Flaxseed Supplementation: An Integral Aspect of Vibrant Health and Anti-Aging
One of the most impressive natural agents that has been shown to combat aging, reduce risk of degenerative disease and help optimize health and well-being is the daily ingestion of ground flaxseed.
Flaxseeds are the richest source of a wondrous bioactive substance known as SLD (secoisolariciresinol diglycoside) that provides the body with a multitude of benefits. In fact, flaxseeds contain 800 times more SLD and related compounds (mammalian lignan precursors) than any other food on earth. Ingesting the equivalent of two heaping tablespoons of ground flaxseed (flaxseed powder) or approximately 40-50 gm of flaxseed is of great value in protecting female reproductive organs, and the male prostate gland from disease processes, keeping cholesterol within a safe range, supporting liver and gallbladder function, improving large bowel health, reversing fibrocystic breast disease, possibly supporting bone density and improving the texture and smoothness of the skin (an effect that almost everyone notices within the first few weeks of use). Here’s how and why flaxseed should be part of your daily wellness plan whether you are a woman or man.
Flaxseed and Breast Health
The SLD in flaxseeds are converted by large bowel bacteria into two estrogen-like substances known as enterolactone and enterodiol.
Enterolactone and enterodiol are classified as phytoestrogens (plant-based estrogens), which means they can bind to estrogen receptors on breast tissue, the endometrium of the uterus and cells on the cervix, and tone down the over stimulation of the body’s more potent estrogens to these tissues. This is important because over stimulation of these tissues by the body’s estrogens (or hormone replacement therapy or the birth control pill) is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, endometrial cancer and cancer of the cervix.
The phytoestrogens derived from flaxseed are so effective at protecting a woman’s reproductive tissues from estrogen over stimulation that a recently published Toronto-based hospital study demonstrated that flaxseed supplementation greatly improved symptoms in women who suffered from cyclical mastalgia.
Other studies have demonstrated that flaxseed supplementation can normalize estrogen production and reduce the build up of more cancer permissive estrogens (decrease synthesis of 16-alpha hydroxyestrone). Furthermore, flaxseed ingestion has been shown to directly slow down the breast cell division rate (antiproliferative), which is a factor in the prevention of breast cancer development. All indicators suggest that every adult woman (by age 16) should capitalize upon the benefits of flaxseed as it impacts the lifelong health of reproductive tissues.
Flaxseed and Prostate Health
The phytoestrogens derived from flaxseed helps to preserve prostate health in various ways. These phytoestrogens (enterolactone and enterodiol) block the over production of estrone hormone within fat cells. With weight gain, fat cells become larger and tend to manufacture more estrone hormone, which encourages prostate cells to synthesize more dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT, in turn, stimulates rapid cell division of prostate cells leading to prostate enlargement. DHT also promotes the growth of any existing prostate cancer cells. By age 50, 15 to 30 percent of men already have some cancer cells present within the prostate gland. Keeping DHT levels in check is considered to be an important step in preventing those cancer cells from dividing and spreading en masse throughout the prostate gland and metastasizing to other parts of the body. Thus, the ingestion of flaxseed on a daily basis provides important bioactive agents that indirectly slow the rate of prostate cell division, reducing the chances of prostate enlargement (benign prostatic hyperplasia) and hindering the promotion of cancer development. These same phytoestrogens also bind to receptors on the prostate gland helping to block the influence of other hormones, which may stimulate rapid prostate cell division. Other herbal compounds such as saw palmetto, pygeum africanum, soy isoflavonoids and beta-sitosterol can also block the build up of DHT and support prostate health. However, the daily ingestion of 50 gm of ground flaxseed each day should be included as a primary anti-aging, disease prevention strategy used by every adult male; as prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men and prostate enlargement problems will affect 80 percent of men if they live to old age.
Flaxseed and Cholesterol
Studies reveal that the same amount of flaxseed required to help maintain male and female reproductive tissue health (approximately 40-50 gm ground flaxseed) can also lower blood cholesterol by up to 10 percent in people with high cholesterol levels. More importantly, it lowers the bad cholesterol (LDL-cholesterol) by approximately 15 percent and concentrations of lipoprotein (a) [Lp(a)] by 7 percent. Lp(a) is now recognized as a significant risk factor for heart disease and flaxseed supplementation is the only known dietary intervention that can lower Lp(a) into a safer range if it is elevated. As it turns out, flaxseed contains soluble dietary fiber, which has proven cholesterol-lowering effects. All in all, daily flaxseed supplementation factors into a heart-healthy lifestyle program as well.
Flaxseed and Bowel Function
Flaxseed also contains insoluble dietary fiber, which acts as a bulking agent or roughage in the promotion of more regular bowel movements. Studies indicate that flaxseed supplementation provides a natural and gentle laxation effect, which is associated with relieving constipation, and promoting the health of the large bowel. Most people ingest less than half of the recommended amount of dietary fiber. By providing both soluble and insoluble dietary fiber, flaxseed is one of the few natural nutrition products that can help to keep cholesterol levels in check and maintain more optimal bowel function at the same time.
