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Botanical name(s):

Linum usitatissimum. Family: Linaceae

Other name(s):

flax, linseed, lint bells, winterlien

General description

Flaxseed is an annual, grown in temperate and tropical regions. Oil extracted from the seeds is used as an alternative to fish oil. Flaxseed has a nutty flavor and is used in bread and bakery products. The seeds from the flaxseed plant are also used to make linseed cakes and in liniments. The stem of the plant is used to make linen thread.

Flaxseed contains the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid, which can be potentially beneficial in the prevention and treatment of atherosclerosis and in the reduction of the total blood cholesterol. It may help reduce inflammatory conditions such as psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, eczema, multiple sclerosis, and ulcerative colitis.

Medically valid uses

Evidence suggests that flaxseed oil is beneficial in preventing atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and heart attack. Flaxseed oil can be substituted for other vegetable oils in the preparation of foods.

Unsubstantiated claims

Please note that this section reports on claims that have NOT yet been substantiated through scientific studies.

Flaxseed is claimed to be helpful in treating bladder inflammation, gastritis, benign prostatic hyperplasia, vaginitis, menopausal hot flashes, rheumatoid arthritis, gallstones, elevated cholesterol levels, decreased lipoprotein A (involved in atherosclerosis), weight loss, asthma, and chronic cough.

Some theories suggest that flaxseed may be anticarcinogenic, inhibiting estrogen-stimulated breast cancer. It may also have sugar-reducing and antibacterial/antifungal/antiviral properties.

Dosing format

Flaxseed can be taken as the cracked or coarsely ground seed, using one tablespoon of the whole or bruised seed with 150 ml of liquid two to three times a day. It can also be taken as 2 to 4 tablespoons of milled linseed gruel a day. If taken in the oil form, 1/2 to 1 tablespoon can be put in salads or on vegetables each day. The oil is often baked into muffins. Taking flaxseed oil with food is important, as food emulsifies the fat and aids in its absorption.

In comparison:

  • Flaxseed oil: lipid reducing (lowering triglycerides).

  • Flaxseed preparation (made from seeds): laxative (for constipation, colons damaged by laxative abuse, irritable colon).

Side effects, toxicity, and interactions

The use of large quantities of flaxseed as a laxative with too little fluid can lead to ileus. However, with proper use there are no other side effects.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should consult a physician before taking any herbal medicines.

You should not take flaxseed if you have ileus, an esophageal or gastrointestinal stricture, or an acute inflammatory illness of the intestine, stomach, or stomach entrance.

Flaxseed may delay the absorption of drugs taken simultaneously.

Additional information

Click here for a list of reputable websites with general information on nutrition.