Visit our Re-post guidelines
Whereas flaxseed has been enjoying its "superstar" status in the nutritional world for quite some time, sesame is still rarely appreciated for its true healing power. All that is about to change...
The health benefits of flaxseeds have received a disproportionate amount of attention vis-à-vis other edible seeds in recent years, largely because they are one of the best sources of vegetarian omega-3 fatty acids known, but also because they are believed to contain the highest concentration of a class of beneficial phytocompounds known as lignans. But what does the science actually say? While it probably shouldn't be a competition, flaxseed literally lost a "peeing contest" with sesame seeds, the latter of which were found through urinary excretion biomarkers to produce even higher levels of the two most important mammalian lignans, namely, enterolactone (EL) and enterodiol (ED).
Many of our regular readers know that flaxseed is one of the most powerful healing foods in the human diet today. After all, we report on its amazing health benefits quite often. Indeed, the continual flow of new research on its health benefits is really quite amazing. There are now over 200 studies published each year on MEDLINE on their actual or potential health value, and over 3,000 studies have already been published on the topic.
Today, the GreenMedInfo.com database contains research on flaxseed’s value in over 70 diseases. To get a meta-view of that research, you can read our recently published article on the topic titled, “70 Reasons To Eat More Flaxseed.”
Most notably perhaps is the fact that flaxseed is one of only a few foods that has been clinically demonstrated to shrink breast tumors, as well as reduce breast cancer specific mortality. This is all the more amazing when you consider that every year millions of dollars are raised through cause-marketing campaigns to “find a cure” for breast cancer. And yet, billions of dollars later, no pharmaceutical preventive solution exists. For a list of hundreds of natural substances studied to prevent breast cancer, go to the GreenMedInfo.com database on the topic: Breast Cancer prevention research.
Flaxseed's unique benefits aside, there are other amazing seeds that have not received nearly as much attention by the research community or press, even though they deserve it. One such seed, worthy of the name "super food," is sesame.
Why Is Flaxseed Considered Superior To Other Seeds?
Why has flaxseed received disproportionately more attention than most others? The primary reason is that two reports, one from 1991, titled, Mammalian lignan production from various foods, and another from 1998, titled, “Phytoestrogen content of foods,” found that flaxseed is the richest source of mammalian lignan precursors, with levels 100-800 times higher concentrations than any other plant food tested. This has lead to the oft-repeated claim that flaxseed's lignan content makes it superior to all other plant foods, including sesame. This, however, is not true.
An important study on the topic, published in the journal Nutrition and Cancer in 2005 and titled, “Whole Sesame Seed Is as Rich a Source of Mammalian Lignan Precursors as Whole Flaxseed,” compared sesame seed with flaxseed in postmenopausal women.
Briefly, what makes flaxseed so therapeutic for hormone sensitive cancers like breast, ovary, and prostate cancer, is that it contains a type of polyphenolic phytocompound known as lignan, which is a co-passenger with fiber. Following consumption, a portion of these lignans are converted via gut microflora into metabolic byproducts known as “mammalian lignans,” namely, enterolactone (ED) and enterodiol (EL). These lignans have been studied to have anti-cancer properties, and are believed to interact selectively with estrogen receptors on cells, resulting in beneficial health effects.
In the 2005 study, researchers set out to determine the level at which these mammalian lignans are produced from precursors in foods bars containing 25 grams of unground flaxseed, sesame seed, or their combination.
The study was a randomized, crossover, wherein 16 healthy postmenopausal women supplemented their diets with the bars for 4 wk each separated by 4-wk washout periods, and urinary mammalian lignan excretion was measured at baseline and after 4 wk as a marker of mammalian lignan production.
The results of the study proved that sesame seed provides about an equally abundant source of lignan as flaxseed, as reflected by the urinary excretion of mammalin lignans. In fact, the authors noted that technically sesame contains more lignan than flaxseed:
“It was thus surprising that SB [sesame] consumption resulted in a greater, albeit not significantly greater, increase in urinary lignans than FB [flaxseed].”
The summarized their results:
This study demonstrated for the first time that, in postmenopausal women, 1) plant lignans in unground whole flaxseed, sesame seed, and their combination, in the bar formulation, are converted by the bacterial flora in the colon to mammalian lignans, as indicated by the significantly large increase in urinary excretion of ED and EL; 2) large amounts
of urinary ED and EL are produced from sesame seed-containing bars, as much as that produced with flaxseed, indicating the presence of large amounts of mammalian lignan pre cursors; and 3) sesame plant lignans are converted as well to another compound, which is excreted in the urine."
Another interesting finding was that the combination of flaxseed and sesame was not superior, as would be expected, in producing mammalian lignans when compared to flaxseed or sesame alone:
When sesame seed was combined with flaxseed, the conversion of SECO and other precursors in flaxseed to ED and EL was lower than what was expected from the conversion seen with sesame seed or flaxseed alone.”
The researchers theorized that this may have resulted from phytocompounds in one seed suppressing the conversion of lignan to mammalian lignans in another.