Flax (Linum usitatissimum), afiber crop, was first cultivated in Egypt. For centuries, it has played a key role in Ayurvedic medicine in Asia. Flaxseeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and proteins.
Flaxseeds are rich in lignans that offer powerful antioxidant effects. They may reduce risk of certain types of cancers and aid in diabetes treatment. It also is believed that the seeds may help with weight loss, enhance digestive health, and protect the heart.
To know more about the benefits of flaxseeds, keep reading.
Table Of Contents
What Are The Health Benefits Of Flaxseeds?
1. May Help In Cancer Prevention
Several studies on postmenopausal women showed that supplementing diets with flaxseeds could reduce the risk of breast cancer (1). The seeds may also reduce tumor growth in patients with breast cancer. The omega-3 fatty acids in the seeds have anti-inflammatory properties that help in this regard.
2. May Aid Diabetes Treatment
Studies showed that flaxseed supplementation lowered fasting blood sugar levels by 20% (4). More importantly, the seeds contain mucilage, which is a gel-forming fiber that can slow digestion and the resultant release of glucose into the blood.
Preliminary studies have also shown that flaxseeds can delay the onset of diabetes mellitus. They contain a compound called SDG, which could reduce the risk of type 1 diabetes and delay the onset of type 2 diabetes (5).
3. May Aid Weight Loss
As flaxseeds are rich in fiber, they can aid weight management (6). The seeds also contain omega-3s. Studies show that omega-3s may suppress appetite and improve satiety – and this may help in weight loss (7).
The lignans in flaxseeds are also believed to boost metabolism, which may aid weight loss. However, more research is needed to understand the mechanism.
Studies also showed that flaxseeds could increase fat excretion, thereby decreasing the amount of fat content in the body. This may promote weight loss (6).
4. May Enhance Digestive Health
Animal studies showed that flaxseed supplementation in the diet could promote the health of gut flora (8). The soluble fiber in flaxseeds could aid digestion as well, although supporting research is limited. Ground flaxseeds are believed to work better as eating them whole can ake them pass through your system without getting digested.
The most common use of flaxseeds involves its laxative properties. This means the seeds can make you poop. They can also help treat constipation but ensure you drink enough water after consuming them (2).
The omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseeds can help reduce inflammation and protect the lining of the GI tract. In people with healthy digestive systems, the seeds promote the beneficial gut flora (9). Further research is needed to understand the benefits of omega-3s and their connection to gut flora.
5. May Protect The Heart
The omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseeds have been found to cut the risk of coronary heart disease. They also help improve the functioning of the arteries (10). A Costa Rican study showed that individuals consuming more of ALA (the type of omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseeds) had a lower risk of heart attack (11).
6. May Fight Inflammation
Two tablespoons of ground flaxseeds contain over 140% of the daily value of omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to fight inflammation. The alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) in the seeds was found to decrease pro-inflammatory compounds in the body (12).
The omega-3s in flaxseeds can also help treat inflammatory arthritis (13).
7. May Treat Menstrual Symptoms
Consuming flaxseeds may regularize ovulation. Women who regularly ate flaxseeds were found to ovulate during every menstrual cycle (14). Adding flaxseeds to your diet may also help reduce menstrual cramps, though more research is required to support this effect.
Another important piece of research tells us that flaxseeds may help ease hot flashes. However, some other studies state otherwise, and more research is warranted to understand how flaxseeds work in this regard (15).
8. Flaxseeds Are Gluten-Free
Flaxseeds work as a great replacement for all those gluten-containing grains in your diet (2). In case you are gluten-intolerant, most grains could be hard to digest. This is where flaxseeds can be a good choice for anyone with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity (16).
