Flaxseed is a nutritional supplement reputed to confer dramatic health benefits, ranging from constipation relief to cancer prevention. You can buy flaxseed already ground or cold-milled, or you can buy it whole and grind it yourself. Once it is ground, sprinkle it on your breakfast cereal or add it to home-baked treats. Be aware that some of flaxseed's purported benefits still require more research. If you have schizophrenia, diabetes or cancer, use flaxseed only after consulting with your health-care provider.
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Preservation of Nutritional Compounds
Eating whole flaxseed won't introduce this supplement's important nutrients into your system. To get at the lignans and omega-3 fatty acids, you need to grind the seeds up.
Proponents and vendors of flaxseed products recommend the cold-milling process to prevent the heat destruction of the food's most healthy components. According to Barlean's Organic Oils, cold milling "delicately liberates naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, amino acids, lignans, and phytonutrients without damaging delicate omega-3 fatty acids." Jarrow Formulas, one of many vendors of ground flaxseed, says that cold milling "chops the seed without heating the mill blades, so the essential fatty acids remain intact."
However, medical and educational sources such as the North Dakota State University Extension Service and the University of Maryland Medical Center indicate that you'll get all the nutritional benefits of flaxseed simply by grinding it in your coffee grinder. You can preserve ground seeds for several months. If you buy whole seeds, store them in the refrigerator until you are ready to grind them may extend their freshness.
Lignans from flaxseed may offer protection against some forms of cancer. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, one study involving prostate cancer found that "men who consumed a low-fat, flaxseed-supplemented diet for one month had slower tumor progression than those who did not consume the diet." Some studies with animals suggest that lignans may prevent melanoma from metastasizing from the skin into the lungs.
But this possible protection may come with a price. The University of Maryland Medical Center mentions another study that linked ALA omega-3 fatty acids with faster growth of tumors in men with advanced prostate cancer. The advanced stage of the cancer also correlated with higher levels of ALA "from nonanimal as well as meat and dairy sources." UMMC recommends using flaxseed products only after consulting a qualified health-care provider if you suffer from prostate problems or breast cancer.
Preventing Heart Disease
According to Jane U. Edwards, Ph.D., LRD, a nutrition specialist with the North Dakota State University Extension Service, flaxseed helps reduce incidence of heart disease. Its high dietary fiber content lowers LDL, or "bad," cholesterol. Meanwhile, its omega-3 fatty acids reduce blood pressure and stroke risk while increasing the time it takes blood to clot.
The omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseed have an anti-inflammatory effect, says Dr. Edwards. This benefits sufferers from rheumatoid arthritis and other similar diseases.
Acting as a Laxative
Flaxseed, thanks to its high fiber content, is often used as a laxative to relieve constipation as well as to promote overall digestive health.
Reducing Blood Glucose
According to Dr. Edwards, flaxseed may have a beneficial effect for people with diabetes. "The fiber in flaxseed has been shown to reduce the blood glucose response to carbohydrate intake in healthy individuals," she writes. However, flaxseed's effect on diabetes requires more study. The University of Maryland Medical Center cautions those taking insulin or other medicines for diabetes to consult with a qualified health-care provider before using flaxseed.