I often get asked if there are any other ways to obtain omega3 fatty acids besides fish, or krill oil. The answer is yes, and one of the easiest and best is with flax seed. First a little history. Flax was extensively cultivated in ancient Ethiopia and ancient Egypt.
So, flax seeds contain high levels of dietary fiber as well as lignans, an abundance of micronutrients and omega-3 fatty acids. Lignan, is a plant estrogen as well as antioxidant. Flax contains up to 800 times more lignans than other plant foods.
Consensus is that eating flaxseed plays a part in halting the cellular activity that leads to cancer growth and spread. As a source of omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseed can alter how cancer cells lump together or cling to other body cells, which are factors in how fast cancer cells proliferate. According to a 2007, multi-site study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health, involved researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Omega-3 fats are used by the body to produce Series 1 and 3 prostaglandins, which are anti-inflammatory hormone-like molecules. Reducing inflammation is a significant factor in conditions such as asthma, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, migraine headaches, and osteoporosis.
The Omega-3 fats in flax also reduce the formation of blood clots, which can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke in patients with atherosclerosis or diabetic heart disease. Omega-3 fats are also needed to produce flexible cell membranes. Cell membranes are the cell's gatekeepers, allowing in needed nutrients while promoting the elimination of wastes. While important for everyone, flexible cell membranes are critical for persons with diabetes since flexible cell membranes respond better to insulin and absorb glucose better than the stiff membranes. Which result when the diet is high in saturated or hydrogenated or trans fats. Also in the colon, omega-3 fats can help protect colon cells from cancer-causing toxins and free radicals, leading to a reduced risk for colon cancer. Individuals whose diets provide greater amounts of omega-3 fatty polyunsaturated fatty acids like those in flax have lower blood pressure than those who consume less, according to data gathered in the International Study of Macro- and Micro-nutrients and Blood Pressure (INTERMAP) study (Ueshima H, Stamler J, et al. Hypertension).
Eating about an ounce of ground flaxseed each day will affect the way estrogen is handled in postmenopausal women in such a way that offers protection against breast cancer but will not interfere with estrogen's role in normal bone maintenance. In addition to lessening a woman's risk of developing cancer, the lignans abundant in flaxseed can promote normal ovulation and extend the second, progesterone-dominant half of the cycle. The benefits of these effects are many. For women trying to become pregnant, consistent ovulation significantly improves their chances of conception. For women between the ages of 35 and 55 who are experiencing peri-menopausal symptoms such as irregular menstrual cycles, breast cysts, headaches, sleep difficulties, fluid retention, anxiety, irritability, mood swings, weight gain, lowered sex drive, brain fog, fibroid tumors, and heavy bleeding, a probable cause of all these problems is estrogen dominance. Typically, during the 10 years preceding the cessation of periods at midlife, estrogen levels fluctuate while progesterone levels steadily decline. Flaxseed, by promoting normal ovulation and lengthening the second half of the menstrual cycle, in which progesterone is the dominant hormone, helps restore hormonal balance.
Researchers recruited 29 postmenopausal women who had suffered from at least 14 hot flushes each week for at least one month, but would not take estrogen because of a perceived increased risk of breast cancer. After taking 40 grams (1.4 ounces) of crushed flaxseed each day for six weeks, the frequency of hot flashes decreased 50%, and the overall hot flash score decreased an average 57% for the 21 women who completed the trial. Until more is known, Web MD says pregnant women and possibly breastfeeding mothers should not supplement their diets with ground flaxseed. Many experts believe it's better to consume flaxseed than flax oil, which contains just part of the seed, so you get all the components. So, how much flaxseed do you need? The optimum dose to obtain health benefits is not yet known. But 1-2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed a day is currently the suggested dose, according to the Flax Council of Canada. Here are more tips for using, buying, and storing flaxseed:
- Buy it ground or grind it yourself. Flaxseed, when eaten whole, is more likely to pass through the intestinal tract undigested, which means your body doesn't get all the healthful components. If you want to grind flaxseed yourself, those little electric coffee grinders seem to work, I use a mortar and pestle.
- Milled = ground = flax meal. Don’t be confused by the different product names for ground flaxseed. Milled or ground flaxseed is the same thing as flax meal.
- Buy either brown or golden flaxseed. Golden flaxseed is easier on the eyes, but brown flaxseed is easier to find in most supermarkets. There is very little difference nutritionally between the two, so the choice is up to you.
- Find it in stores or on the Internet. Many supermarket chains now carry ground or whole flaxseed (or flaxmeal). It's usually in the flour or baking aisle or the whole-grain cereal section. You can also find it in health food stores, or order it through various web sites.
- Check the product label. When buying products containing flaxseed, check the label to make sure ground flaxseed, not whole flaxseed, was added. Flaxseed is a featured ingredient in cereals, pasta, whole grain breads and crackers, energy bars, meatless meal products, and snack foods.
- Add flaxseed to a food you habitually eat. Every time you have a certain food, like oatmeal, smoothies, soup, or yogurt, stir in a couple tablespoons of ground flaxseed. Soon it will be a habit and you won’t have to think about it, you'll just do it.
- Hide flaxseed in dark, moist dishes. The food dishes that hide flaxseed the best usually have a darkly colored sauces or meat mixtures. No one tends to notice flaxseed when it's stirred into enchilada casserole, chicken parmesan, chili, beef stew, meatloaf or meatballs.
- Use it in baking. Substitute ground flaxseed for part of the flour in recipes for quick breads, muffins, rolls, bread, bagels, pancakes, and waffles. Try replacing 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the flour with ground flaxseed if the recipe calls for 2 or more cups of flour.
- Keep it in the freezer. The best place to store ground flaxseed is the freezer. Freeze pre-ground flaxseed in the bag you bought it in, or in a plastic sealable bag if you ground it yourself. The freezer will keep the ground flax from oxidizing and losing its nutritional potency.
- Whole flaxseed keeps longer. The outside shell in whole flaxseed appears to keep the fatty acids inside well protected. It’s a good idea to keep your whole flaxseed in a dark, cool place until you grind it. But as long as it is dry and of good quality, whole flaxseed can be stored at room temperature for up to a year.
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