Flaxseed and Liver & Gallbladder Support
The daily ingestion of ground flaxseed has been shown to improve the flow of bile from the liver to the gallbladder, and ultimately into the intestinal tract. This effect helps to reduce the chances of gallstone formation and related gallbladder disease. Essentially, flaxseed supplementation induces a type of liver flushing effect, preventing the stagnation of bile, which can harden into stones if not eliminated in a timely fashion. Flaxseed supplementation also helps to prevent the conversion of bile into cholesterol, further facilitating a cholesterol-lowering effect by this action in the liver.
Flaxseed and Your Skin
Although the mechanism of action remains a mystery, virtually everyone who begins using flaxseed supplementation on a daily basis comments on the improved texture and smoothness of their skin all over their body. This is an effect that is usually noticed within the first month of using flaxseed on a daily basis. For those of us who use it, this is a wonderful additional benefit to its other premiere health-enhancing attributes.
How to Use Flaxseed
You can purchase ground flaxseeds (often marketed as flaxseed powder) or you can grind whole flaxseeds in a coffee grinder on a daily basis to maximize freshness of the product. Make sure your flaxseeds or powder are from organic sources.
Studies reveal that ingesting 40-50 gm of ground flaxseed per day provides the health-promoting benefits reviewed in this article.
This is the equivalent of two heaping tablespoons of ground flaxseed (flaxseed powder).
It can be mixed into a protein shake or fruit juice (e.g., orange juice). Many people sprinkle it on to their cereal or mix it into a bowl of low-fat yogurt. It can also be baked into low-fat muffins or flax-bread. The important thing is that you consume at least 25 gm per day, but more ideally 40-50 gm through whatever delivery system works for you. The best news is that it has a nutty, flavorful taste that is very palatable and enjoyable.
Flaxseed is truly one of nature’s gifts that you should incorporate into a proactive, anti-aging, disease prevention lifestyle. I personally recommend that you use it on a daily basis throughout your life.
Scientific Flaxseed References
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- Hutchins, A.M., et al. Flaxseed influences urinary lignan excretion in a dose-dependent manner in postmenopausal women. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev, 2000; 9, 10: 1113-1118
- Tham, D.M., et al. clinical Review 97: Potential health benefits of dietary phytoestrogens: a review of the clinical, epidemiological, and mechanistic evidence. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1998; 83, 7: 2223-2235
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- Kitts, D.D., et al. Antioxidant activity of the flaxseed lignan secoisolariciresinol diglycoside and its mammalian lignan metabolites enterodiol and enterolactone. Mol Cell Biochem, 1999; 202, (1-2): 91-100
- Kurzer, M.S., et al. Dietary Phytoestrogens. Annu Rev Nutr. 1997; 17: 353-381
- Richard, S.E., et al. Plasma insulin-like growth factor-1 levels in rats are reduced by dietary supplementation of flaxseed or lignan secoisolariciresinol diglycoside. Cancer Lett (Ireland), 2000; 161, 1: 47-55
- Li, D., et al. Dietary supplementation with secolariciresinol diglycoside (SDG) reduces experimental metastasis of melanoma cells in mice. Cancer Lett. 1999; 142, 1: 91-96
- Brzezinksi, A; Debi, A. Phytoestrogens: the natural selective estrogen receptor modulators? Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol, 1999; 85, 1: 47-51
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- Haggans, C.J., et al. Effect of flaxseed consumption on urinary estrogen metabolites in postmenopausal women. Nutr Cancer; 1999. 33, 2: 188-195
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- Thompson, L.U., et al. Anti-tumorigenic effect of mammalian lignan precursor from flaxseed. Nutr. Cancer, 1996; 26: 159-165
- Gross, P.E., et al. Effect of dietary flaxseed in women with cyclical mastalgia. Program and abstract of the 23rd Annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. Dec 6-9, 2000; San Antonio Texas. Abstract 153. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2000; 64:49
- Arjmandi, B.H., et al. Whole flaxseed consumption lowers serum LDL-cholesterol and lipoprotein (a) concentrations in postmenopausal women. Nutr Res 1998; 18: 1203-1214
- Jenkins, D.J.P., et al. Health aspects of partially defatted flaxseed, including effects on serum lipids, oxidative measures, and ex vivo androgen and progestin activity: a controlled crossover trial. Am J Clin Nutr, 1999; 69, 3: 395-402
- Flaxseed Lowers Cholesterol. Nutr. Science News. 1998; 3, 11: 575
- Velasquez, M., et al. Dietary Phytoestrogens: a Possible role in renal disease protection. Am J Kidney Dis., 2001; 37, 5: 1056-1068
- Clark, W.F., et al. A novel treatment for lupus nephritis: lignan precursor derived from flaxseed. Lupus, 2000; 9, 6: 429-436
- Denis, L., et al. Diet and its preventive role in prostate disease. Eur Urol. 1999; 35(5-6): 377-387
- Chen, W.J.L., et al. Hypocholesterolemic effects of soluble fibers. In Kritchevsky, D., Yahouny, G.D., eds. Dietary Fiber: basic and clinical aspects. New York: Plenum Press, 1986: 275-289
- Sanghui, A., et al. Inhibition of rat liver cholesterol 7-alpha hydroxylase and acyl C-A: cholesterol acyl transferase activities by enterodiol and enterolactone. In Kritchovsky, D., ed. Proceedings of the Symposium on Drugs Affecting Lipid metabolism. New York: Plenum press, 1984: 311-322
Dr. James Meschino, D.C., M.S., N.D.