Flaxseed provides alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a source of the omega-3 fatty acids we need. It’s also rich in fiber, with about 3 grams per tablespoon of whole flaxseed. “And it’s an excellent source of lignans,” explains Dr. Victoria Maizes. “These phytochemicals alter estrogen metabolism so as to decrease breast cancer risk.” Here, Dr. Maizes shares some notable findings on flaxseed.
• Cardiovascular protection: A handful of studies have found that flaxseed decreases inflammation, reduces blood sugar and insulin levels, and also lowers cholesterol.
• Cancer prevention: In a 2005 study involving 32 women with breast cancer, those who at 25 grams (about 2.5 tablespoons) of flaxseed every day between their diagnosis and surgery—an average of 32 days—experienced improvements in breast cancer markers. Flaxseed may fight prostate cancer, too. In one study, 25 prostate cancer patients ate a low-fat diet (20 percent of calories from fat) that included 30 grams of flaxseed per day. After about a month, several cancer markers decreased, along with their cholesterol levels.
• Help for hot flashes: Small trials show that consuming 40 grams of flaxseed each day helps mild menopausal symptoms. In a six-week study, women who ate that amount of flaxseed had 50 percent fewer hot flashes.
• Adding flax to your diet: Dr. Maizes recommends buying whole seeds and grinding some fresh each day with a dedicated coffee grinder. Pre-ground seeds cost more and oxidize quickly, creating toxic compounds. Freshly ground flaxseed will keep for one week in the refrigerator, and you can grind as finely or coarsely as you like.
Dr. Maizes is executive director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine.