Flax is one of the best plant-based sources of alpha-linolenic acid, which converts in the body to the same anti-inflammatory and heart-protective omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon, sardines, and mackerel.
Flax contains soluble and insoluble fiber (about 3 grams of total fiber per teaspoon), which promotes intestinal health. It is a rich source of lignans (found in the ground flax meal, not flax oil) and phytoestrogens that protect against cancer of the breast, prostate, and colon. Phytoestrogens act as very weak estrogens, these weak estrogen block estrogen receptors which are believed to be protective against certain cancers. Women experiencing menopausal and perimenopausal symptoms often find that flax seeds help ease hot flashes and heavy bleeding, and promote healthy vaginal tissues.
For most people, freshly ground flax seeds are an excellent addition to a daily diet. Flaxseed meal provides a unique concentrated source of omega-3 oils, iron binders (IP6 phytate), and lignans. In laboratory testing, flax lignans demonstrated their ability to inhibit DNA mutation and chelate iron.
Lignans in the diet work within the body’s fat cells to reduce estrogen production. Ground flax seed and oil increase circulating levels of enterolactone, which is the primary phytoestrogen in flaxseed and is strongly anti-estrogenic. Beneficial levels of enterolactone correlate with lower breast cancer risk, ability to maintain bone mineralization and density; and help reduce LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (via fiber content). Flax lignans are anti-angiogenic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, detoxifying, and anti-parasitic.
Flax is safe for almost everyone (including pregnant or breastfeeding women), although it has a mild laxative effect that may bother people with inflammatory bowel disease. Keep freshly ground flax seed meal in the refrigerator in an opaque, airtight container. Whole seeds offer more benefits than flax meal. Flax seeds need to be ground since they will pass through the body undigested if eaten whole.
Routine use of flax oil (liquid or capsule) is not often recommended since it is found to be more expensive, less palatable that ground flax seeds, and the oil spoils faster. Most importantly it lacks the protective lignans found in ground flax.