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Flax Seed, History and Newly Discovered Benefits!

So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

Flax is truly an amazing grain which is proving itself over and over again as a nutritional wonder-grain. The scientific community is becoming more and more excited as it continues to learn about the healthful and healing effects of flax. Almost half the weight of this small, dark brown tear-shaped seed contains oil. And to a large extent, itís this oil thatís making the big splash among the nutritional experts of today. But itís not just the oil thatís making waves, as flax seed also contains several other remarkable nutritional elements that has everyone talking.

Flax was already under wide cultivation in the Babylon Empire in 3,000 BC and itís early beginnings are thought to precede this date by a couple of millennia. Through the history of man, flax has also been very important for the strong fibers in itís straw which have been extracted from the stems and woven into linen. Over the centuries, flax has been developed into different strains until today there are two main varieties grown, one for flax seed oil and the other for the fibers in the stem for cloth making.

Over half the oil found in flax seed consists of the highly sensitive fatty acid, Alpha Linolenic Acid (LNA). LNA will harden from the oxygen in the air if not protected from oxidation. This characteristic in flax seed oil has been exploited in industrial applications for hundreds of years. Paint flax seed oil on wood, for example, and over the span of a couple of days the oxidizing oils will harden, forming a protective barrier for the wood. This demonstrates flax oilís great qualities as an oil based coating for both wood and concrete which is still in wide use today in the paint industry. It is also a main ingredient in linoleum and is presently used in making particle board.

Itís not hard to find farmers that feed flax seed meal to their livestock as it aids their digestion and gives them a nice, shiny coat. And high levels of flax seed meal are now being fed to chickens producing eggs that demand a premium price which are rich in this omega-3 oil.

Flax was first brought to North America in 1617. By 1875 flax was being cultivated over much of the inhabited country. Flax was grown in North America mainly for itís oil used in industrial applications. During the two world wars, flaxís production had a marked increase as the need for this oil grew.

Over the centuries, flax oil has been used to coat farm tools to prevent rusting. It's whole seed has been boiled and used as a poultice for boils and other skin infections. The mucilage obtained from boiling whole flax seed has been used as a hair gel. And through the ages, ground flax seed has been eaten for itís healthful properties. Flax production has soared as the demand has tripled in just the last decade for flax as a nutritional supplement. The study of how flax relates to heart disease and cancer is in itís infancy but what has been learned to date shows solid evidence of it's healthful properties. As the nutritional benefits of flax continue to come to light, itís use will only increase.

Flax seed has some truly amazing nutritional characteristics. It is most noted for itís high levels of LNA, lignans and fiber which will be explored in much greater detail later. For a grain, flax seed also has a very high level of protein at 21%. The amino acid list for flax seed lines up fairly closely with wheatís essential amino acids. However, flax contains high amounts of fiber, vitamin E, folacin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6 and is extremely high in the minerals potassium, calcium and phosphorus. Containing many other nutrients as well, flax seed is an incredibly important nutritional source and contains all the nutrients necessary to correctly digest the oils located within the seed.

Because of the lubricative properties of the oil, flax seed is believed to help reduce the symptoms of arthritis. Current research tends to support the theory that flax seed is beneficial in lowering cholesterol and lowering the risk of heart disease, preventing cancer, correcting auto-immune disorders and the relief of constipation.

Fifty-seven percent of flax seed oil is Alfa-linolenic acid (LNA) which is the highest LNA food known in the world. LNA is one of the two essential fatty acids we must get from eating foods. Our bodies can't make this precursor nutrient our systems need to make other vital fatty acids which perform lifeís functions. Itís estimated that less than 1% of all fatty acids eaten by the average North American contain LNA with a whopping 95% of the population not getting enough of this vital fatty acid to be really healthy. This was not always the case. Technological developments in the last 125 years have largely changed our diets. Before the Industrial Revolution, when Americans hunted and gathered their food, there was as much as ten times more LNA in the diet as there is now. In addition, the intake of saturated fatty acids, and trans-fatty acids which were unknown in those days, has dramatically increased. These two dramatic changes in our diets are now causing real problems with our present day health. This causes all sorts of problems we don't need to have: growth retardation, weakness, impairment of vision and learning ability, motor un-coordination, behavioral changes, high triglycerides (fat) in the blood, high blood pressure, tissue inflammation, skin disorders, mental deterioration, hypertension, low metabolic rate and some kinds of immune dysfunction. Early research also points to LNA as an effective stroke reducing agent. Research is also learning that LNA appears to protect the heart against arrhythmia, a decease of the electrical stability of the heart. LNA inhibits Atherosclerosis, a inflammatory condition. But it is also thought that LNA works with flaxís other nutrients to help bring about this effect in reducing inflammation.

So, how much LNA does a person need? The US has no RDA for it; but the latest information suggests one to two percent of your total calories should consist of LNA. This equates to 2.7-5.5 grams of LNA per day for an adult. One teaspoon of LNA weighs about 4.75 grams. As flax seed contains about 20% LNA by weight, that would equate to 1 to 2 tablespoons of flax seed per day. To further clarify the picture on LNA and how it is affected by the other essential fatty acid, Linoleic acid (LA), see our Essential Fatty Acids pages . LA, which we already get too much of in our diets in North America, if eaten in too large amounts creates an LNA/LA imbalance and can inhibit absorption of LNA. The opposite is also true.

LNA during pregnancy and early growth is vital for correct nerve and visual development of the fetus and infant. LNA is also important in lowering blood triglyceride levels and because of this, it is believed to lower the risk of heart disease. It also reduces the chances of blood clots forming in the vessels. LNA is now under study to gain concrete evidence LNA reduces the risk of cancer.

Flax seedís other primary ingredient we are emphasizing in this report is a group of phytoestrogenic compounds known as lignans. Flax seed contains 100 times more lignans than the next closest food. Lignans get broken down by intestinal bacteria into enterodiol and enterolactone, two mammalian lignans. Lignans contain powerful anti-cancer fighting agents and are especially effective against breast, colon, uterus and prostate cancers by controlling the sex hormones in our systems. As one example, lignans seem to flush excess estrogen from the body. Research has just begun on this fascinating subject. Lignans also seem to have anti-fungal, antibacterial and anti-viral properties. Flax seed oil contains practically no lignans - you must eat the flax seed, first ground into a meal. Flax oil also is missing many of the nutrients needed to digest it. But these nutrients are located in the seed. Both from a health and economic standpoint, we suggest eating whole flax seed you grind yourself rather than the high priced flax seed oil.

Flax seed has been proven to markedly reduce cholesterol levels as effectively as oat bran and fruit pectin. This is probably due to itís unusually high levels of soluble and insoluble fiber. Flaxís high quality fiber teamed with LNA and the rich lignans work together to build healthy blood lipid patterns.

Of flaxís 28% fiber content, 2/3rds of it is mucilage, a soluble fiber. As an experiment, boil 1 tablespoon of whole flax seed in a cup of water. In about 5 minutes, a thick, clear liquid will appear. This soluble fiber acts as a wonderful lubricant in moving food through your intestinal system. It also carries with it cholesterol that has been expelled into the large intestine, preventing itís re-absorption. The mucilage alone is a great boon to health. Flaxís other fiber - itís insoluble fiber - also keeps things flowing though your intestinal tract.

Itís been shown that the fiber in 50 grams of flax seed eaten in muffins increased the number of bowel movements helping prevent constipation. The two types of fiber in flax seed maintain the fecal bulk and keep it moving through the colon.

The LNA and lignans in flax seed both support and strengthen the bodyís immune system. Through processes beyond the scope of this report, flax seed bolsters the immune system in several different ways strengthening it to fight off disease.

Flax seed is an important grain that will improve just about everyoneís health. Even healthy people can improve their health by eating ground flax seed. When the author started eating flax seed, he was in the US Army and considered himself to be as healthy as anyone. After eating 3 tablespoons of flax seed each day for about a month, he noticed some remarkable things begin to happen. Instead of coming back almost dead from a five mile run, he noticed his vitality increase to the point that on finishing a long run like this, he felt as fresh as he did before the run. He also noticed a big difference in his vision. Colors became much bolder as if they were Ďjumping outí at him.

