Flaxseed oil is a light seed oil that provides a host of health benefits. It is rich in the omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and is one of the few plant sources with such a high content of the vital nutrient. People often use flaxseed as a fiber in baked goods. But the pressed oil shows evidence of some fabulous health benefits, such as the reduction of heart disease, breast cancer, and insulin resistance.
Humans use flax for food and fiber and have for thousands of years. The Egyptians and Babylonians first cultivated it for weaving cloth. It then found its way into medicine in Ancient Greece. Flaxseed's flavor is pleasantly nutty when ground and cooked as a hot cereal or into baked goods.
How Flaxseed Oil Works to Improve Health
Flaxseed contains alpha-linolenic acid, which the body then converts into the fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Medical researchers have lauded the benefits of these fatty acids over the last two decades, promoting their importance in brain development and heart health.
Although many fatty fish's naturally occurring oils provide the same benefit, flaxseed oil is an excellent choice for vegetarians looking to supplement Omega-3s. For those concerned about mercury contamination in tuna and salmon, flaxseed oil also provides a safer alternative. With this in mind, let’s look more closely at the many health benefits of flaxseed oil.
Reduces blood pressure
Researchers have found that flaxseed oil has antihypertensive benefits, which is good news for those with high blood pressure.
A meta-analysis of 15 studies comprised of 1,302 patients showed that flaxseed reduces both systolic and diastolic blood pressure when used over at least 12 weeks.
Researchers also noted that ground flaxseed produced pressure lowering effects for systolic pressure, while flaxseed oil exerted more influence on diastolic pressure.
Reduces "bad cholesterol"
If you’re worried about your serum cholesterol levels, you may want to add more flaxseed to your diet.
HDL, or high-density lipoproteins, take the cholesterol out of our bloodstream and move it to the liver, where your body can excrete the excess.
Low-density lipoproteins (LDL), on the other hand, take it out of the liver and move it into your bloodstream where it can cause all sorts of problems if not utilized properly.
A Japanese study found a significant decrease in LDL levels after four and 12 weeks of flaxseed oil consumption in adult men.
Improves skin health and reduces sensitivity
If you have sensitive skin from conditions like dermatitis, flaxseed supplements can provide relief. Whether you have dry skin, eczema, or simple skin aging, flaxseed oil improves skin sensitivity, including the reduction of roughness and scaling. After 12 weeks, researchers found that those who used flaxseed oil had less moisture loss in their skin and they enjoyed better hydration and improved smoothness of their skin texture.
Improves breast cancer outcomes
The current evidence shows that flaxseed oil, rich in phytoestrogenic lignans, reduces the growth of breast cancer tumors. The recent studies are exciting and showed decreased growth and increased apoptosis (cell death) in tumors. Flaxseed oil doesn’t interfere with common treatment medications, either. In fact, it proved to improve the effectiveness of both tamoxifen and trastuzumab, common breast cancer medications.
A Canadian study also showed that flaxseed might help prevent breast cancer in the first place, as a food frequency survey identified an association between the consumption of flax products and a lower risk of breast cancer.
Medical research has been focusing in on diseases associated with inflammation. Some researchers are blaming chronic inflammation for a host of serious diseases, from cancer to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Inflammation occurs when your white blood cells gather to fight an infection. However, in some conditions, there is no foreign invader, and the white blood cells work to destroy healthy tissues.
The good news is that flaxseed oil reduces inflammation in people with 30+ BMI. Obesity can lead to a host of health challenges, but the ability to reduce the risk of co-morbid diseases gives you another reason to add flaxseed oil to your diet.
Reduces insulin resistance
Along with reducing inflammation in overweight individuals, flaxseed oil also improves insulin sensitivity. Whether it’s the carbohydrate-heavy Western diet or a result of obesity itself, insulin resistance, also known as metabolic syndrome, makes it even harder for those who need to lose weight. Tested on both mice and humans, it seems that the anti-inflammatory effect of flaxseed oil also partially reverses insulin resistance. Researchers also found it improves insulin resistance in women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome after taking 1,000 mg a day for 12 weeks.
