Flaxseed oil is derived from the flax plant. Flax is a blue flowering plant, native to the region spanning from east of the Mediterranean to India. It is also found on the Western Prairies of Canada. Flaxseed oil is also known as linseed oil, which is used to make common household items such as linoleum, wood finish, chalk and paints. With that, it’s pretty amazing that this same product is one of the most beneficial supplements for your health. Flaxseed oil contains omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids, both essential for good health. However, the omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseed oil are in the preliminary form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). The body then converts this to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These are the same omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil. The difference is that fish oil contains them in the EPA and DHA form. The conversion from the ALA in flaxseed oil to the beneficial forms of EPA and DHA is a difficult metabolic conversion and may not always complete. Metabolism to EPA and DHA is also hindered by trans-fatty acids. These are found in foods such as cookies, margarine and chips. For this reason, there is debate as to whether or not flaxseed oil can produce the same benefits as fish oil. Even so, flaxseed oil is still considered an essential oil because of its abundant omega fatty acids. It boasts a long list of other health benefits, too. Information may also be found under the name flax oil.
Like all polyunsaturated oils, flaxseed oil needs to be treated gently in manufacturing. Ideally, mechanical expeller presses should be used and the oil should be extracted at temperatures below 96 degrees Fahrenheit. Polyunsaturated oils have a limited shelf life and will go rancid faster than other oils. Therefore, when shopping for flaxseed oil, there are a few things to look for:
- First, flaxseed oil should be found in the refrigerated section of the health food store or specialty market.
- It should also be in an opaque container as it is light sensitive.
- Look for flaxseed oil that is certified organic for optimal quality.
Flaxseed oil offers a wide range of health benefits. There are some studies showing that flaxseed oil can reduce total cholesterol and LDL (low density lipoprotien also known as bad cholesterol). This, however, is dependent on how well the alpha-linolenic acid is broken down into EPA and DHA. Flaxseed oil is likely to make platelets less sticky, which could help to reduce the risk of heart attack. It may also lower blood pressure and triglyceride levels (fat in the blood). Flaxseed oil has anti-inflammatory properties and has been shown to regulate the heartbeat, further supporting good cardiovascular health. In addition, the flax seed contains compounds called lignans. Studies show that patients taking lignans had a 75% reduction in atherosclerotic plaque buildup.
Flax seed itself is recommended for those who suffer from Crohn’s disease or irritable bowel syndrome because it is thought to be able to heal the lining of the stomach and reduce inflammation.
The ALA found in flaxseed inhibited tumor growth and incidence in animal studies. In addition, the lignans in flaxseed are thought to bind to estrogen receptors, reducing the risk of estrogen driven breast cancer.
Overall, flaxseed is an anti-oxidant, which contributes to its cancer fighting abilities.
One study shows that taking flaxseed daily improves the dry eye condition that occurs with Sjogren ’s syndrome. This condition is an autoimmune disorder where the immune systems attacks salivary glands and tear producing glands.
Flaxseed is also thought to slightly improve blood sugar, assisting in the treatment of diabetes. In addition, it aids in general digestion because it contains both soluble and insoluble fiber.
The ALA and lignans found in flaxseed block pro-flammatory agents in the body. This action provides relief for many ailments. For instance, this could improve conditions for people with asthma. It can help with the recovery of sprains and other injuries where inflammation is present.
For women in the menopausal stage, one study reports that 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed twice per day reduced the number of hot flashes by 50% and the intensity by 57%. This is likely due to the estrogenic properties of the lignans. For this reason, flaxseed is an effective supplement to treat some symptoms of pre-menstrual syndrome.
Even animals can benefit from flaxseed oil and there are brands that offer formulations just for them!
Some lesser known advantages of flaxseed oil include:
- Can treat limited cases of depression
- Aids in calcium absorption
- Improved mental function in aging population
- Improved recovery for muscle fatigue after exercise
- Increased energy and stamina
- Strengthens fingernails
- Helps with weight loss when combined with proper diet and exercise
- Increases metabolism
- Improved liver function
Currently, not enough is known about the effects of flaxseed during pregnancy. If pregnant or nursing, it is best not to take any supplement that has not been proven safe during pregnancy.
Always check with your doctor if you are taking any other medications. Supplements may interfere with the metabolic action of your prescribed medications. Flaxseed in particular may slow down absorption of medications if taken at the same time.
Individuals with diabetes or schizophrenia may want to consider fish or fish oil supplements for their EPA and DHA as their bodies may not readily convert the ALA to these omega-3 fatty acids. Likewise, people with macular degeneration should consider fish or fish oil supplements because diets high in ALA’s may actually contribute to the disease. Finally, men with prostate cancer should avoid flaxseed as some studies show that a diet rich in ALAs is associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer.
Due to the limited number of clinical studies done for flaxseed oil, there is not a defined list of side effects. However, individuals may experience an allergic reaction to flax products. In addition, because of its blood thinning properties, people who are about to undergo surgery should not take flaxseed oil. Doing so could increase the risk of bleeding. Also, large doses (>30 grams) could cause diarrhea.
Individuals taking the following types of medications should consult with their physician before continuing with a flaxseed or flaxseed oil supplement:
- Anticoagulants (blood thinning medications) – Omega-3 fatty acids may increase the blood thinning activity of these drugs.
- Medications to lower blood sugar – Omega-3 fatty acid supplements may raise blood sugar levels, counteracting the effects of the medication.
- Cyclosporine – Omega-3 fatty acids may mitigate some of the side effects of cyclosporine therapy in transplant patients such as kidney damage and high blood pressure.
- Topical steroids used for psoriasis – Omega-3 fatty acids may improve efficacy of these drugs.
- Cholesterol lowering medications - Omega-3 fatty acids may improve efficacy of these drugs.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) – Omega-3 fatty acids reduced the risk of ulcers from NSAIDS in animal studies.
Youth: Consult with a physician before giving flaxseed oil to children under 18
Adults: Follow instructions on label if available. Otherwise, take 1-2 tablespoons daily or 1-2 capsules daily.
The health benefits of flaxseed oil stand to offer vary greatly depending on where you look. While some claims may be substantiated and others, not so much, this plant has been used for increased health for centuries. It is also telling that it contains the two most prominent components of the Mediterranean diet, known for supporting the longest, healthiest life span of anywhere in the world. One should always evaluate supplements carefully to determine if they are right for them. You should always research possible interactions, not only with medication, but with other supplements that you may be taking. Hopefully, you will experience better health and better well being from a natural source of these essential oils.
If I took fish oil tablets and added flaxseed granules to some of my food, would that be too much or would that be okay as long as I didn't take over 3000 mgs a day? Or should I just stick with fish oil? I take medication for high blood pressure, antidpressants, thyroid, allergy (Singulair & Allegra) and hormones. I know you can't diagnose me over the Internet, but I live in Mexico, and I'm not sure the doctors here are that involved with homeopathic medicines.
Does flaxseed help with memory and concentration for children as fish oil does?
I currently take 1200MG of fish oil. I also take 40MG Lipitor and 1500MG of Niaspan. I was recommended to take flex seed oil instead of fish oil. I want to get rid of my prescriptions yet boost my health. I am 72 in good health. I am totally confused.
I just summited a comment how do I get my answer's. Fish oil 1200 MG over flexoil supplement.
Pat at email@example.com
I take 20MG Lipitor and medication for high blood pressure, thyroid, and sugar. Is it ok to take fish oil and faxseed oil or should I just take one for high LDL and low HDL???
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