Incorporating whole flaxseeds in your diet may do more than give your oatmeal an extra crunch. You may improve your digestive and cardiovascular health by eating flaxseeds. You may even reduce inflammation in your body and improve athletic performance. You can add flaxseeds to oatmeal and cereal or mix them into muffin and bread recipes. Organic seeds come from farms that don't use petroleum-based or synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.
Flaxseeds are packed with the essential fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid. Your body needs this acid to produce omega-3 fatty acids. A study in the "International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism" found decreased rates of inflammation and improved performance in athletes who consumed omega-3 fatty acids. Over time, this also decreased their risk of injury and disease.
The alpha-linolenic acid found in flaxseeds also helps to maintain cardiovascular health. A study published in the "American Journal of Physiology" showed that consuming flaxseeds prevented atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, that occurs from eating foods that are high trans fats and dietary cholesterol. Another article published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" reviewed 28 studies on flaxseed and low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, levels. The results showed that consuming whole flaxseeds, not flaxseed oil, significantly lowered LDL and total cholesterol.
Two tablespoons of whole flaxseeds contain 5.6 grams of dietary fiber, which improves digestion and keeps the colon healthy. Lignans and mucilage are two forms of fiber found in the seeds. Mucilage is a water-soluble fiber that forms a sort of gum within the digestive tract. Among other benefits, this helps to keep bowel movements soft and regular. The Mayo Clinic cautions against overeating flaxseeds. In large doses or without consuming adequate water, the seeds can cause constipation.
A deficiency of omega fatty acids and fiber has been linked to increased risk of breast, colorectal and prostate cancers. Flax contains high amounts of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. The lignans may be responsible for helping to prevent certain forms of cancer. A study published in the "Journal of Medicinal Food" found that whole flaxseeds slowed the growth of breast cancer cells. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is currently conducting research on the potential of flaxseeds to prevent ovarian cysts.
- International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism: Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Physical Performance Optimization
- American Journal of Physiology: The Alpha-linolenic Content of Flax Seed Can Prevent the Atherogenic Effects of Dietary Trans Fat
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Meta-analysis of the Effects of Flaxseed Interventions on Blood Lipids
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Flax Seed
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Flaxseed and Flaxseed Oil
- Mayo Clinic: Flaxseed and Flaxseed Oil
- Nutrition Journal: Nutrition and Cancer, Review of the Evidence for an Anti-Cancer Diet
- Journal of Medicinal Food: Extraction of Lignans From Flaxseed and Evaluation of Their Biological Effects on Breast Cancer MCF-7 and MDA-MB-231 Cell Lines
Erica Kannall is a registered dietitian and certified health/fitness specialist with the American College of Sports Medicine. She has worked in clinical nutrition, community health, fitness, health coaching, counseling and food service. She holds a Bachelor of Science in clinical dietetics and nutrition from the University of Pittsburgh.