Updated: Apr 29, 2021
Flaxseeds are a little powerhouse seed of nutrition. From decreasing cholesterol to decreasing cancer risk, most healthy adults can improve their health just by adding a little bit of flaxseeds to their diet each day.
There’s been a lot of growing and impressive research on flaxseed, it’s impact on health, its bioactive components and how to consume it so we can reap the most of flaxseeds’ benefits.
Flaxseeds are a plant-based food with healthful fat in the form of polyunsaturated fatty acids
(specifically, omega 3 fatty acids), antioxidants and fiber. Flaxseeds also contain protein and are a rich source of lignans. Because flaxseeds have the potential to boost health, it is considered a functional food.
What are some health benefits of flaxseeds?
Flaxseeds can help decrease cholesterol and blood pressure
Flaxseeds can help lower cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease. Likely through the anti-inflammatory effects of the alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) in flaxseeds, dietary flaxseed has been shown to decrease the progression of atherosclerosis when it is caused by high dietary cholesterol or high dietary trans-fat content.
Flaxseeds may also decrease cholesterol due to the phytosterol content. Phytosterols have a
similar structure to cholesterol, but they help prevent the absorption of cholesterol to the
In terms of lowering blood pressure, there has been substantial effects from milled flaxseeds.
Again, it’s thought that ALA was the factor involved in lowering blood pressure.
In the double-blinded, placebo-controlled, randomized FlaxPAD Trial, PAD patients fed 30 g of milled flaxseed every day for 6 months exhibited significant decreases in both systolic and
diastolic blood pressure. This hypotensive effect was shown as early as 1 month after starting the flaxseed in the diet and was maintained for up to one year.
Flaxseeds may decrease cancer risk
A majority of the research in flaxseed’s role in decreasing cancer risk is with breast cancer.
Flaxseed lignans are nonsteroidal phytoestrogens whose chemical structure is very similar to
mammalian estrogens; these lignans produce estrogen-like effects in mammals. Flax lignans are metabolized by intestinal bacteria to become bioavailable in the plasma. The flax lignans may slow tumor growth.
Flaxseeds have been found to decrease tumor growth in women with breast cancer and mortality of women with breast cancer.
Flaxseeds may improve blood sugar control and diabetes
Flaxseed supplementation reduced blood glucose in subjects with type 2 diabetes in some studies and lowered blood glucose in subjects with prediabetes. More research needs to be done in this area.
Flaxseed and hot flashes and hormonal status
The estrogenic effects of flaxseed suggest a potentially positive effect on hot flashes in post-
In a study of 140 postmenopausal women, menopausal symptoms decreased and the quality of life increased in women who ingested a flaxseed supplemented diet. Another large trial (199 women) of unusually long duration (1 year) on a high dose of flaxseed (40 g per day) reported a significant decrease in menopausal symptoms, but this effect did not differ from the control group that ingested a wheat germ placebo. (See article here)
More randomized, placebo-controlled trials are necessary to determine conclusive effects on
Flaxseeds and gastrointestinal health and the microbiome
It is now well understood that the gut microbiome plays an important role in human health.
(Read more on the microbiome in my article here) How much flaxseed’s components contribute to the microbiome is still being researched. It has been shown that flaxseed’s digestion in the intestines alters the bacterial composition favorably. And changes in specific bacteria in the microbiome may have implications in disease progression.
Flaxseeds are high in insoluble fiber, which remains in the digestive tract after eating. It then
absorbs water adds bulk to stool. This helps decrease constipation – just be sure to drink plenty of water during the day.
What is the best way to eat flaxseeds?
Flaxseed comes in whole flaxseed, ground flaxseed, flaxseed oil and partially defatted flaxseed meal. A new form available is flax “milk”. It’s a milk alternative, like almond or oat milk. Flax milk is made from finely milled flaxseed mixed with filtered water and a few other negligible compounds. Flax milk is high in ALA and is an excellent alternative to dairy milk, as it has no cholesterol or lactose. It is suitable for people allergic to soy, nuts and gluten, and it contains more health benefits than almond milk.
Flaxseeds’ high content of ALA makes it very susceptible to oxidation. This is why flaxseed can have a bitter taste sometimes.
Baking products with flaxseed, even up to 352 degrees F for two hours, does not alter the
composition of ALA in baked goods.
My favorite ways to use flaxseeds:
-Throw in an omelet
-Add to baked goods
-Add to smoothies
-Sprinkle on a sandwich
-Sprinkle on a salad
What’s your favorite way to use flaxseeds?
Pan A, Yu D, Demark-Wahnefried W, Franco OH, Lin X. Meta-analysis of the effects of flaxseed interventions on blood lipids. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;90(2):288-297. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.27469
Edel AL, Rodriguez-Leyva D, Maddaford TG, Caligiuri SP, Austria JA, Weighell W,
Guzman R, Aliani M, Pierce GN. Dietary flaxseed independently lowers circulating
cholesterol and lowers it beyond the effects of cholesterol-lowering medications alone in
patients with peripheral artery disease. J Nutr. 2015 Apr;145(4):749-57. doi:
10.3945/jn.114.204594. Epub 2015 Feb 18. PMID: 25694068.
Parikh M, Maddaford TG, Austria JA, Aliani M, Netticadan T, Pierce GN. Dietary Flaxseed as a Strategy for Improving Human Health. Nutrients. 2019;11(5):1171. Published 2019 May 25.