, the U.S. and the U.K. Blood pressure was measured and dietary recall questionnaires were completed by participants on four occasions. Dietary data was analyzed for levels of omega-3 fatty acids from food sources including fish, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils.
Average daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids was 2 grams. Participants with a high (o.67% kcal) omega-3 fatty acid percentage of their daily calorie intake had an average systolic and diastolic blood pressure reading that was 0.55/0.57 mm Hg less, respectively, than participants with lower intake. Previous research has found that a decrease of 2 mm Hg reduces the population-wide average stroke mortality rate by 6 percent and that of coronary heart disease by 4%.
Higher omega-3 fatty acid intake among the 2,238 subjects who were not using drugs, supplements, or a special diet for hypertension, heart disease, or diabetes was associated with a 1.01/0.98 mm Hg reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure, respectively.
For the 2,038 subjects in this group who did not have hypertension, greater intake was associated with a 0.91/0.92 mm Hg average systolic and diastolic reduction.
Lead author Hirotsugu Ueshima, MD of Shiga University of Medical Science in Japan, noted that the beneficial effect of omega-3 fats was even greater in people who had not yet developed high blood pressure.
The researchers also found that omega-3s from nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils-such as walnuts and flaxseed-had just as much impact on blood pressure as omega-3s from fish. “With blood pressure, every millimeter counts. The effect of each nutrient is apparently small but independent, so together they can add up to a substantial impact on blood pressure. If you can reduce blood pressure a few millimeters from eating less salt, losing a few pounds, avoiding heavy drinking, eating more vegetables, whole grains and fruits (for their fiber, minerals, vegetable protein and other nutrients) and getting more omega-3 fatty acids, then you’ve made a big difference,” said Ueshima.
Flaxseed Provides Comparable Cholesterol-Lowering Benefits to Statin Drugs
In a study involving 40 patients with high cholesterol (greater than 240 mg/dL), daily consumption of 20 grams of ground flaxseed was compared to taking a statin drug. After 60 days, significant reductions were seen in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides and the ratio of total to HDL cholesterol-in both groups. Those receiving flaxseed did just as well as those given statin drugs!
Body mass index, total cholesterol, HDL-cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, triglycerides, and the ratio of total cholesterol/HDL-cholesterol were measured at the beginning of the study and after 60 days.
In those eating flaxseed, significant reductions were seen in total cholesterol (-17.2%), LDL-cholesterol (-3.9%), triglycerides (-36.3%) and the ratio of total cholesterol/HDL-cholesterol (-33.5%) were observed in the diet+flax group, compared to baseline. Similar reductions were seen in those taking the statin. Benefits did not significantly differ between the two groups.
Flaxseed Oil Lowers Blood Pressure in Men with High Cholesterol
Greek researchers looked at the effect on systolic and diastolic blood pressure of a three-month trial during which 59 middle-aged men used either flaxseed or safflower oil in their daily diet.
Flaxseed oil is rich in the omega-3 fat, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which the body can metabolize into the cardioprotective long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, while safflower oil is a concentrated source of the omega-6 fat, linoleic acid (LA). The men received flaxseed oil supplying 8 grams of ALA daily or safflower oil providing 11 grams of LA per day.
At the conclusion of the 12-week study, both systolic and diastolic blood pressure was significantly lower in the men using the omega-3-rich flaxseed oil.
One possible explanation for this result is the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 fats. Both omega-6 and omega-3 fats are essential fatty acids: we need both types of fats to be healthy and must derive them from our food. Omega-6 fats, however, tend to promote excessive inflammation when not balanced by sufficient amounts of omega-3 fats in the diet.
