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Flaxseeds contain unique heart friendly properties, which the scientific research is only now beginning to reveal in greater clarity. Should we wait around for randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blinded trials and the FDA's explicit drug approval, or take out our coffee grinders and start incorporating the meal into our diet right now? Thankfully, its a choice you still get to make for yourself.
The biomedical literature freely available to view on the National Library of Medicine's bibliographic citation database MEDLINE reveals a growing number of foods, nutrients and plant compounds with cardiovascular disease reversing properties, with 129 of these characterized on our research project alone [see Clogged Arteries].
Of course, the vast majority of these studies are preclinical, non-human in nature, as only so much precious capital flows into research on natural substances, which by their very nature do not grant patents (and therefore offer little to no return on investment), nor easily reveal their secrets through the optic of pharmacology. This does not mean, however, that we must wait around for future randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled, multicenter trials to take some of this data to heart, letting it guide us into making simple dietary and lifestyle changes that could in fact prevent or regress disease at the same moment that it is most certainly nourishing us.
All the more reason why we should be encouraged by new research into the fabulous flaxseed's ability to reverse cardiovascular disease progression in a new animal study, especially considering that 30 billion dollars is pumped every year into the statin class of cholesterol-lowering drugs, which have been linked to over 300 adverse health effects.
If the science is now showing that a simple food could outperform a highly toxic patented chemical class of drugs, perhaps we are getting closer to the realization of Thomas A. Edison's famous prediction:
"The doctor of the future will give no medication, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, diet and in the cause and prevention of disease. "
Flaxseed's Potential Cardiovascular Disease Reversing Properties
A promising new study published in the American Journal of Physiology and Circulation Research titled, "The Effects of Dietary Flaxseed on Atherosclerotic Plaque Regression," looked at whether flaxseed in the diet of rabbits is capable of regressing atherosclerotic plaque, the primary pathological process associated with gradual constriction or sudden blockage in the arteries leading to cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. [i]
According to the study, "Dietary flaxseed can retard the progression of atherosclerotic plaques. However, it remains unclear whether these anti-atherogenic effects extend to plaque regression."
Rabbits were divided into either a regular diet (Group I) or a 1% cholesterol-supplemented diet (Group II), with the latter group showing signs of steady plaque growth, as well as lowered response to stress hormone (norepinephrine) induced vessel contraction and impaired relaxation response to acetylcholine, which are indications of endothelial dysfunction and atherosclerotic plaque progression.
Another group (Group IV) was given a 10% dietary flaxseed-supplemented diet, which resulted in "a significant ≈40% reduction in plaque formation (P = 0.033)," leading the researchers to conclude: "Dietary flaxseed is a valuable strategy to accelerate the regression of atherosclerotic plaques."
This is not the first report of flaxseed's seemingly miraculous ability to regress the pathological process that leads to the #1 cause of death in the developed world.
Back in 2004, the journal Atherosclerosis published a study in hamsters revealed that flaxseed might provide an ideal solution for aging women, who following the failure of their ovarian reserve in the mid-40's to late 50's, begin to develop adverse changes in their blood lipids and increased atherosclerotic lesions.
What the researchers found by using an animal model was that dietary flaxseed consumption was as effective estrogen (estradiol) for preventing some of the adverse blood lipid changes associated with the 'change of life,' and the furthermore, flaxseed was capable of preventing fatty streak area and the incidence of lesions that were also induced by hormone deficiency. [ii]
This finding is consistent with previously reported research that indicates that flaxseed has significant estrogen-like activity, however, without the well-known cancer risks associated with the use of estradiol (E2). [See: Confirmed: Flaxseed Contains 'Estrogens' That Regress Cancer.]
How Does Flaxseed's Cardiovascular Benefits Work?
Like any complex food, flaxseed has multiple modes of action. The three primary beneficial compounds are:
- Omega-3: Known as alpha-linoleic acid, this dietary fatty acid, which is relatively rare in the Western diet, is essential to human metabolism (meaning, we can't produce it ourselves), and has been the subject of thousands of studies, many of which indicate its value in reducing risk factors for heart disease.
- Soluble Fiber: Flaxseed is a rich source of soluble fiber, one of the benefits of which is to that it binds to bile acids (which include oxidized cholesterol and other fat-soluble waste products like toxic hormone metabolites, and other bile constituents) and help to pull them out of the body.
- Lignan: Lignans are a class of plant compounds with both estrogen-like and antioxidant properties. The major lignan found in flaxseed is known as secoisolariciresinol diglucoside, is metabolized into enterodial and enterolactone within the human body, which can affect a wide range of bodily tissues, including the reproductive and the cardiovascular systems.
What Are Some of the Other Benefits of Flaxseed?
