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The Benefits of Flaxseed

Is flaxseed the new wonder food? Preliminary studies show that it may help fight heart disease, diabetes and breast cancer.

The Health Benefits of Flax continued...

Cardiovascular Disease

Research suggests that plant omega-3s help the cardiovascular system through several different mechanisms, including anti-inflammatory action and normalizing the heartbeat. Fitzpatrick says new research also suggests significant blood pressure-lowering effects of flaxseed. Those effects may be due to both the omega-3 fatty acids as well as the amino acid groups found in flaxseed.

Several studies have suggested that diets rich in flaxseed omega-3s help prevent hardening of the arteries and keep plaque from being deposited in the arteries partly by keeping white blood cells from sticking to the blood vessels’ inner linings.

"Lignans in flaxseed have been shown to reduce atherosclerotic plaque buildup by up to 75%," Fitzpatrick says.

Because plant omega-3s may also play a role in maintaining the heart’s natural rhythm, they may be useful in treating arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and heart failure. More research is needed on this.

Eating flaxseed daily may also help your cholesterol levels. The level of LDL or "bad" cholesterol in the bloodstream has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. A  study of menopausal women showed a decrease in LDL level after the women ate 4 tablespoons of ground flaxseed each day for a year. Fitzpatrick says the cholesterol-lowering effects of flaxseed are the result of the combined benefits of the omega-3 ALA, fiber, and lignans.

Diabetes

Preliminary research also suggests that daily intake of the lignans in flaxseed may modestly improve blood sugar (as measured by hemoglobin A1c blood tests in adults with type 2 diabetes).

Inflammation

Two components in flaxseed, ALA and lignans, may reduce the inflammation that accompanies certain illnesses (such as Parkinson's disease and asthma) by helping block the release of certain pro-inflammatory agents, Fitzpatrick says.

ALA has been shown to decrease inflammatory reactions in humans. And studies in animals have found that lignans can decrease levels of several pro-inflammatory agents.

Reducing inflammation associated with plaque buildup in the arteries may be another way flaxseed helps prevent heart attack and strokes.

Hot Flashes

One study of menopausal women, published in 2007, reported that 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed mixed into cereal, juice, or yogurt twice a day cut their hot flashes in half. The intensity of their hot flashes also dropped by 57%. The women noticed a difference after taking the daily flaxseed for just one week and achieved the maximum benefit within two weeks.

But another study reported no significant reduction in hot flashes between postmenopausal women and breast cancer patients eating a bar containing 410 milligrams of phytoestrogens from ground flaxseed and women eating a placebo bar.

The results, says Thompson, are consistent with other studies that have shown no siginifcant difference in the effect on hot flashes between flaxseed and placebo

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