Health column by Dr. Greg Feinsinger. Champion of Whole Food Plant Based Living and righteous person.
Hippocrates used flaxseeds to treat patients over 2,000 years ago. Dr. Michael Greger’s book “How Not to Die” and his website nutritionfacts.org cite recent studies that confirm that ground flaxseeds do indeed have several health benefits, described below:
HYPERTENSION: Double blind, placebo-controlled studies have shown that a few tablespoons of ground flaxseeds a day reduced systolic (upper) blood pressure by 15 points and diastolic (the lower number) blood pressure by 7 points compared to a placebo. This degree of improvement is more than what is seen with most blood pressure medications. The mechanism for blood pressure lowering is thought to involve removing inflammation that prevents natural vasodilation of blood vessels—i.e. relaxing the walls of arteries, results in lower blood pressure.
BREAST CANCER: Flaxseeds contain precursors of lignans—weak plant estrogens that dampen the effects of the stronger estrogens produced by premenopausal women. These precursors are converted to lignans by “good” bacteria in the gut microbiome. Lignans significantly reduce risk of getting breast cancer and help increase survival in women who already have it. Although several other plant foods contain lignans (or their precursors), flaxseeds contain 100 times more than any other food. The dose used in most studies was a tablespoonful a day.
MENSTRUAL BREAST PAIN: Some women complain of breast pain with their periods, and flaxseeds help prevent this, due to their estrogen-dampening effects.
OMEGA-3: Flaxseeds are a rich source of the fatty acid omega-3, important for brain health among other things.
PROSTATE CANCER: Dr. Dean Ornish proved over 30 years ago that regular exercise and a plant-based, whole food diet can reverse heart disease; subsequently he proved that the same diet can reverse early prostate cancer. Flaxseeds in particular appear to help prevent prostate cancer, to reverse elevated PSA, and to reverse early biopsy-proven cancer. As with breast cancer, the high levels of lignans associated with daily flaxseed ingestion appears to be responsible. Higher levels of lignans are found in the prostate fluids of men with a low incidence of prostate cancer.
BPH (BENIGN PROSTATIC HYPERTROPHY—ENLARGED PROSTATE): The prostate gland is the size and shape of a walnut and contributes to the seminal fluid in men. It surrounds the outlet of the bladder (urethra). Men on a lifelong animal-based diet tend to experience prostate enlargement as they age, which obstructs the flow of urine from the bladder. This results in a weak stream, incomplete emptying of the bladder, dribbling after voiding, and having to get up several times at night to urinate. The incidence of BPH is very low in populations who have been totally plant-based all their lives. Research has shown that men with BPH who are given 3 tablespoons of flaxseeds a day experience relief similar to drugs such as Flomax, but without side effects.
Why are ground flaxseeds recommended versus whole? The latter tend to go through the GI tract without releasing their nutrients. Ground flaxseeds—also called flax-meal—can be found in most grocery stores. Sprinkle them on cereal or salads. If a recipe calls for oil, ground flaxseeds make a healthier substitute.