Most nutrition experts believe that a health-promoting ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is no higher than 4:1, and many believe the optimal ratio is 2:1. The typical American diet, however, delivers almost 10 times as much omega-6 as omega-3 fatty acids. Practical Tip: Numerous studies have shown heart-protective benefits from decreasing the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats in the diet. To improve your omega 6:omega to omega-3 ratio increase your consumption of foods rich in omega-3s, such as flaxseed oil, canola oil, walnuts, and cold-water fish like wild salmon. And decrease your consumption of foods rich in omega-6 fats, such as safflower oil, corn oil, peanut oil, butter and the fats found in meats.
Rich in Beneficial Fiber
Flaxseeds’ omega-3 fats are far from all this exceptional food has to offer. Flaxseed meal and flour provides a very good source of fiber that can lower cholesterol levels in people with atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease, reduce the exposure of colon cells to cancer-causing chemicals, help relieve constipation and stabilize blood sugar levels in diabetic patients. Flaxseeds are also a good source of magnesium, which helps to reduce the severity of asthma by keeping airways relaxed and open, lowers high blood pressure and reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke in people with atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease, prevents the blood vessel spasm that leads to migraine attacks, and generally promotes relaxation and restores normal sleep patterns.
A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine confirms that eating high fiber foods, such as flaxseed, helps prevent heart disease. Almost 10,000 American adults participated in this study and were followed for 19 years. People eating the most fiber, 21 grams per day, had 12% less CHD and 11% less CVD compared to those eating the least, 5 grams daily. Those eating the most water-soluble dietary fiber fared even better with a 15% reduction in risk of CHD and a 10% risk reduction in CVD.
Flaxseed Puts the Brakes on Prostate Cancer Growth
Flaxseed, a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids and lignans, put the brakes on prostate tumor growth in men who were given 30 grams of flaxseed daily for a month before surgery to treat their prostate cancer. The 40 men taking flaxseed, either alone or along with a low-fat diet, were compared to 40 men only following a low-fat diet, and 40 men in a control group who did not alter or supplement their usual diet. Men who took flaxseed, as well as those who took flaxseed combined with a low-fat diet did the best.
Lead author, Duke University researcher Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, believes the omega-3s in flaxseed alter how cancer cells lump together or cling to other cells, while flaxseed’s anti-angiogenic lignans choke off the tumor’s blood supply, thus helping to halt the cellular activity that leads to cancer growth. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2007 ASCO Annual Meeting, Abstract 1510.
Practical Tip: Study participants took the flaxseed in a ground form to make it more digestible, and mixed it in drinks or sprinkled it on food such as yogurt, cereal or salads.
Special Protection for Women’s Health
Flaxseed meal and flour have been studied quite a bit lately for their beneficial protective effects on women’s health. Flaxseed is particularly rich in lignans, special compounds also found in other seeds, grains, and legumes that are converted by beneficial gut flora into two hormone-like substances called enterolactone and enterodiol. These hormone-like agents demonstrate a number of protective effects against breast cancer and are believed to be one reason a vegetarian diet is associated with a lower risk for breast cancer. Studies show that women with breast cancer and women who are omnivores typically excrete much lower levels of lignans in their urine than vegetarian women without breast cancer. In animal studies conducted to evaluate lignans’ beneficial effect, supplementing a high-fat diet with flaxseed flour reduced early markers for mammary (breast) cancer in laboratory animals by more than 55%.
In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, when postmenopausal women ate a daily muffin containing either 25 grams (a little less than 1 ounce) of soy protein, 25 grams of ground flaxseed, or a placebo muffin containing neither for 16 weeks, the estrogen metabolism of those eating flaxseed, but not soy or placebo, was altered in several important protective ways:
- Levels of 2-hydroxyestrone, a less biologically active estrogen metabolite thought to be protective against breast cancer, increased significantly.
- The ratio of 2-hydroxyestrone (the protective estrogen metabolite) to 16alpha-hydroxyestrone (an estrogen metabolite thought to promote cancer) increased
- Blood levels of the estrogen fractions (estradiol, estrone, and estrone sulfate) did not change significantly-which is important since estradiol is involved in maintaining bone mass.