Evidently, he was suffering from an LNA deficiency. Had he been getting enough LNA he probably wouldn't have noticed any changes which brings up a story. A guy added 3 quarts of oil to the engine of his car and found that it ran better. He was so excited about it that he told everyone he met that if they, too, added three quarts of oil to their engines their cars would also run better. Of course, most people know if their oil level is already up to the Ďfull lineí on the dipstick, that adding 3 more quarts of oil isn't going to make their cars run better. Rather the opposite will happen and their engine will likely blow a seal.

This little analogy goes a long way to show that no nutrient is going to make you feel better unless you have a deficiency in it. If your body is already getting plenty of a certain nutrient, giving it more won't make it feel better. And sometimes it will make the body feel worse if itís an oil soluble vitamin or some other nutrient that can cause a toxicity if itís eaten in over-abundance. (The author believes the real secret to good health includes eating good, wholesome foods containing all the nutrients needed for good health, coupled with exercise.) Flax certainly plays a role in this. As a full 95% of the population in North America are not eating enough LNA, it's a fairly safe bet that you will feel better after you start yourself on a diet of flax.

For flax to do any good in your system, the seed must be broken open. The outer shell on the flax seed is so hard that unbroken, it just passes right through you, retaining all itís nutrients. (So much for all those recipes that have whole flax seed as an ingredient!) Don't be tempted to buy expensive flax seed oil as it contains none of the lignans or fiber found in the seed. And Don't buy flax seed meal already ground. The outer shell of the flax seed is natureís perfect container and breaking it open exposes the delicate fatty acids to rapid oxidation. Grind only as much flax seed as you plan on using that day. Thereís several ways of breaking the seed open. The easiest way is to grind a small amount of dry flax seed in a blender or coffee grinder. When making bread, it can also be mixed with your other whole grains before grinding. Don't try to grind flax seed in a grain grinder by itself. It contains so much fat that the oily flax seed pulp will plug your grinder.

You can add flax seed meal to many different dishes. Mix it in yogurt, salad dressings, on prepared or cooked cereal and you can bake it into many different desserts or breads .

Much like putting too much oil in a car, it is possible to eat too much flax seed. Tipping the scales with too heavy an ingestion of LNA will prevent the proper digestion and use of itís sister essential fatty acid, LA. Three tablespoons of flax seed a day should be enough to take care of anyoneís LNA needs. And after several weeks or months of usage, you can probably cut it down to 1 to 2 tablespoons of flax seed per day after you've gotten over the LNA deficiency. How can you tell if you're getting too much? Your fingernails will get thin and break easily. But it would take months of ingesting too much LNA for this to happen.

Unlike some nutrients that are destroyed with heat, the LNA and lignans in flax can safely be heated up to baking temperatures without harming them. Studies have shown the LNA and lignans in flax seed can withstand temperatures up to 350 degrees F for 2 hours. These temperatures and times are worse than most home baking conditions.

How long can you store flax seed? The author is presently eating five year old flax seed that was stored in cans sealed with oxygen absorbers. He says itís still Ďjust fine.í Whole, un-ground flax seed should store in the kitchen without any special care given to it for a year. Stored in the absence of oxygen in a cool room, flaxís storage life will be increased to many years. With flaxís vitamin E content which is a good antioxidant, you can consider your flax seed a good storing commodity if you take good care of it.

Containing no gluten, flax seed should be perfectly safe to eat by those with wheat allergies. If you are in poor health, please consult your doctor before starting a diet of flax seed. If you are already under the care of a physician, we strongly recommend you first get your doctor's approval before eating flax seed.

Flax Recipes:

References: A great resource if youíd like to learn more. See other pages on essential fatty acids and flax.

