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flax seed pros and cons

6 Pros and Cons of Flax Seeds

It has been called one of the most powerful – if not THE most powerful – foods in the world because it has shown to fight breast cancer, diabetes and heart disease. For something so tiny, those are quite the achievements.

Cultivated in Babylon in 3000 BC, the benefits of flax seed has been sung for thousands of years including the great conqueror Charlemagne. The king believed in it so greatly that he required its consumption by his subjects – there were laws!

Today, flax seed is in almost everything from crackers to oatmeal. According to the Flax Council, nearly 300 new flax-based products were launched in 2010 – and these were in the US and Canada alone. Not only has flax seed made a dent in the consumer market, it has done wonders for the agricultural industry too as it’s used to feed chickens who then lay eggs with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

But given many of its health beneficial properties, are there any risks associated with the consumption of flax seed? Here’s a look at the pros and cons:

List of Pros of Flax Seeds

1. It has a protective effect against certain cancers.
Some studies have shown that flax seed is effective against breast cancer, prostate cancer and colon cancer. The plant omega-3 fatty acid called ALA has shown to inhibit tumor incidence and growth in animal studies. Lignans in flax seed has been shown to offer protection against hormone-sensitive cancers without interfering with tamoxifen, a breast cancer drug.

2. It helps with cardiovascular disease.
Plant omega-3s are able to help the cardiovascular system through anti-inflammatory action and being able to normalize the heartbeat. Research has also shown flax seed to lower blood pressure significantly.

3. It improves blood sugar.
Research shows that the lignans in flax seed can improve blood sugar, especially if taken daily. This is particularly helpful for those with diabetes.

List of Cons of Flax Seeds

1. It isn’t recommended for pregnant woman and those who are breastfeeding.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding shouldn’t supplement their diet with ground flax seed because research still isn’t clear on their benefits and risks. In one study in animals, exposure to flax seed was shown to be protective against breast cancer in the offspring. However, another study shows the complete opposite

2. It has a laxative effect.
The US National Institutes of Health have noted the laxative properties of flax seed. As such, its consumption can lead to abdominal discomfort as well as increased number of bowel movements and diarrhea. Because of this, those with diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease should best stay away from flax seed.

3. It may cause obstruction in the digestive tract.
When taken without enough liquid, flax seed may obstruct the esophagus, intestines or bowel – especially if taken in large doses. Those who already have a narrowing or obstruction in these areas should refrain from consuming flax seed.

While there are clear benefits to consuming flax seed, it is not for everybody. As such, caution should be exercised when dealing with it.

6 Pros and Cons of Flax Seeds It has been called one of the most powerful – if not THE most powerful – foods in the world because it has shown to fight breast cancer, diabetes and heart

The Health Benefits of Flaxseed Oil

Flaxseed oil can reduce inflammation and promote heart and skin health

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Lana Butner, ND, LAc, is a board-certified naturopathic doctor and licensed acupuncturist in New York City.

Flaxseed oil is made from ground and pressed flax seeds. It is known for its many health benefits, including lowering inflammation, preventing heart disease, and reducing cancer risk. There are many more health benefits, along with some side effects and precautions to take when adding flaxseed oil to your diet.

Also Known As

  • Flax oil
  • Linseed oil

Health Benefits

Flaxseed oil contains many active and helpful compounds,   including:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Healthy proteins that may decrease risk factors of heart disease
  • Fiber to prevent digestive issues and constipation
  • Phenolic compounds (lignans), which may prevent cancer
  • Minerals, including calcium and magnesium

Here are some of the impressive health benefits of flaxseed oil and evidence to back up these claims.

Health Benefits of Flaxseed Oil

Lowers Inflammation

Because flaxseed oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, it may reduce inflammation. One animal study published in 2013 found flaxseed oil is loaded with anti-inflammatory properties and that these offered impressive inflammation-lowering benefits. However, studies in humans have yielded mixed results.  

One analysis of multiple human studies found flaxseed contained compounds helpful for reducing C-reactive protein (an inflammation marker) in some of the study participants.

The analysis indicates the properties of flaxseed oil may affect people differently and, therefore, more research is needed to determine its effects on inflammation in the general population.  

Reduces Cancer Risk

Flaxseed oil contains linoorbitides, compounds known for their cancer-fighting and antioxidant properties.   The oil is also a rich source of dietary lignans, which have been found to reduce breast cancer risk.  

Alpha-linolenic acids (ALA) in flaxseed oil may also slow down the growth of cancer cells and even kill them. While the research on ALA and cancer risk reduction is promising, the amount needed to make it a helpful therapy is excessive, which poses the risk for significant side effects and complications.  

Promotes Heart Health

Studies have found that flaxseed oil supplements can increase omega-3 fatty acids, including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—essential compounds for promoting a healthy heart and preventing heart disease.

