By ALISON TURNER, Contributing Columnist and SUSAN CALLAHAN, Health Editor
In the year 2011 the United States produced nearly 2.8 million bushels of flax plants at a value of nearly $38.6 million , and Canada, the world's largest producer of flaxseed, produced many times that amount. What is flaxseed and why does the world want so much of it?
Ancient Egyptians used flaxseed as food and medicine, and the fiber from the plant to make clothes and fishnets . The National Institutes of Health posts that flaxseed has been sued as an appetite suppressant, in lowering cholesterol, and reducing the risk of atherosclerosis.
Flaxseed is also high in fiber and a delightful substance called mucilage, both of which expand when they come in contact with water. This expansion adds bulk to our waste so that it moves more quickly through our body, which is why flaxseed has been popularly used as a laxative in many cultures. Additionally, flaxseed and its oils also contain an omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid that may mitigate heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, and other health conditions, and contain chemicals that are found to be healthy, including fiber, protein, and lignans. If you haven't made flaxseed a part of your diet before it might be time to take a portion of those 2.8 million bushels grown near you.
The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends that adults take 1 tablespoon of flaxseed 2 to 3 times daily, or 1 to 2 tablespoons or capsules of flaxseed oil. Read the list of health benefits from taking flaxseed below, as discovered by experts from around the world, and you may be convinced to follow
1. Flaxseeds and Anti-ulcer Properties
Nobody loves an ulcer, those sores in the mouth, stomach, and on the skin that always appear when it's least convenient. Researchers in India have good news: flaxseed lignans may help to protect against ulcers.
When your body breaks down flaxseed it creates different chemicals, including "lignans", which are similar to the female hormone estrogen. These "natural estrogens" may help to slow down the progress of certain cancers (see below for flaxseed and cancer), and a study in India finds that lignans could also protect against ulcers.
In 2008, Sonali Joshi and other experts at the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Technology at the University Institute of Chemical Technology in Mumbai evaluated the "antiulcer potential" of lignans from flaxseed against ulcers in rats. They found that "the crude extract of lignans exhibited significant protection" against, as well as recovery from, ulcer formation.
Don't let those little sores take more command than they deserve - fight the unwanted ulcers with flaxseed before they have a chance.
2. Flaxseed Fights Against Prostate Cancer
Prostate cancer is cancer of a gland in the male reproductive system that usually occurs in older men. The National Cancer Institute estimates that for the year 2013 there will be nearly 30,000 deaths from prostate cancer in the U.S. alone. Thankfully, specialists from around the U.S. have been hard at work finding ways to decrease these numbers - one exciting possibility is flaxseed lignans.
In 2013, researchers across the United States, including Dr. Maria Azrad with the Department of Nutrition Sciences at the University of Alabama looked at how lignans derived from flaxseed and other food sources could "impede tumor proliferation." 147 patients with prostate cancer consumed 30 grams of flaxseed every day for thirty days before surgery. Those who received flaxseed supplementation showed changes in factors with mysterious names such as nuclear factor kappa B, vascular endothelial growth factor, and more. The important bottom line for us laymen is that the lignans from flaxseed could "hinder cancer cell proliferation."
In addition to flaxseeds, these lignans are found in sesame seeds, kale, broccoli, and apricots. A feast against prostate cancer!
3. Flaxseeds and Breast Cancer
The National Cancer Institute estimates that by the end of 2013 breast cancer will have taken the lives of nearly 40,000 Americans, mostly women but also including hundreds of men. Thankfully, researchers in Canada have found an easy way to reduce the risk of this disease --- flaxseeds.
Earlier in 2013, Elizabeth Lowcock at the Prevention and Cancer Control at Cancer Care Ontario along with a team with the University of Toronto investigated how flaxseed influenced the risk of breast cancer. Nearly 3,000 women with breast cancer and many more than 3000 who were cancer-free answered food frequency questionnaires, through which the consumption of flaxseed and flaxseed bread was measured. Results showed that "consumption of flaxseed was associated with a significant reduction in breast cancer risk."
The team above points out that flaxseed intake is "modifiable." Whether you are at risk for prostate cancer (see above) or breast cancer, it might be an easy fix to keep a loaf of flaxseed on the breakfast table.
4. Flaxseed and Atherosclerosis
When fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances clump together it is called plaque, and when plaque builds up in the arteries these vessels can harden and narrow, a condition that is known as atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis can be a serious health concern because inadequate oxygen reaches the organs, which can lead to heart attack, stroke, or even death.
In 2010, specialists in Manitoba, Canada, including Grant Pierce with the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences at St. Boniface Hospital Research Centre in Winnipeg looked into how dietary flaxseed could inhibit atherosclerosis that comes from dietary cholesterol. Groups of mice were fed 1 of 14 different experimental diets for fourteen weeks. Results showed that "adding flaxseed to the diet partially mitigated the rise in circulating cholesterol levels, induced by the cholesterol-enriched diet." More specifically, "dietary flaxseed protects against atherosclerotic development induced by TFA [trans fatty acids] and cholesterol feeding through its content of ALA [alpha-linolenic acid]."
Plaque is not a pretty word when it has to do with our body. A little flaxseed is not a giant step to take to help keep plaque out of your own arteries.