Flaxseed is a true medicinal marvel. GreenMedInfo.com has identified research indicating it has potential value in preventing or treating over 50 health conditions. [See Flaxseed Benefits research]
Here are some highlights:
- Flaxseed Improves Skin Quality: A 2010 study found that supplementation of flaxseed oil diminishes skin sensitivity and improves skin barrier function and condition.[iii]
- Flaxseed Protects Against Radiation: A 2009 study found that dietary flaxseed prevents radiation-induced oxidative lung damage, inflammation and fibrosis in a mouse model of thoracic radiation injury.[iv]
- Flaxseed Helps the Swollen Prostate: A 2007 study found that dietary flaxseed improves lower urinary tract symptoms in men with benign prostatic hyperplasia as well as drug therapy.[v] A 2004 study found that flaxseed supplementation in combination with a low-fat diet reduced the proliferation of prostate cells and PSA in men.[vi] There are also 3 studies on GreenMedInfo.com indicating flaxseed has direct anti-prostate cancer properties.[vii]
How Much Flaxseed Should You Take?
While there is no hard and fast "right amount" for everyone, it makes sense to incorporate a tablespoon of ground flaxseed a day in a culinary application, such as oatmeal or a smoothie, if you are looking to attain a 'medicinal' dose. It helps to remember that regardless of flaxseed's evidence-based therapeutic properties, it is actually an excellent food, and should be incorporated into the diet in a way that actually provides some enjoyment (vitamin P[leasure] is of course as important as the nutritional composition of the food].
I personally try to consume a tablespoon of ground flaxseed daily. Grinding it fresh is ideal. This will also release the nutrient-dense interior of the seed for easy digestion, increasing the surface area by several orders of magnitude vs. consuming the seed whole.
Remember that you must consume enough liquid with the flax meal or it may constipate (this seed suck up quite a bit of water and produces a soothing mucilaginous gel as a result). On the other hand, when used properly with water, it is a traditional 'cure' for constipation.
For additional research on flaxseed's nutritional composition, you can visit the NutritionData.com page on flaxseed here: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/nut-and-seed-products/3163/2
Finally, for a discussion of other foods that may regress plaque buildup in the arteries, read our recent article on the topic, 7 Ways to Prevent and Even Reverse Heart Disease with Nutrition, or, view our research page on the topic: http://www.greenmedinfo.com/guide/health-guide-heart-health
[i] Andrew A Francis, Justin F Deniset, Jose A Austria, Renee K Lavallee, Graham G Maddaford, Thomas E Hedley, Elena Dibrov, Grant N Pierce. The Effects of Dietary Flaxseed on Atherosclerotic Plaque Regression. Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2013 Apr 12. Epub 2013 Apr 12. PMID: 23585134
[ii] Edralin A Lucas, Stanley A Lightfoot, Lisa J Hammond, Latha Devareddy, Dania A Khalil, Bruce P Daggy, Brenda J Smith, Neil Westcott, Veronica Mocanu, Do Yu Soung, Bahram H Arjmandi. Flaxseed reduces plasma cholesterol and atherosclerotic lesion formation in ovariectomized Golden Syrian hamsters. Atherosclerosis. 2004 Apr ;173(2):223-9. PMID: 15064095
[iii] K Neukam, S De Spirt, W Stahl, M Bejot, J-M Maurette, H Tronnier, U Heinrich. Supplementation of flaxseed oil diminishes skin sensitivity and improves skin barrier function and condition. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2010 Nov 18;24(2):67-74. Epub 2010 Nov 18. PMID: 21088453
[iv] James C Lee, Ryan Krochak, Aaron Blouin, Stathis Kanterakis, Shampa Chatterjee, Evguenia Arguiri, Anil Vachani, Charalambos C Solomides, Keith A Cengel, Melpo Christofidou-Solomidou. Dietary flaxseed prevents radiation-induced oxidative lung damage, inflammation and fibrosis in a mouse model of thoracic radiation injury. Cancer Biol Ther. 2009 Jan;8(1):47-53. Epub 2009 Jan 1. PMID: 18981722
[v] Wei Zhang, Xiaobing Wang, Yi Liu, Haimei Tian, Brent Flickinger, Mark W Empie, Sam Z Sun. Effects of dietary flaxseed lignan extract on symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia. J Ren Nutr. 2007 Jan;17(1):23-9. PMID: 18358071
[vi] Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, Cary N Robertson, Philip J Walther, Thomas J Polascik, David F Paulson, Robin T Vollmer. Pilot study to explore effects of low-fat, flaxseed-supplemented diet on proliferation of benign prostatic epithelium and prostate-specific antigen. Urology. 2004 May;63(5):900-4. PMID: 15134976