Flaxseed has been found to lower LDL cholesterol as well as aiding brain function and protecting against certain cancers- mostly breast, prostate and colon cancers. It is an antioxidant, lowers blood pressure, stabilizes blood sugar, and lowers your risk of blood clots. Fully 35% of a flaxseeds weight is oil made of good polyunsaturated essential fatty acids. It is packed with protein, vitamins and minerals.
Flaxseeds are one of the few plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids, the same thing you get from fatty cold water fish like salmon and sardines. Omega-3 fatty acids provide strong protection for the heart. Omega-6 fatty acids also exist; people eating the standard Western diet get an over abundance of those from safflower oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil and corn oil- all of these frequently show up in salad dressings and prepared foods. These need to be balanced by omega-3s to prevent problems. Canola oil is another source of omega-3 fatty acids. The polyunsaturated fatty acids in flax keep the cell membranes flexible. When the cell membranes in LDL cholesterol are flexible, the cholesterol stays in the blood where it can be cleared out rather than attaching itself to the blood vessel walls where it creates blockages.
Why are omega-3 fatty acids good for you and omega-6s bad? Omega-3s convert in the body to anti-inflammatory compounds while omega-6s convert into compounds that trigger inflammation in the body.
The omega-3 fatty acids aren’t’ the only way that flaxseed lowers cholesterol. They also contain lignans and soluble fiber.
Lignan is a phytoestrogen like that which is found in soybeans. In the body, it metabolizes into a hormone-like compound that lowers LDL cholesterol, inhibits atherosclerosis and protects against the hormone-driven cancers of the breast and prostate. To get these benefits, you must eat the whole seed, not just the oil. Lignans also inhibit production of bile acids and decrease arterial plaque formation.
25% of the fiber in flaxseeds is soluble. Soluble fiber blocks absorption of cholesterol in the intestines, increases the excretion of bile acids (which the body uses to make cholesterol) and increases the excretion of cholesterol. One thing to be careful of is that anytime you increase soluble fiber in the diet you must increase your fluid intake at the time you eat the fiber- if the fiber pulls too much fluid from the bowel it can create an obstruction. If you add 2 tablespoons of flaxseed to your diet, add an 8 oz glass of water, tea or juice, too, and add it, like any fiber, to your diet gradually as a sudden increase in fiber can create temporary gas and diarrhea.
Two tablespoons of flaxseeds provides 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids, more than the 2.2 grams minimum recommended by the National Institute of Health. It is easier to use ground flaxseed than whole, but because ground flaxseed goes rancid quickly, buy whole and grind as you need them or, if you buy it ground, keep it in the freezer and remove as needed. It thaws very quickly. Ground flaxseed can be sprinkled on hot or cold cereal, added to any baked goods like muffins or cookies, or sprinkled into the mayonnaise or mustard in sandwiches. Flaxseed oil can easily be added to salad dressing, mayonnaise, or drizzled on vegetables in place of butter. Keep flaxseed oil refrigerated.
Cholesterol Down by Janet Bond Brill, Ph.D., R.D., LDN