Sunday, September 24, 2023

Heart-Protective Benefits of Flax Seeds

Flax seeds have many compounds that help protect and improve heart health.

Flax seeds—the seeds of the flax or linseed plant—are commonly used for relieving constipation and improving digestion. However, new research shows that they have many compounds with properties that help in heart disease, diabetes, breast and colon cancers, arthritis, fragile bones (osteoporosis), and neurological and immunity-related disorders.

In this article, we will focus on the heart-protective benefits of flax seeds.

Disclaimer: Irrespective of what Hippocrates said, food is not medicine; the two serve different purposes. Do not consume any food item in lieu of your medications. Use the information in this article to learn about the benefits, read more from the reference links, and have a healthy discussion with your doctor. Only after her consent can you incorporate that food into your diet; don’t do it on your own.

Nutrients in Flax Seeds and Flaxseed Oil

Flax Seeds

Flax seeds have 7% water, 29% carbohydrates, 18% proteins, and 42% fats.

Experts advise consuming 15 grams (two tablespoons) of flax seeds a day. Based on this number, they are a great source of magnesium (20% daily value), manganese (19% daily value), vitamin B1 or thiamine (18% daily value), phosphorous (16% daily value), dietary fibres (10% daily value), selenium (10% daily value), copper (9% daily value), and vitamin B9 or folate (7% daily value).

Flax seeds also contain the following nutrients:

  • Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA): Essential omega-3 oil. Anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetes, and heart protective. Used in the treatments of kidney disease, ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, migraine headaches, depression, eczema, psoriasis and respiratory conditions such as pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Nearly half of the fats in flax seeds are ALA. Fifteen grams of flax seeds contain 3.4 g of ALA, more than double our daily requirement. Since excess ALA is not harmful, flax seeds are a safe and fantastic source of ALA.
  • Proteins: One-fifth of flaxseed weight is in proteins, which are of high quality and on par with soybean protein. Since flax seeds are gluten-free, people sensitive to gluten can consume de-fatted (fats removed) flaxseed flour to get good vegetarian protein.
  • Lignans: Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-menopausal, and heart-protective. Flax seeds have 75 to 800 times more lignan than other plant foods. Incidentally, lignans are different from lignins, a word you may have heard before. The former are compounds found in all plants and are digested in the intestines, while the latter are indigestible compounds found in all types of wood.

Flaxseed Oil

Flaxseed oil has fibres and proteins removed from flax seeds. Vitamins and minerals also get removed in the process. Two tablespoons (fifteen grams) of flax seeds contain two teaspoons (ten millilitres) of flaxseed oil.

Heart-Protective Benefits of Flax Seeds

The cardiovascular benefits of flax seeds come from their multiple compounds.

Flax Seeds in High Blood Pressure

  • Regular consumption of flax seeds reduces systolic and diastolic blood pressures significantly. These benefits were found with 30 grams of flax seed consumption, double the recommended amount for normal people.
  • The BP reduction was more prominent in trials involving more than three months of flax seed use. So the researchers concluded that regular and long-term consumption of flax seeds is more beneficial.
  • A 2023 paper that evaluated 33 different clinical trials on the subject found that flax seeds reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressures by an average of 3 mmHg each. The scientists concluded that flax seeds can be an effective supplement for BP management along with routine medicines.
  • The BP-reducing action is due to ALA and lignans in flax seeds. So flaxseed oil with its lignans removed, has only a marginal effect on BP lowering.

Flax Seeds for High Cholesterol

  • Multiple trials have shown that regular consumption of flax seeds reduces triglycerides, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol (the so-called ‘bad’ cholesterol). It also increases HDL cholesterol (the ‘good’ cholesterol).
  • This benefit came from eating 30 grams of roasted flaxseed powder a day for just three months. The researchers attribute it to ALA, flax fibres, and lignans. So flaxseed oil may not show the full benefit.

Flax Seeds in Inflammation

  • Some, but not all, clinical trials showed that flaxseed consumption reduced different inflammatory blood chemicals.
  • This benefit is due to ALA in flax seeds and makes the blood vessels resilient to developing heart disease.

Flax Seeds in Blood Clotting

Flax seeds reduce the tendency of platelet blood cells to stick together, lowering the risk of undesirable blood clotting.

Flax Seeds in Heart Disease

  • Oxidation of LDL cholesterol is a step in the development of heart disease. Lignans in flax seeds (but not the omega-3 oil, ALA) prevent LDL cholesterol oxidation due to their antioxidant properties. Flaxseed oil will not give this benefit since it does not have lignans.
  • By reducing BP, cholesterol and its oxidation, inflammation, and blood clotting tendency, flax seeds prevent plaque formation inside blood vessels (atherosclerosis) offering protection against the development of heart disease.
  • Flax lignans are shown to reduce plaque buildup by up to seventy-five per cent.

Flax Seeds in Heart Arrhythmias

ALA is found to normalise the heartbeat. So flax seeds may help treat irregular heartbeats (arrhythmia) and heart failure. But more research is needed.

Please seek proper medical care for heart failure or arrhythmia, as they are not conditions to treat on your own.

How Much Flax Seeds Should You Consume?

  • Two tablespoons (fifteen grams) of flax seed can be consumed daily for normal use.
  • Many medical studies have used four to five tablespoons of ground flax seed powder.
  • Consume flax seeds with water as they can cause constipation otherwise.
  • Chew the seeds extensively before swallowing them or get them ground and eat the powder. Read on this website: Is ground flaxseed better than whole flaxseed?
  • Instead of flax seeds, half a tablespoon (eight millilitres) of flax seed oil can be consumed daily. It will also give 3.4 grams of ALA like the seeds but does not have flaxseed proteins, fibres, vitamins, minerals, or lignan compounds. So given a choice, consume flax seeds and not the oil.

Most of the information in this article is taken from my upcoming book to be published by Macmillan Publishers in Nov 2023. The book discusses a thousand such preventive health tidbits. It covers twenty superfoods, their nutrients, health benefits, recommended amounts and excess levels. It also explains how to select and store and who should avoid them. Some of the superfoods are tomatoes, coconut, capsicum (Shimla mirch), drumsticks, amla (Indian gooseberry), jamun (Java plum), turmeric, cinnamon, flax seeds, asafoetida (hing), and sabja (sweet basil seeds).

To Read More

First Published on: 11th July 2023
Image Credit: BalashMirzabey on Freepik


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