Linum usitatissimum, otherwise known as flaxseed is probably best known for its high-fibre and healthy fat content. Whole or ground, it's great for cleansing the digestive system and encouraging regular bowel movements. More specifically when it's ground, it's shown to be useful for various conditions - especially estrogen imbalance and cardiovascular disease.
Let's start with the basics. Flaxseed is rich in a healthy fat called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is a biologic precursor to our beloved omega-3 fatty acids, like eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). It's also rich in lignans and fibre mucilage. While there are many other important constituents of flaxseed that also have important health benefits, these are the three components of flaxseed I'll focus on. Here's what these three components do:
- We are all aware of the health benefits of a diet rich in omega-3's. More specifically, ALA is used to lower blood pressure, prevent heart disease and reverse athersclerosis (a.k.a. hardening of the arteries). ALA can also be beneficial for patients with inflammatory or autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and irritable bowel disease.
- Lignans can act as phytoestrogens, which are substances that may possess estrogen receptor agonist or antagonist properties. Basically, phytoestrogens help moderate estrogen responses in the body. For this reason, flaxseeds may be beneficial for women experiencing hormonal fluctuations, such as menopause or PMS.
- Finally, fibre mucilage is key to promoting elimination in the body. Fibre is necessary to help support healthy and regular bowel movements, which is important for ensuring toxins are not left to sit and leach back into the body.
I hope this gives you a good base to start exploring the health benefits of flaxseed. Try putting a few tablespoons of ground flax over your oatmeal or into your daily smoothie. Just be sure to keep them in the freezer and grind the seeds yourself - the delicate oils in flaxseed can go rancid within a few weeks if left out at room temperature.
Alpha-Linolenic Acid. (n.d.). WebMD.com. Retrieved February 11, 2014 from http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-1035-ALPHA-LINOLENIC%20ACID.aspx?activeIngredientId=1035&activeIngredientName=ALPHA-LINOLENIC+ACID
Curtis, S., Thomas, P., ilinac, D. (2013). Healing Foods. Toronto: Dorling Kindersley Ltd.