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Flaxseed is commonly known as Alsi (in India) and as Linseed (in different parts of the world). The leaves, stems and seeds of the flax plant have been used throughout the history in cooking, medicine and clothing as well as other manufactured goods worldwide. It is a food and fiber crop that is grown in cooler regions of the world.
Flax fibers is the oldest fiber crop in the world. These are naturally smooth and straight fibers. European and North Americans depended on flax for vegetable-based cloth until the nineteenth century, when cotton overtook flax as the most common plant used for making linen paper.
It is native to the region extending from the eastern Mediterranean to India . Flax is grown on the Canadian Prairies for linseed oil, which is used as a drying oil in paints and varnish and in products such as linoleum and printing inks. Flax was extensively cultivated in ancient China and ancient Egypt.
New Zealand flax is recommended as a World’s Healthiest Food. It also has a rich history of use for its fiber content as well as traditional medicinal uses.
Flax seeds are available in two basic varieties: (1) brown and (2) yellow or golden
KEY NUTRITIONAL BENEFITs OF FLAX SEEDS
- It is rich in omega-3 fatty acid. The primary omega-3 fatty acid found in flaxseeds is alpha-linolenic acid or ALA.
- It is also rich in fibers. The fiber found in flax seeds are Lignans. Lignan is present in the form of phytoestrogens. Researchers rank flaxseeds as the number one source of lignans.
- It provides antioxidant protection due to their structure as polyphenol.
- Flaxseeds have mucilage (gum) content. “Mucilage” refers to water-soluble, gel-forming fiber that can provide special support to the intestinal tract. (For example, gums can help prevent the too rapid emptying of the stomach contents into the small intestine, thereby improving absorption of certain nutrients in the small intestine. Arabinoxylans and galactoxylans are included within the mucilage gums found in flaxseeds.)
- Flax seeds are also good source of B vitamins, magnesium, and manganese.
Flaxseed is used for a variety of medicinal purposes
- Cardiovascular Benefits
- The primary omega-3 fatty acid in flaxseeds; alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA can be helpful to the cardiovascular system.
- ALA can help protect the blood vessels from inflammatory damage.
- Two other omega-3 fatty acids namely, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosapentaenoic acid (DPA) also help in providing inflammatory protection by increase in the bloodstream.
- Risk of oxidative stress in the blood vessels can also be lowered by intake of flaxseeds.
- Digestive Health Benefits
- Benefits of flaxseed for
he digestive tract for the patients who ingested flaxseed showed a significant reduction in constipation, bloating and pain.
- The strong fiber content of flaxseeds, including their mucilaginous fiber, helps to delay gastric emptying and can improve intestinal absorption of nutrients.
- Flaxseed fibers also helps to steady the passage of food through the intestines.
- The lignans in flaxseed have been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer.
- Cancer Prevention Benefits
- The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits of flaxseeds also make them a logical candidate for cancer prevention
- Some studies have suggested that flaxseed may have a protective effect against breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer.
- The lignans in flaxseed may provide some protection against cancers that are sensitive to hormones without interfering with the breast cancer drug tamoxifen.
- Lignans may help protect against cancer by blocking enzymes that are involved in hormone metabolism and interfering with the growth and spread of tumor cells (Three of the lignans found in flaxseeds—secoisolariciresinol, matairecinol, and pinoresinol—can be converted by intestinal bacteria into enterolactone (ENL) and enterodiol (END) which have direct affects on our hormonal balance and in this way may play an especially important role in hormone-related cancer.)
- OTHER BENEFITS
- Flaxseed fiber is responsible for lowering the cholesterol level.
- Flaxseeds have also been shown to decrease the ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol in several human studies.
- Its fiber in the diet also helps in stabilizing the blood sugar. Lignans in flaxseeds helps prevent Type 2 diabetes.
- There is evidence that lignans present in flaxseeds may promote fertility, reduce peri-menopausal symptoms, and possibly help prevent breast cancer.
- Omega-3 fats of flaxseeds help in improvement of brain function, and protects from common ills including depresssion, asthma, and pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS)
- SAFETY COLUMNS
- Flax has such a high fiber content, it’s best to start with a small amount and increase slowly; otherwise, cramping and a “laxative effect” can result.
- People with irritable bowel syndrome may have an especially strong reaction to it, and should be extra-careful.
- The oil in flax is highly unsaturated. This means that it is very prone to oxidation (rancidity) unless it is stored correctly.
- The flaxseed meal, stored away from heat and light, will be fresh for a few months, and the oil must be protected by refrigeration in dark containers, preferably being consumed within a few weeks of opening.
- Lignans contain phytoestrogens. Although research has shown them to be beneficial so far, it is unknown what effect high doses of phytoestrogens might have.
- Flax contains very small amounts of cyanide compounds, especially when consumed raw. Heat, especially on dry flax seeds, breaks these compounds down. However, our bodies have a capacity to neutralize a certain amount of these compounds.
- The U.S. government agencies say that 2 tablespoons of flaxseed is certainly safe and is probably an “effective dose” for health purposes.
HOW TO USE FLAXSEEDS
Flaxseed has a pleasant nutty taste. Introduce it gradually into your diet, then work your way up to 2 Tbsp. per day. Make sure to drink lots of water.
- Sprinkle it on cereal or yogurt.
- Add to baked goods.
- Add to smoothies.
- Fold into your favorite sauce recipes.
There are no side effects of eating flaxseed at the recommended daily amount. But patients on tamoxifen should not consume large amounts and must consult their physician before use.
Flaxseed is safe for pregnant women. Be sure to inform your health care provider first.