This article from:

Black Diamond, WA(Zone 8a)

Great information Darius, I will let you know about the results of ingesting more than the recommended amount. Sometimes for an evening meal, I grind flax seed in its coffee type grinder and mix it half and half with psyllium (sp?)husks.Add a little hot water and cinnamon, and voila a hot cereal that is mostly non-digestable fiber, doesn't taste too bad, is very filling, and doesn't stick to your ribs or any other internal body part (if you know what I mean). The flax seed oil,at least according to Dr. Budwig is very suseptable to changes from heat. No doubt it is probably the healthiest oil for cooking, but it does seem to lose some of its healing properties by exposure to light, heat and air.
Still learning

Vancouver, WA(Zone 8a)

Darius, Interesting. Do you have a story to tell re: flax seed? How do you consume and how much?

So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

Anastatia, I just found that flax information a couple of days ago. I will tell you it will be added to my diet next week, though. I guess I'll have to wade through it until I see what works best for me.

Albany (again), NY(Zone 5b)

Bought some yesterday - will try to incorporate it into my protein shakes instead of flax oil.

So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

Sandra, don't forget you MUST crack the hard shell...

Albany (again), NY(Zone 5b)

yes, I requisitioned the old coffee grinder and just cleaned it out. Actually, I like the flavor of the seeds, rather "healthy" - for lack of a better word.

Louisville, KY

Thanks, Darius for this article. I have a small amount of seed and if I can find space this spring want to try growing some. I could benefit from all the good and positive things said about the oils and such.

Citrus Heights, CA(Zone 9b)

The omega 3 oil connection is a good one for heart heatlh etc.I haven't gotten into the flax seed, but I take fish oil caps. I don't eat enough fish so it's a good way to get the oil.They don't cost much (costco)and they are easy to take.

Payneville, KY(Zone 7a)

If you make a homemade granola, flax seed is wonderful in there :) It has other wonderful possibilities as Darius said. It is Women's Gold :)

Black Diamond, WA(Zone 8a)

Be careful about genderizing the benefits of flaxseed, or you will scare guys away from it. Now if you want to say that about evening primrose oil ok.

Payneville, KY(Zone 7a)


Pioneer, CA

We take 2 tablespoons of flax seed (ground in a coffee grinder)in orange juice almost every day and I think it's wonderful.My DH had cancer 3 years ago and I do everything I can to make sure he stays free of it.Thanks for all the information you give here Darius, love reading your threads.

So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

Jacquie, Thanks! I'm always amazed that folks actually read and like the food-tech stuff I post.

I just wish I knew more, and that I had started researching earlier. Probably could have added many years to my life.

Payneville, KY(Zone 7a)

Darius, you could write a book. You're the best! :) You could call it....Darius' Wonderful Words of Wisdom about Most Anything..... :) Kathy

Camilla, GA(Zone 8a)

One of the most important things that really help on the low carb way of eating..I also make the hot cereals, sprinkle on salads, make Bran muffins, full of the seeds, I even add to my low carb shakes.. They have a delicious taste.. Add to soups, chili, just about anything..

San Francisco, CA

Does Flax seed oil have vitamin E? I noticed that wheat grem and oil and soy bean oil were quotes has having vitamin E.

So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

Bumping for Newcomers

Payneville, KY(Zone 7a)

Darius, I bought some flaxseed oil capsules. Ralph has been taking and he said he feels better (don't know how). But I read the label and I've been meaning to ask the doctor if its okay for me to take because I take so many "medications".

Do you know anything about any interactions? Kathy

So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

Sorry, Kthy, I don't. But I cannot imagine any vitamin or essential nutrient for the body to be a problem.

Payneville, KY(Zone 7a)

I take a blood pressure medication, not for high blood pressure, but for my kidneys were are supposedly protected by this med as I'm diabetic. It says on the bottle if you take any heart medicine or blood pressure meds, you should talk to your doctor before taking. I thought that rather odd. ?

Guilford, CT(Zone 7a)

My Dad has a condition that causes his eyes to become too dry. His eye md had him take flax seed oil for a couple days...problem solved! Now he takes a capsule every couple of days to prevent it. How often to doctors mention a natural approach to ANYTHING? I take mine every 2 days...