So what does this mean in plain English? Eating about an ounce of ground flaxseed each day will affect the way estrogen is handled in postmenopausal women in such a way that offers protection against breast cancer but will not interfere with estrogen’s role in normal bone maintenance.
In addition to lessening a woman’s risk of developing cancer, the lignans abundant in flaxseed can promote normal ovulation and extend the second, progesterone-dominant half of the cycle. The benefits of these effects are manifold. For women trying to become pregnant, consistent ovulation significantly improves their chances of conception. For women between the ages of 35 and 55 who are experiencing peri-menopausal symptoms such as irregular menstrual cycles, breast cysts, headaches, sleep difficulties, fluid retention, anxiety, irritability, mood swings, weight gain, lowered sex drive, brain fog, fibroid tumors, and heavy bleeding, a probable cause of all these problems is estrogen dominance. Typically, during the 10 years preceding the cessation of periods at midlife, estrogen levels fluctuate while progesterone levels steadily decline. Flaxseed, by promoting normal ovulation and lengthening the second half of the menstrual cycle, in which progesterone is the dominant hormone, helps restore hormonal balance.
Preliminary research also suggests that flaxseeds may serve a role in protecting post-menopausal woman from cardiovascular disease. In a recent study, flaxseeds reduced total cholesterol levels in the blood of postmenopausal women who were not on hormone replacement therapy by an average of 6%.
Lastly, lignan-rich fiber has also been shown to decrease insulin resistance, which, in turn, reduces bio-available estrogen, which also lessens breast cancer risk. And, as insulin resistance is an early warning sign for type 2 diabetes, flaxseed may also provide protection against this disease.
Flaxseed Reduces Hot Flashes Almost 60%Researchers recruited 29 postmenopausal women who had suffered from at least 14 hot flushes each week for at least one month, but would not take estrogen because of a perceived increased risk of breast cancer. After taking 40 grams (1.4 ounces) of crushed flaxseed each day for six weeks, the frequency of hot flashes decreased 50%, and the overall hot flash score decreased an average 57% for the 21 women who completed the trial. J Soc Integr Oncol. 2007 Summer;5(3):106-12.
Fend Off Dry Eyes
Dry eye syndrome (DES) afflicts more than 10 million Americans. Artificial tears offer only temporary relief. Expensive prescription drugs promise help, but at the cost of potentially serious side effects.
Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition involving nearly 40,000 female health professionals aged 45-84 enrolled in the Women’s Health Study.
Researcher Biljana Miljanovic, MD, MPH, and colleagues at Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that essential fatty acids-the omega-3 fats (found in high amounts in cold water fish and flaxseeds), and the omega-6 fats (found in red meat, safflower, sunflower, soy and corn oils)-play a role.
Women whose diets provided the highest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids had a 17% lower risk of dry eye syndrome compared with those consuming the least of these beneficial fats. In contrast, a diet high in omega-6 fats, but low in omega-3s, significantly increased DES risk. Women whose diets supplied a high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids had a 2.5-fold higher risk of DES syndrome compared to those with a more balanced intake of fatty acids.
Researchers specifically looked at eating tuna fish-a main source of omega-3 fatty acids in the American diet.
Compared with women eating less than one 4-ounce serving of tuna a week:
- Women who ate 2 to 4 servings of tuna per week had a 19% lower risk of DES
- Women eating 5 to 6 servings of tuna per week had a 68% lower risk of DES
“These findings suggest that increasing dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of dry eye syndrome, an important and prevalent cause of ocular complaints,” Miljanovic and colleagues conclude. In addition to tuna fish, omega-3 fatty acids are richly supplied by other fatty fish (such as salmon, mackerel, halibut, sardines, and herring), flaxseeds and flaxseed oil. Due to concerns about mercury levels in tuna, to lower your risk of DES we recommend enjoying a variety of cold-water fish and adding flaxseeds and flaxseed oil to your Healthiest Way of Eating.
