By Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS
Scientific Advisor to Barlean’s
Flaxseed oil is —as they say in the entertainment press—“having a moment”. It’s a textbook example of the old saying, “everything old is new again”. And it couldn’t happen to a more deserving supplement.
A Rich History and Modern Rediscovery
Flaxseed and flaxseed oil have been integral to human diets for centuries, prized for their rich content of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid. However, as the focus shifted to other sources of omega-3s like fish oil, flaxseed's popularity waned. Today, with a renewed emphasis on plant-based nutrition and sustainable food sources, flaxseed is regaining its well-deserved recognition.
For example: at the end of 2023, the New York Times took a new look at flaxseed that concluded that flaxseeds are often overshadowed by more trendy superfoods but that they offer substantial benefits for gut health, not to mention their nutritional resume.
Nutritional Profile: A Small but Mighty Seed
Flaxseeds are a testament to the adage, "good things come in small packages." A serving of just two tablespoons of flaxseed packs a significant nutritional punch. It contains protein, fiber, magnesium, selenium, and thiamin, making it a versatile addition to any diet.
Comprehensive Health Benefits
The health benefits of flaxseed are broad and well-documented. A 2019 study published in "Nutrients" highlights flaxseed's antioxidative capacity and lipid-modulating properties. (3) These benefits extend to cardiovascular health, gastrointestinal support, and even brain development.
Flaxseed and Weight Management
Flaxseed's high fiber content contributes to satiety, aiding in weight management. A 2020 review in Current Drug Discovery Technologies cites that flaxseed consumption can decrease body weight and waist size, making it a valuable addition to a weight loss diet. (4)
Incorporating Flaxseed into Your Diet
Flaxseeds can be easily incorporated into your daily diet. They can be sprinkled on oatmeal, blended into smoothies, or added to salads. The key is to make them a regular part of your diet to reap their full benefits. For those who might be interested, Barlean’s Forti-Flax is awesome on top of frozen cherries and fresh blueberries mixed with full-fat or Greek yogurt with a handful of almonds.
Flaxseed Oil: A Valuable Source of Omega-3s
While the ALA omega-3 in flaxseed oil may not be quite as exhaustively researched as the other two omega-3’s (DHA and EPA), it remains a valuable source of omega-3s, especially for those following a plant-based diet. A 2023 comprehensive review in the European Journal of Medical Research underscores the health benefits of flaxseed oil, highlighting its antioxidant, and beneficial health-supporting effects. (5)
The Role of Flaxseed in Digestive Health
Flaxseed's high fiber content is not only beneficial for weight management but also plays a crucial role in digestive health. The fiber in flaxseed aids in bowel regularity and supports a healthy gut microbiome. This, in turn, contributes to overall digestive well-being and can help alleviate common digestive issues.
It’s also worth remembering that the last decade or so of research has shown us that the health of the microbiome (or gut) is connected to the health of almost every system in the human body, which is why the motto of functional medicine is “Treat the gut first”. The contribution of flaxseeds to a healthy microbiome is a pretty important benefit!
Flaxseed and Skin Health
Interestingly, flaxseed has also been linked to skin health. The omega-3 fatty acids and lignans present in flaxseed may contribute to healthier, more radiant skin. While topical application of flaxseed is popular in some circles, ingesting flaxseed is a more effective way to harness its skin benefits.
Flaxseed in Menopausal Health
For women undergoing menopause, flaxseed might offer some relief from menopausal symptoms. The lignans in flaxseed, due to their estrogen-like properties, may help in balancing hormones and reducing symptoms such as hot flashes.
Environmental and Sustainability Aspects
In today's world, where sustainability is increasingly something people really care about, flaxseed stands out as an environmentally friendly crop. It requires fewer pesticides and fertilizers compared to many other crops, making it a more sustainable choice for both consumers and the planet.
The resurgence of flaxseed in our diets is a nod to the wisdom of traditional foods. It’s another perfect example to put in the file entitled “Grandmother was right all the time.” With its rich nutritional profile and wide-ranging health benefits, flaxseed is a lot more than just a flash in the bucked of popular supplements; it's a staple that deserves a permanent place in our pantries. As we embrace these tiny seeds, we're not just following a trend; we're tapping into a time-tested source of nutrition and wellness.