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Flax

Sandra Justice, PD, FACA

Used by the ancient Egyptians, flax was originally grown in the Mediterranean and Western Europe for industrial, nutritional, and medicinal uses. It is found as both a cultivated and semi-wild plant throughout temperate and tropical regions.

Flax is a rich source of dietary fiber that can lower cholesterol levels. The oil in flaxseed (linseed) is medicinally important for a variety of conditions and cancer prevention. Flaxseed oil is rich in a type of fat called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential fatty acid used as a source of energy by the body. It also serves as the parent substance to compounds that regulate blood pressure, blood clotting, heart rate, blood vessel dilation, the immune response, and the breakdown of fats. Essential fatty acids are also used to make brain and nerve tissue.

ALA is a member of a family of fats called omega-3 fatty acids. Flaxseed oil and fish oils are the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Canola oil and soybean oils also contain some omega-3 fatty acids. Corn, safflower, cottonseed, sesame, and sunflower oils are rich in fats called omega-6 fatty acids. These two families of fats have very important, but different, roles in the body. It is important to have a balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. Excessive intake of either type of fat can cause health problems.

Americans diets are typically high in omega-6 fatty acids and low on omega-3 fatty acids. Taking in more omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids through your diet may cause your body to produce substances that cause inflammation and negatively affect your body’s response to disease. These imbalances may make you more susceptible to heart disease, inflammatory conditions such arthritis and psoriasis, and infections, and can lower your immunity. You may gain significant health benefits by increasing the level of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet.

Benefits of Eating Flaxseeds and Oil

Biochemical Effect                          Clinical Result

Normalizes the body’s                        Smoother skin, shiny hair, soft hands,
fatty acids                                          increased stamina, vitality, and agility
                                                          Reduces inflammation associated with
                                                          psoriasis

Normalizes and rebalances                 Smoother muscle action, helps prevent
prostaglandins                                    cancer, stroke, and heart attacks

Strengthens the immune                      Avoids or overcomes food allergies,
system                                                blocks growth of certain bacteria

Increases fiber and aerobic                 Promotes proper functioning of the
bacteria                                              bacteria in the digestive tract to avoid
                                                          gas, constipation, and other disorders

Normalizes blood fats and                   Stronger cardiovascular system
lowers cholesterol, increases
strength, flexibility, and
permeability of cell membranes

Blocks platelet over-aggregation,        Beneficial for hypercholesterolemia,
reduces blood pressure, and               angina, hypertension, cancer,
lowers fibrinogen levels                       autoimmune disorders

Elevates the level of estrogen              Phytoestrogens in linseed reduce
in blood                                             certain symptoms of menopause

Supports liver in fat metabolism          Lowers or normalizes blood pressure

Sources

Flaxseed oil is the richest source of omega-3 fatty acids, containing approximately 55 to 65 percent of the essential fatty acid ALA. It also contains the natural antioxidants beta carotene and carotenoids.

Flaxseed oil is available in liquid and softgel capsule form, and, like any oil, should be refrigerated to prevent it from becoming rancid. Flaxseed oil requires special packaging because it is easily destroyed by heat, light, and oxygen. The highest quality flaxseed products are manufactured using fresh pressed seeds, are bottled in dark or opaque containers, and processed at low temperatures (cold-pressed) in the absence of light, extreme heat, or oxygen.

How To Take It

Flaxseed oil: 1 tbsp. daily
Because flaxseed oil is easily damaged by heat and light, it must be added to foods after they have been cooked. Use flaxseed oil as a salad dressing for all kinds of green salads, potato salad, grated carrot salad, coleslaw, or with raw sauerkraut, in dips, sprayed over popcorn, or add it to hot or cold cereal.

Flaxseed: 1 tbsp. whole or bruised (but not ground) seed with 5oz. of liquid 2 to 3 times daily for gastritis and enteritis.

Poultice: 100gm soaked in boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes, strained, placed in cheesecloth and applied

As with all dietary supplements, check with a health care provider before giving flaxseed oil to a child. No contraindications for pregnant or lactating women.

Precautions

Flaxseed oil will add additional calories and fat to your diet unless you reduce your intake of other fats. Flaxseed oil may increase your need for Vitamin E.

Flaxseed can delay the absorption of other drugs if taken simultaneously with them. Because flaxseed oil may increase bleeding time, you should check with your health care provider if you are taking a blood-thinning medication or have a bleeding disorder. Contraindications include esophageal stricture, ileus, GI stricture, and acute intestinal inflammation.

Therapeutic Plant

Flax is unequaled in versatility as a therapeutic plant and as a nourishing food. Consider flax supplements when you are thinking about your health and that of your family.