9. May Be Beneficial During Pregnancy And Breastfeeding
Flaxseeds are a rich source of fiber and omega-3s and a good source of protein – and a pregnant woman requires all these nutrients. Fiber could help treat constipation that often occurs during pregnancy. The protein and omega-3s are critical for the child’s health. However, there is no direct research stating the benefits of flaxseeds during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
As per an animal study, flaxseeds can promote retina and optic nerve development in the offspring (17).
However, we recommend you talk to your doctor before taking flaxseeds for this purpose as there is some conflicting evidence in this regard.
10. May Make Your Skin Glow
The omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseeds may contribute to skin health and appearance. They can keep your skin hydrated and make it smooth. Studies show that dietary supplementation of flaxseeds can balance the anti- and pro-inflammatory compounds and promote healthy aging (8).
The oil of flaxseeds may also help. It may prevent the everyday irritants and pollutants from entering your skin pores (18). It also prevents water loss from the skin. Improving the skin’s moisture levels can also help reduce wrinkles.
Keeping your skin moisturized prevents it from drying out, and this makes it glow. While we need more research to determine if flaxseeds can directly influence growth, some evidence states that flaxseed oil could improve skin barrier function (19).
Flaxseeds may also aid the treatment of ailments like psoriasis and eczema, though direct evidence is lacking in this regard.
You can either rub plain flaxseed oil gently into your skin or consume the seeds on a daily basis. The anti-inflammatory properties of flaxseeds can also treat skin inflammation. As per animal studies, the antioxidants in the seeds may also help reduce the risk of skin cancer (20).
You can also try a flaxseed facial. Mix two tablespoons of raw honey, a teaspoon of fresh lime juice, and a tablespoon of flaxseed oil. Apply the mixture directly to your face. Leave it on for 15 minutes and wash with normal water. Do it in the mornings, every day.
11. May Strengthen Hair
Brittle hair is often attributed to a lack of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. As flaxseeds are rich in these fatty acids, as per animal studies, they were found to strengthen hair, improve hair coat quality, and combat hair fall (21). They can also help prevent a condition called cicatricial alopecia, which is a permanent hair loss condition caused by inflammation.
You can prepare a hair gel using flaxseeds. Boil two cups of water. As the water begins to boil, add four tablespoons of flaxseeds to it. Cover the pot with a lid and let it simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Turn the heat off and strain the infusion. Apply the resultant gel to your scalp every morning and then wash as usual after 20 minutes.
These are the benefits of flaxseeds. We already saw a few of the important nutrients in the seeds. How about taking a look at the entire nutrient profile?
What Is The Nutritional Profile Of Flaxseeds?
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 1 tablespoon of flaxseeds (2.5 grams) contains 13 calories, 0.7 g of fiber, 0.72 g of carbohydrates, 0.46 g of protein, and 1.05 g of fat (22).
Though flaxseeds possess a vast array of nutrients, they are not magic pills. There is no one-food-for-all-ailments when it comes to good health. Consistently making the right dietary choices is key. In the following section, we have discussed how you can add flaxseeds to your diet.
Tips For Adding Flax Seeds To Your Diet
There are a few ground rules:
- The best way to consume flaxseeds is in their sprouted form. Soaking and sprouting them removes phytic acid and also enhances mineral absorption. You can soak the seeds for 10 minutes in warm water or for 2 hours in cold water.
- Flaxseeds are best consumed ground. This is because our bodies cannot receive the nutrients if they are taken in the whole form.
- Ensure you consume the seeds with plenty of water.
- You can add the seeds to your morning cereal or breakfast smoothie. You can also add them to salads.
- Ensure you don’t heat flaxseed oil as its composition might change, and it may not be useful. But surprisingly, the nutrients in whole flaxseeds are heat-stable. Hence, you can roast flaxseeds and enjoy the benefits as the nutrients won’t be destroyed.
- You can also add flaxseeds to your Paleo diet. The seeds are technically Paleo because they are seeds.
- The best time to eat flaxseeds is early in the morning, along with your breakfast.
Ensure you do not consume an excess of flaxseeds as they may cause certain undesirable side effects.