What’s in a name? Well, when it comes to the scientific name of flaxseeds, the name says it all. Flaxseeds are known as Linum usitatissimum with it species name meaning “most useful.” That would definitely describe the versatility and nutritional value of this tiny little seed.
Flaxseeds are slightly larger than sesame seeds and have a hard shell that is smooth and shiny. Their color ranges from deep amber to reddish brown depending upon whether the flax is of the golden or brown variety.
Their flavor is warm and earthy with a subtly nutty edge. While unground flaxseeds feature a soft crunch, they are usually not consumed whole but rather ground since this allows for the enhancement of their nutrient absorption. Ground flaxseeds can have a relatively mealy texture with a potential hint of crunch depending upon how fine they are ground.
Flaxseeds have a long and extensive history. Originating in Mesopotamia, the flax plant has been known since the Stone Ages. One of the first records of the culinary use of flaxseeds is from times of ancient Greece. In both that civilization and in ancient Rome, the health benefits of flaxseeds were widely praised. After the fall of Rome, the cultivation and popularity of flaxseeds declined.
Ironically, it was Charlemagne, the emperor who would be famous for shaping European history, who also helped to shape the history of flaxseeds, restoring them to their noble position in the food culture of Europe. Charlemagne was impressed with how useful flax was in terms of its culinary, medicinal, and fiber usefulness (flaxseed fibers can be woven into linen) that he passed laws requiring not only its cultivation but its consumption as well. After Charlemange, flaxseeds became widely appreciated throughout Europe.
It was not until the early colonists arrived in North America that flax was first planted in the United States. In the 17th century, flax was first introduced and planted in Canada, the country that is currently the major producer of this extremely beneficial seed.
Health Benefits of Flax
The omega-3 fatty acids have a balancing role in the diet. They correct imbalances in modern diets that lead to health problems. Nutritionists caution that the amount of omega-3 fatty acids eaten in North America no longer meets our bodies’ needs. You can balance your consumption of fatty acids by adding flax to your diet. Current research shows eating flax seed provides health benefits.
A lower risk for heart disease. Nutritionists advise paying attention to the kinds of fats eaten. They suggest you eat less saturated fat and trans fats, and more polyunsaturated fat – which flax provides. Studies show a diet high in ALA reduces the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol and by preventing the buildup of harmful deposits in arteries. In other studies, where scientists studied large groups of people to find disease trends, increasing the ALA content of the diet corresponded to a decrease in risk of stroke and heart disease.
Prevention of some forms of cancer. The link between diet and cancer is well-known. Flax contains dietary fibre and omega-3 fat in the form of ALA, which can reduce the risk of cancer. Furthermore, studies showed the ALA in flax slowed inflammation which led to cell growth in cancer. Another study on women newly diagnosed with breast cancer showed a slowing of tumour growth with the addition of flax to their diet.
Treatment of immune disorders. The lignans and ALA in flax help prevent inflammation that affects the body’s immune system. Flax in the diet may be useful in the treatment of such immune disorders as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and lupus.
Diabetes. Studies show flax lowers blood glucose in healthy, young adults. The effect of flax in the diets of people with Type 2 diabetes is currently being investigated.
Relief from constipation. Studies in older adults show eating flax helps increase the frequency of bowel movements.
Flax seed is also one of the richest plant sources of lignans, providing up to 800 times more lignans than most other foods in a vegetarian diet. Lignans are phytoestrogens – compounds that have been shown in laboratory studies of animals to help protect against certain kinds of cancer, particularly cancers of the breast and colon, by blocking tumour formation.
Flax Seeds and Flax Seed Oil attract oil-soluble toxins that become lodged in the fatty tissues of the body. Once attracted, they help to escort fat-soluble toxins out. That spells fewer fat stores and a trimmer you. From http://www.care2.com/greenliving/8-foods-that-fight-fat.html