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Flaxseed has remarkable therapeutic properties, with over 50 potential applications in the prevention and treatment of disease, as documented in the peer-reviewed biomedical literature itself*
Flaxseed's role in breast cancer is one of the more compelling areas of research, considering this is the #1 form of cancer afflicting women today, and that most women still equate "prevention" with subjecting themselves to annual breast screenings involving highly carcinogenic 30 kVp gamma rays -- overlooking entirely the role of diet, as well as avoidable chemical exposures.
Given that flaxseed already has an exceptional nutritional profile, there are a broad range of reasons to incorporate it into the diet, even if only as a nourishing food. The main reason why the public is so enthralled by flaxseed (and rightly so!) is for its relatively high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, and the density of soothing, mucilaginous fiber it contains. Now, an accumulating body of scientific research reveals flaxseed's hitherto secret 'second life' as a medicinal powerhouse, confirming how timelessly true was Hippocrates proclamation that food is also medicine.
In 2005, the journal Clinical Cancer Research published a placebo-controlled study involving patients who received a 25 gram flaxseed-containing muffin over the course of 32 days. After observing a reduction in tumor markers and an increase in programmed cell death (apoptosis) in the flaxseed-treated patients, the authors concluded: "Dietary flaxseed has the potential to reduce tumor growth in patients with breast cancer."
Additional animal research supports flaxseed's role in suppressing human breast cancer. In immunosuppressed mice (thymus removed), flaxseed and an extract of pure secoisolariciresinol diglucoside from flaxseed was capable of suppressing the estrogen-fed (estradiol-17 beta) growth of transplanted human breast cancer tumors. Flaxseed does not just suppress estradiol production, as do blockbuster hormone-suppressive chemotherapy drugs like Arimidex (created by the chemical company which founded Breast Cancer Awareness Month!), but nudges estradiol metabolism into a positive direction by generating a higher ratio of the beneficial metabolite 2-hydroxyestrone versus the more harmful 16-hydroxylestrone.
The anti-cancer effects of flaxseed are not limited to breast cancer. Prostate cancer, another archetypally hormone-senstive cancer, is also benefited from this remarkable seed. In a 2008 study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, prostate cancer patients scheduled at least 21 days before prostate removal were randomnly assigned to one of 4 groups: 1) control (usual diet) 2) flaxseed-supplemented diet (30 g/d) 3) low-fat diet 4) flaxseed-supplemented, low-fat diet.
The authors noted "Proliferation rates were significantly lower (P < 0.002) among men assigned to the flaxseed arms." The study concluded: "Findings suggest that flaxseed is safe and associated with biological alterations that may be protective for prostate cancer."
How does flaxseed work to prevent and/or regress hormone-associated cancers? The surprising answer is it is due to flaxseed's distinctively hormonal and/or hormone-modulating activity. Flaxseed contains compounds known as phytoestrogens which have the ability to interact with cellular estrogen receptors.