What Are The Side Effects Of Flaxseeds?
Flaxseeds may cause adverse effects in some people. Excess consumption of these seeds may cause some adverse effects, such as nausea, constipation, bloating, and pain in the abdomen. Want to know more about the side effects of flaxseeds? Keep reading.
- May Lower Blood Sugar Levels Way Too Much
Since flaxseeds may lower blood sugar levels, individuals who are already on diabetes medication can experience alarmingly low blood sugar levels if they consume an excess of flaxseeds. However, limited research is available in this area. Consult your doctor.
- May Lower Blood Pressure
Flaxseeds help lower blood pressure (23). However, if taken along with medications for treating high blood pressure, the seeds may cause hypotension (excessively low blood pressure). Hence, people on blood pressure medications should exercise caution.
- May Slow Down Blood Clotting
Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids can reduce blood clotting and increase bleeding (24). As the seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and may show a significant decrease in blood clotting, people with bleeding disorders must not take them. Also, don’t consume flaxseeds at least two weeks before surgery.
- May Aggravate Hormone-Sensitive Conditions
Flaxseeds can mimic the hormone estrogen, and this can aggravate hormone-sensitive conditions like cancers of the breast, uterus, and ovaries and uterine fibroids (25).
- May Cause Issues During Pregnancy And Breastfeeding
Since the seeds can mimic estrogen, they may cause issues in pregnant and breastfeeding women (25). Please consult a doctor before using them.
Limited research is available in this area. Individuals with diabetes should always check with their doctor before consuming flaxseeds. Omega-3s, the essential fatty acids in the flaxseeds, may interact with the blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin (Coumadin), which, in turn, can increase bleeding (26).
Avoid the consumption of these seeds while taking diabetes medication.
Flaxseeds are densely packed with fiber and omega-3 fatty acids and offer several health benefits. These seeds may help fight cancer, aid in diabetes treatment, and promote weight loss.
However, excess consumption may cause adverse side effects. Hence, be wary of the number of flaxseeds you consume.
Talk to your doctor and dietitian to understand the right dosage for you.
Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions
How many flaxseeds can you take in a day?
You can limit the serving size to less than 5 tablespoons (or 50 grams) a day.
Can you substitute flaxseeds with chia seeds?
Yes, chia seeds are also equally nutritious and beneficial. They look similar too.
How to store flaxseeds?
Whether you purchase ground flaxseeds or grind them at home, you can store them in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator. Whole flaxseeds can also be stored this way, and they can last for 6 months.
Where can you buy flaxseeds?
You can get the seeds from your nearest departmental store or buy them online at Amazon.
Can you eat flaxseeds raw?
Yes, it is fine to eat the seeds raw. Some believe ground flaxseeds can help your body better absorb the nutrients. Also, store raw flaxseeds in the fridge, or the oils in them might make them go rancid.
Do flaxseeds cause acne?
In some cases, yes. This happens if your body doesn’t accept the seeds. Stop using them and consult your doctor.
In general, flaxseeds may aid acne treatment. The omega-3s in the seeds fight inflammation, which is one major cause of acne. The same goes for flaxseed oil as well, though no studies support the link between the oil and acne. However, if your body doesn’t accept the oil, it may react through acne breakouts.
What are flaxseeds called in different languages?
Flaxseeds are called semillas de lino in Spanish, budhur alkitaan in Arabic, alsee ka beej in Hindi, avise ginjalu in Telugu, ali vidai in Tamil, and agasi in Kannada.
Does flaxseed help with belly fat?
The seeds are rich in dietary fiber that may suppress appetite. This may help reduce belly fat, though there is no research to support this.
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- Flaxseed used since pregnancy by the mother and after weaning by the offspring benefits the retina and optic nerve development in rats, The Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Supplementation of flaxseed oil diminishes skin sensitivity and improves skin barrier function and condition, Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
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