Flax, grown for well over 5,000 years as a food source, is a plant native to the Mediterranean and the seeds have been used for healing and health benefits, such as for the relief of abdominal pain. Shaped like sesame seeds, but slightly larger, flax seeds have a hard shell that is smooth and shiny. The flavor is subtly nutty with a soft crunch; however, flax seeds provide more nutritional value when ground, since this allows for the enhancement of their nutrient absorption. Medical researchers are discovering several health benefits of eating flax seed.
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Proven Nutritional Benefit
Flax seeds are an excellent source of the omega-3 essential fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid---ALA. They are also a source of phytochemicals called lignans, as well as a source of dietary fiber, magnesium, potassium, manganese and minerals phosphorous, iron and copper. The greatest health benefits of flax seed come from the ALA and lignan. However, in a different form, flax seed oil contains close to twice as much of omega-3 fatty acids as fish oil.
Reducing the Risk of Cancer
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, ALA in flax seed has shown promising results in reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer because of its high concentration of lignans. These fiber compounds interfere with the cancer-promoting effects of estrogen by binding to estrogen receptors. Lignans also increase the production of other compounds, which regulate estrogen levels by guiding excess estrogen out of the body.
Deterrent to Heart Disease
According to MayoClinic.com, flax seed and its oil derivative have proven to reduce total cholesterol and the LDL or bad cholesterol levels leading to a reduction in the risk of heart disease. The Institute of Medicine has recommended between 1.1 and 1.6g of omega-3 fatty acids daily for adults; one tablespoon of ground flax seed provides 1.5g of this important nutrient.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, flax seed oil has shown promise in treating osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, anxiety, benign prostatic hyperplasia, atherosclerosis and diabetes, as well as lowering cholesterol and triglycerides. Flax seed oil also relieves constipation and skin irritations due to dry skin.