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What is it? Overview Usage Side Effects and Warnings

What is Flaxseed?

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Flaxseeds are the hard, tiny seeds of Linum usitatissimum, the flax plant, which has been widely used for thousands of years as a source of food and clothing. There are at least three flaxseed components with potential health benefits. The first is fiber, valuable in treating constipation . Flaxseed also contains alpha-linolenic acid, a type of omega-3 fatty acid similar to the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, but significantly different in other ways, and perhaps offering some of the same benefits. Finally, substances called lignans in flaxseed have phytoestrogenic properties making them somewhat similar to the isoflavones in soy.

The oil made from flaxseed has no appreciable amounts of lignans, but it does contain alpha-linolenic acid. See the articles...

The fiber in flaxseed binds with water, swelling to form a gel which, like other forms of fiber, helps soften the stool and move it along in the intestines. One study found that flaxseed can help with chronic constipation in irritable bowel disease. 1 Germany's Commission E authorizes the use of flaxseed for various digestive problems, such as chronic constipation , irritable bowel syndrome , diverticulitis , and general stomach discomfort . 2 Flaxseed may be slightly helpful for improving cholesterol profile , according to some but not all studies. 3 Purified alpha linolenic acid or lignans alone have not consistently shown benefits. 4 It may be the generic fiber and not the other specific ingredients in flaxseed that benefit cholesterol levels.

Flaxseed, its lignans,...

Safety Issues

Flaxseed is generally believed to be safe. However, there are some potential risks to consider.

As with many substances, there have been reports of life-threatening allergic reactions to flaxseed.

Because of its potential effects on estrogen, pregnant or breastfeeding women should probably avoid flaxseed. One study found that pregnant rats who ate large amounts of flaxseed (5% or 10% of their diet), or one of its lignans, gave birth to offspring with altered reproductive organs and functions 5 —in humans, eating 25 g of flaxseed per day amounts to about 5% of the diet. 6 Lignans were also found to be transferred to baby rats during nursing. 7 Additionally, a study of postmenopausal women found that use of flaxseed reduced estrogen levels and increased...