The Flax of Life

I have long championed the benefits of flaxseeds in scientific papers, lectures, books and interviews.  When I featured flaxseeds in Superimmunity for Kids, readers took notice.

Now flaxseeds are turning up as a star ingredient for recipes in magazines, and for good reason: these little seeds pack a big nutritional punch.

But then again, flaxseeds have been famous for quite a while. Cultivated since the dawn of history, the flax plant provided an important source of nutrition in the form of flaxseeds, and its stem was used as the fiber to make linen clothing.  Later, soldiers of the Roman legions were fed ground flaxseed, baked into bread, as they expanded their empire.

Now modern science has confirmed the powerful nutritional benefits of flaxseeds to support cardiovascular health and reduce inflammation.

Studies indicate that consumption of flaxseeds may be associated with:

  • reduced cholesterol (including the dangerous LDL-cholesterol)
  • reduced triglycerides, another risk factor for heart disease
  • reduced absorption of sugar from food
  • decreased levels of chemicals involved in producing inflammation, like C-reactive protein (CRP).
  • increased blood levels of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) the omega-3 fatty acid that boosts mood and fights inflammation

Ground flaxseed contains three beneficial components:

  • fiber
  • alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fat, which accounts for about 20% of the mass of most flaxseed, and
  • lignans, a group of phenolic anti-oxidants with anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-lowering effects.

According to research, flaxseed can help maintain a healthy ratio of estrogen to progesterone during the menstrual cycle and helps metabolize estrogen.

In order to get the nutritional benefits of the alpha-linolenic acid and the high concentration of lignans found in flaxseed fiber, I like to use freshly ground flaxseed rather than flaxseed oil. Because flaxseeds have a hard external shell you’re unlikely to absorb any significant amount of lignans or alpha-linolenic acid from intact flaxseed. When buying flaxseeds I prefer organic, because pesticides can accumulate in the fat-containing seeds.  I grind flaxseed fresh, using a coffee grinder, just before using it.  Grinding takes about 10 seconds.


Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2009 Oct;34(5):965-74.  Experimental and clinical research findings on the cardiovascular benefits of consuming flaxseed. Bassett CM, Rodriguez-Leyva D, Pierce GN.

Br J Nutr.:1-10. [Epub ahead of print]  Health effects with consumption of the flax lignan secoisolariciresinol diglucoside. Adolphe JL, Whiting SJ, Juurlink BH, Thorpe LU, Alcorn J.

Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Aug;90(2):288-97. Epub 2009 Jun 10.  Meta-analysis of the effects of flaxseed interventions on blood lipids. Pan A, Yu D, Demark-Wahnefried W, Franco OH, Lin X.