ALA is converted to EPA and DHA in the body, while flaxseed naturally contains omega-3 fatty acids.  

Improves Gut Health

Flaxseed oil has laxative properties. In a study of 50 hemodialysis patients, daily supplementation of flaxseed oil helped relieve constipation.  

A small study of people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) published in 2012 found that flaxseeds were helpful in lowering inflammation associated with IBS symptoms, including constipation and diarrhea.

Improves Skin

Low ALA is connected to skin problems, and because flaxseed oil is high in ALA, it may support skin health.

Research shows flaxseed oil may help with reducing skin cell inflammation and promoting skin regeneration.  

Aids in Weight Loss

Flaxseed oil may keep things moving along in the digestive system to detoxify the body and help with weight loss.

In fact, a 2012 report in the journal Appetite finds that flaxseed oil can help with suppressing appetite, allowing for reduced food intake and weight loss.  

Reduces Menopause Symptoms

There has been some evidence flaxseed oil may help with menopause symptoms. One 2015 study of 140 menopausal women using flaxseed oil supplements showed decreased hot flashes and increased life quality.  

Possible Side Effects

Flaxseed oil is usually safe for most adults when taken by mouth correctly and in the short term. Large doses can cause diarrhea and loose stools.   Allergic reactions are also possible.  

There has been some research, such as a 2010 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggesting ALA can increase the risk of prostate cancer or promote tumor growth. However, much of this research is speculative and other research suggests flaxseed can actually benefit men’s prostate health.  

Additional research shows ALA from animal-based foods high in saturated fats might be linked to prostate cancer. Still, ALA may not be the culprit; other substances in those foods, such as the hormones and pesticides in meat, might promote tumor growth.  

Anyone using flaxseed oil on skin and hair should be aware that there is not enough evidence on the safety of flaxseed oil when applied topically. However, a small study of a topical flaxseed oil gel found it safe and effective for carpal tunnel syndrome.  

Contraindications

People who shouldn’t use flaxseed oil include:

  • Pregnant women: It may pose adverse effects on pregnancy, including an increased risk for premature birth.
  • Children: There has not been enough evidence on the safety of flaxseed oil when taken by children, although it is likely safe for children to consume small amounts of flax seeds.
  • Breastfeeding mothers: There isn’t enough reliable information about the safety of flaxseed oil for women who are breastfeeding.  
  • People with bleeding disorders: Flaxseed oil may increase the risk of bleeding so anyone with a bleeding disorder should talk to their doctor before using flaxseed oil in food, in supplement form, or as a topical treatment.
  • Surgery: Flaxseed oil should be stopped at least two weeks before surgery and throughout the initial recovery period to prevent bleeding.  
  • Persons on blood clotting drugs: Taking flaxseed oil with medications that slow down blood clotting (i.e., aspirin, diclofenac, warfarin, etc.) may increase the risk of bleeding and bruising.  

Anyone who is concerned about the effects of flaxseed oil on their prostate should direct their questions to their doctor before adding flaxseed oil to their diet.

Consult your doctor to determine if a flaxseed oil supplement is right for you.

Dosage and Preparations

Flaxseed oil is available as an oil used in food preparation and in gelcap supplements.

There is no standard dosing for flaxseed oil. The recommended dosage varies based on the manufacturer.  

Flaxseed oil can be used as a salad oil, in cold sauces, and added to juice, shakes, or smoothies. However, the oil should not be used in recipes that require heating, such as stir-fries or baking. When exposed to heat, the oil can form harmful chemicals.  

Flaxseed oil can be applied to the skin or added to your favorite skin cream to increase moisture in the skin and improve skin health. It can also be applied to hair to promote shine and growth.

What to Look For

You may find flaxseed oil in the refrigerated section of your health food store or on store shelves (some brands add antioxidants to make their products shelf-stable, meaning they don’t need refrigeration until opened).

Once opened, all flaxseed oil must be refrigerated.

Look for cold-pressed oil packaged in an opaque bottle to protect it from the light. The oil should be clear, golden-yellow color. Some oils, known as high-lignan oils, contain particulate of ground flaxseed and may appear to have dirt or grit in it, which is normal.

Fresh flaxseed oil has a mild nutty aroma reminiscent of sunflower or sesame seeds and tastes crisp and mildly nutty. Oil that is cloudy, smells fishy or like fried oil, or has a bitter or burnt flavor is rancid and should not be used. If you notice this or the product is past its expiration date, throw it out.

A Word From Verywell

Flaxseed oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids and other healthful compounds shown to have a variety of health benefits. However, most of the research on this has been on animal models, and studies on humans have been limited.

Be sure to speak with your doctor before using flaxseed oil to ensure that it is appropriate for you.

Flaxseed oil has many popular health benefits, including improving inflammation and promoting heart and skin health.