Another study compared the use of flaxseed oil and sunflower oil in patients with metabolic syndrome. Although both groups lost weight and lowered their blood pressure, only the flaxseed oil group lost abdominal fat and reduced their waist circumference during the trial.
Reduces dry eye symptoms
Whether you have rheumatoid arthritis, Sjorgrens, or are simply feeling your years, dry eye syndrome, also called keratoconjunctivitis sicca, can affect your quality of life. The good news is that a daily supplement of 1 or 2 grams a day may significantly improve your symptoms. Dry eyes are not just painful; they can also lead to blurred vision and an inability to drive at night. Researchers tested ALA on patients with a variety of health conditions that increased dry eye symptoms and found significant improvements after six months of treatment.
Scientists recently studied the effects of enterolactone, a lignan found in flaxseed oil, and discovered that it inhibited the spread of lung cancer cells and their ability to invade other organs. They based their trials on the fact that the same lignan also inhibits other cancers from spreading and prevented them from adhering and metastasizing. In other studies, flaxseed oil supplementation reduces the metastasis of melanoma cancer in animal subjects.
Alleviates IBS and improves gut health
Flaxseed has proven itself when it comes to Irritable Bowel Syndrome, while flaxseed oil proved helpful for providing relief for constipation. Although tested only on hemodialysis patients, flaxseed oil may prove beneficial to anyone with frequent digestive distress. During the study, both frequency and consistency of bowel movements improved for the patients compared to those in the control groups taking olive oil or mineral oil.
In contrast, animal studies showed that flaxseed oil improved diarrhea symptoms, as well. Further research suggests that the reason for these the two seemingly contradictory actions is that flaxseed oil acts as an antispasmodic in the gut. This means it may treat both symptoms in IBS or other digestive disorders like diverticulitis effected by involuntary muscles spasms in the bowels.
Improve mental and intellectual health
Earlier, we discussed the conversion of ALA into DHA, which has proven vital to brain development and mood management. Doctors have seen low levels of DHA in cases of dementia and cognitive decline in older people. They’ve also noted that a deficiency results in slow visual and neural development in children.
Researchers gave healthy adults flaxseed oil supplements of 500 mg every day for a week. Then, they tested serum levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNF). This protein acts on neurons in the central and peripheral nervous systems and promotes the growth of synapses and new neurons. After only a week of flaxseed oil supplements, all subjects showed increased levels of BDNF, particularly the female patients.
Possible Side Effects of Flaxseed Oil
Health professionals consider flaxseed oil safe for adults but note that you might experience some unwanted side effects. Because flaxseed oil makes such an effective laxative, you may experience loose stools with doses over 30 grams per day. Pregnant women should discuss flaxseed oil use with their doctor since studies regarding its safety have provided conflicting results.
Also, consult with your doctor before using flaxseed oil during breastfeeding. Although it does increase serum DHA for the person who consumes it, it doesn’t seem to have any effect on the DHA in breast milk. Pediatricians consider flaxseed oil for children as generally safe for short periods of time, however. Because of its laxative effect, it may be a good idea to discuss its use with your pediatrician.
If you have a bleeding disorder, talk to your doctor before adding flaxseed oil to your diet. Also, stop taking flaxseed oil at least two weeks for before any surgery.
How to Use Flaxseed Oil
You can find flaxseed oil supplements in any drug or big box department store. You can also order it from a health food store online. Medical providers don't have a recommended dosage. However, depending on the condition of your health, you may want to discover which dose researchers have used. Most commonly, manufacturers provide dosages in 1,000 mg per soft gel capsule.
You can also add flaxseed oil in place of regular oil in salad dressing. Or mix with herbs, garlic, and olive oil as a dip for bread. Flaxseed oil has a light taste that goes well on vegetables, too. Heat and light break flaxseed oil down, so you shouldn’t use it for cooking. Store both the oil or capsules in an opaque bottle a cool, dry place, most preferably a refrigerator.
Along with the oil, flaxseed meal adds flavor, fiber, and health benefits to baked goods or hot cereal. Add some ground flaxseeds or a spoon of cold-pressed oil to your oatmeal for more flavor and better health.
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