Many studies in animals as well as humans have shown a huge promise for the use of ground flaxseeds in bringing down LDL cholesterol.
As an added bonus, eating flaxseeds also helps protect against breast, colon, and prostate cancer. Flaxseeds are filled with an abundant of nutrients including protein, iron, phosphorus, calcium, B vitamins and vitamin E. The amount of protein in flaxseeds is much the same as the amino acid found in soybeans and almonds.
The health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids
When it comes to the health benefits of flaxseeds, most experts will say that it has a high concentration of omega-3 fatty acid content and a high amount of lignan and soluble fiber that confer the benefits.
About 36% of flaxseed’ weight comes from oil. The oil has a different composition than most other oils: it is in essence fat of polyunsaturated essential fatty aids (EFAs). The body does make essential fatty acids so we need to consume them in our diets. A deficiency can lead to flaking and itching of the skin, hair loss, problems in the intestines, and growth retardation in children.
Most nutritionist attribute essential fatty acids as protective fats, of which there are two main groups, both important for life: Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Both of these types has what is considered a parent acid known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) for omega-3 and linoleic acid for omega-6.
Even though EFAs can come from meat and fish, plants are their main source. Omega-6 is mostly found in seeds, nuts, and legumes. Most Americans have too much omega-6s in their diets from the omega-6 rich vegetable oils such as safflower oil, soybean oil, and cottonseed oil that infuse our food supply. At the same time, we don’t get enough healthful omega-3 fats, which are not as much in our food supply as omega-6s are. This imbalance of the fats raises a huge troublesome situation, as it leads to negative health consequences. A person must therefore make a combined effort to raise omega-3 fatty acid intake, which is not so easy due to the fact that only a select few sources provide the beneficial omega-3 fat ALA. Food sources for ALA includes walnuts, leafy green vegetables, soy, canola oil, and flaxseeds– the richest source plant source ALA fatty acids.
Lignan, the other medicinal component in flax
Flaxseeds are very different among other plants not only because they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids but also because they have the highest amount of lignan, another essential ingredient related to heart health. Flaxseeds have up to 850 times the amount of lignan found in other oil seeds. Lignana are a type of phytoestrogen and are chemically the same as the isoflavones found in soy.
Lignans are broken down in the human intestine by friendly bacteria into two homone-like compounds, called enterodiol and enterolactone, and are absorbed and dispersed in the bloodstream. Here, they make use of powerful antioxidants that prevents the process of atherosclerosis, slash LDL cholesterol, prevent certan types of cancers, and can promote brain function much like estrogen replacement therapy.
Flaxseeds lower LDL cholesterol
The scientific evidence is out there: eating flaxseeds lowers blood cholesterol levels in people with either high or normal blood cholesterol levels. Most published clinical trials with humans demonstrates that eating a daily dose of flaxseeds, between 3 and 7 tablespoons, can lower LDL cholesterol up to 18%.
One study conducted at the University of Illinois at Chicago included almost 40 postmenopausal women assigned at random to one of two dietary routines: a normal diet with about 4 and a half tablespoons of ground flaxseed a day in the form of a muffin or bread or a normal diet with the same amount of sunflower seeds. After the couple of months treatment phase, the flaxseed group showed a remarkable redction in LDL chlesterol of 15%, while LDL was unchanged under the sunflower seed treatment group.
How do flaxseeds lower LDL?
Flaxseeds combat heart disease and promote a huge drop in LDL cholesterol in many ways. The majority of the scientific researched has concentrated on two elements in flaxseed known to specifically target LDL metabolism: soluble fiber and lignan. Reserachers in Canada found that even after extracting most of the fat (ALA) from the flaxseed before giving it to 20 subjects with hgh cholesterol, the group significantly lowered their LDL cholesterol by 8 percent without an accompanying drop in good HDL cholesterol after a few weeks. Because of the study’s findings, the researchers hypothesize that although the essential fatty acids from omega-3 contribute, the main way by which flaxseed lowers LDL cholesterol is most likely the lignan component of flax or the soluble fiber– or both.
Interesting research carried out by Kailash Prasad on rabbits propose that a particular lignan found in flax is the leading active element responsible for the LDL-cutting action of flaxseed. In this study, the lignan portion of flaxseeds was removed, and the rabbits were fed a cholesterol-raising food with or without lignan added. At the end of the two month test period, the rabbits that were fed lignan-containing chow exhibited a 36 percent reduction in LDL cholesterol in comparison to the controlled group. Furthermore, the rabbits’ aortas were checked for evidence of plaque formation. As wonted, the rabbits tht were on the high-cholesterol diet had significant plaque buildup, while the addition of lignans decreased atherosclerotic plaque by 70 percent! According to Kailash Prasad, the powerful antioxidant activity of lignan was largely responsible for the huge reduction in aortic plaque observed. So, lignans has shown significant antioxidant properties in addition to preventing blood platelets from clumping together and clotting– both important to preventing atherosclerosis.
Another way that flaxseeds lower chlesterol is the amount of soluble fiber it contains. A few ways in which soluble fibers are thought to contribute to LDL cholesterol reduction are by expanding the excretion of bile acids, blocking cholesterol absorption, and speeding up intestinal transportation time of feces. Researchers working guinea pigs at the University of Arizona set out to find out exactly how dietary soluble fiber works to decrease LDL cholesterol. Soluble fiber effects the structure of VLDL created from the liver such that the molecules have a higher content of phospholipids. This change in VLDL structure slows the transformation rate of VLDL to LDL, and less conversion equates to less LDL cholesterol circulating the bloodstream.
Some people may be allergic to flaxseed and could potentially have an allergic reaction. Clearly, if you know you are allergic to flaxseed, avoid eating it. Flax also has a considerable laxative effect and, like all dietary fiber, should be included to the diet in stages to prevent GI distress rather all at once. A high-fiber intake should be followed by sufficient fluid intake to prevent bowel blockage, a highly unlikely situation. Drinking 8-ounce glass of water after taking your daily 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds should be enough to avoid blockage situations.