Flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum) is well known to Mediterranean cultures who have valued it as food and medicine since ancient times. One of the oldest crops cultivated, there are two types: brown and golden.
Flaxseeds can be used whole or crushed or powdered as meal or flour. Flaxseed oil comes in liquid and capsule form from pharmacies and vitamin shops.
Flaxseed oil – also known as flax oil or linseed oil – is extracted from crushed flaxseeds. It contains the polyunsaturated fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential omega-3 fatty acid. The ALA and related chemicals in flaxseed oil have been linked to decreased inflammation, so it is used to bring down swelling.
One tablespoon of flaxseed oil contains a whopping 7,196 mg of omega-3 fatty acids. The recommended daily allowance – or Reference Daily Intake (RDI) – is at least 1,600 mg of ALA omega-3 fatty acids daily for men and 1,100 mg for women. If you don’t like fatty fish (the other great source of omega-3 fatty acids) taking one tablespoon of flaxseed oil daily will give you far more than your daily need.
Flaxseed oil is used in the kitchen as cooking oil and in margarine. It is also included in paints, varnishes, linoleum, and soap, and as a waterproofing agent.
Flaxseed is high in protein, soluble fiber, and lignans, which contain phytoestrogens. Lignans are “plant compounds that have antioxidant and estrogen properties, both of which can help lower the risk of cancer and improve health.” Flaxseeds provide as much as 800 times more lignans than other plant foods.
Scientific evidence suggests that consuming 40 to 50 grams of flaxseed oil per day may lower cholesterol levels. It can be taken as a gel cap supplement from a bottle or eaten in seed form, mixed with food or a beverage. It bakes well into bread and muffins, but you must release the oil by grinding the seeds first. A food processor or household coffee grinder works well for this.
Many other health conditions may respond well from incorporating flaxseed oil into your diet:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)
- Vaginal infections
- Dry eyes
- Hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis)
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Not only that, some people have found flaxseed oil effective as a weight loss aid and preventative for breast and prostate cancers. Taken as a laxative, it can ease constipation and improve digestion, while acting as an antidiarrheal agent.
When applied directly to the skin, flaxseed oil soothes inflammations and irritations while softening roughness and callouses. When taken internally (eaten in food or swallowed as a supplement), flaxseed oil gives hair a healthy gloss and shine.
Flaxseed oil is easy to prepare for consumption. Substitute the oil for other cooking oils in salad dressings, sauces, and dips. Add a tablespoon to a blender smoothie or shake.
Scientific laboratory studies are underway to see if flaxseed oil is effective in reducing cancer cell growth. Mice given 0.3 ml of flaxseed oil for 40 days showed inhibited metastatic melanoma and reduced lung tumor formation. Similarly, flaxseed oil blocked the formation of colon cancer in rats.
Other researchers are finding that flaxseed oil keeps arteries elastic, countering the effects of aging and increased blood pressure. It is known that flaxseed oil raises the blood plasma concentrations of n-3 fatty acids (which protect the heart) in humans.
Flaxseeds themselves are highly nutritious. One tablespoon contains:
- Calories: 37
- Protein: 1.3 grams
- Carbs: 2 grams
- Fiber: 1.9 grams
- Total fat: 3 grams
- Saturated fat: 0.3 grams
- Monounsaturated fat: 0.5 grams
- Polyunsaturated fat: 2.0 grams
- Omega-3 fatty acids: 1,597 mg
- Vitamin B1: 8% of the RDI
- Vitamin B6: 2% of the RDI
- Folate: 2% of the RDI
- Calcium: 2% of the RDI
- Iron: 2% of the RDI
- Magnesium: 7% of the RDI
- Phosphorus: 4% of the RDI
- Potassium: 2% of the RDI
Since there is no set recommended dosage for flaxseed oil, limit your intake to one or two tablespoons of oil or one to two oil-filled capsules a day. Taking too much can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb other medications, supplements, and nutrients.
Including these tiny seeds can make a huge difference in your health and well-being so the next time you visit the grocery store, check it out.