Know your natural supplements: is flax seed good for the heart?

November 4, 2008 by  

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“All-natural” or “natural health product” or natural nutritional supplement“. These are the buzzwords that appeal to the health-conscious individual. Over the years, many natural health products have been introduced to the market, supposedly good for our health and vascular system.

Facts about flax seed or linseed

Flax seed oil, also known as linseed oil is extracted by pressing the ripe seeds of the flax plant Linum usitatissimum. Flax seed oil is a popular nutritional supplement because it contains high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and lignans thought to be good for cardiovascular health. Flax seed is also rich in dietary fibers which are of importance in lowering blood cholesterol levels.

The fatty compositon of flax seed oil are as follows (Source: Flax Council of Canada):

  • Monosaturated fatty acids 18%
  • Saturated fatty acids 9%
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids Omega-3s 57%
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids Omega-6s 16%

The nutritional value per tbsp (approximately 14 g) of flax seed oil is as follows (Source: Flax Council of Canada):

  • Calories: 124
  • Total fat: 14g
  • Omega-3: 8g
  • Omega-6: 2g
  • Omega-9: 3g

Those who say flaxseed is good for the heart

According to the Flax Council of Canada

flax components decrease inflammatory factors associated with atherosclerosis – also called “hardening of the arteries” – and may help prevent heart attacks and strokes.

In a Nurses’ Health Study of 727 women, flax seed supplementation decreased the levels of cell adhesion molecules in the blood, which are biomarkers of atherosclerosis.

Another report states that the intake of omega 3 fat-rich diet such as flax seed and its derivatives can prevent abnormal heart rhythms or arrhythmia. This has been demonstrated in cell cultures in the lab as well as in clinical studies of dietary supplementation.

Those who say flaxseed may not be beneficial as originally thought

In a review article published in the British Medical Journal in 2006, researchers reviewed the risks and benefits of omega 3 fats such as those found in flax seed oil for mortality, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, with the following conclusions:

Long chain and shorter chain omega 3 fats do not have a clear effect on total mortality, combined cardiovascular events, or cancer.

In a more recent study, researchers at the Univesity of Montreal found that consumption of flax seed oil by pregnant women, especially during the last 2 trimesters increased the risk for premature delivery from 2% to 12%. However, the increased risk was not observed among those who consumed flax seed (but only the oil).

To summarize, the health benefits of flax seed oil is not clearly known. However, it doesn’t seem to do much harm except in pregnant women.

Photo credit: matka wari at stock.xchng

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One Response to “Know your natural supplements: is flax seed good for the heart?”
  1. Thank you for the well researched article. It appears flaxseeds have more beneficial effects than the oil. Of course, more research is needed to determine the benefits we can derive from this healthy oil.

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