Keaau, HI(Zone 11)

We started giving Flax Seed Oil to our Labradors...their coats became so beautiful we started taking it....rather, I took it and snuck it into DH's food. Now it is a staple... dogs still get it too!!!

So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)


Linden, VA(Zone 6a)

Thanks for the bump, Darius. I've been developing muscle and joint problems quickly lately and so have been researching EFA's, which I probably don't get enough of since I'm a vegetarian. I used to pay more attention to the healthy aspects of the diet before I started devoting so much time to my garden. I need to get back to that and start using up that flax seed that's in the freezer and gets used only once a month or so in quick breads.

Fort Pierce, FL(Zone 10a)

Thanks for the bump Darius. This is especially timely for me.....I just had a visit with my rheumatologist (sp) which is really almost like a social visit, other than the bloodwork. He renews my Rx for Mobic which is the only med I take. He knows I need knees replaced, one hip replaced, so the arthritis in my feet and spine are really the only thing in his territory. I had a terrible reaction to the Fosomax which builds up thin bones, so there is really nothing else for him to do. I will take excercise in the pool when it heats up for the summer.

All this being said, reading about natural things I can eat to help makes a lot of sense. You will have my son's undying gratitude for these threads. He had the good fortune to find a doctor that treated his Fybromyalgia (sp)? with MANY vitamins and one hormone and diet. He has come from a pain-ridden, bed-ridden man that after years of doctor shopping had almost given up hope. You should see him now! What a wonderful life he has.....but if he slips too far he pays the price! He gently preaches to me about all the benefits I could have from following nature's way. He will be interested in these threads also.

Thanks so much for sharing all your knowledge.

Chicago, IL(Zone 5b)

Thanks again, Darius....

Arlington, TN

This is also a great article on Flaxseed and how it benefits people that have cancer. Interesting article.

So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

Thanks. I'll add that to my file on Flax.

So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

Bumping for Newcomers and as a Reminder for the rest of us!

Okeechobee, FL(Zone 10a)

Thanks Darius,
I recently got the capsules for dry eye.
I have been eating this wonderful "birdseed" bread for 4 years. it is sold as wholegrain 9-grain bread. If I don't see some flax seed loose in the bag I don't buy it. I love nibbleing on it and crunching all the various seeds individually. I think I have actually lost weight by doing this. It takes 5+ minutes to eat a slice of toast this way.

McGregor, IA(Zone 4b)

I found a bag of whole flax seed at the grocery store awhile back, and have been keeping it in a jar in the freezer. Out of curiosity, I started crunching the whole seed, plain, with my teeth, rather than a grinder, and find I love it as a snack - especially when I read and am in a nibbling mood...I will have to limit my intake though, as it demonstrated it's usefullness as an anti- constipation aid rather persuasively!
I don't know whether it or the glucosamine tablets are responsible, but my knee pain of 6-9 months duration is 97% improved!

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

i was able to sneak 6 TB of milled flax into a batch of brownies; I decreased the oil in the recipe to compensate. Kids seemed not to notice since the chocolate covered them up. Reminds me of those funny brownies some people used to make~~~~

Chicago, IL(Zone 5b)

Funny Brownies???? you mean the ones with the greens added???? My mother always told me to eat my greens.....

Sharon....Is there anyway that you can really figure out which did the trick for you? Gluc or the flax? I will certainly watch my flax intake for I do not need any help in the digestive fact, I really need a cork!!! This may not be for me!


McGregor, IA(Zone 4b)

Hi Hap: I thought I would just keep taking both of them. I think a moderate intake of flax would be fine, I just overdid it! Are you having knee problems? I also have been exercising and stretching that knee, so it's likely a combination of all 3 factors.

Chicago, IL(Zone 5b)

EEEEEEEuuuuuuuuuuuu... Exercise.......??????..... UGH!

I have a form of arthritis which is not too good. I'm thinking about the flax but I don't own stock in a cork factory. But, thinking of that, and the wine that I drink, it may not be a problem.... LOL & SMP... which I have done..,


Audubon, PA(Zone 6b)

VERY long informational blurb (above) re: FLAX seed benefits... posted by DARIUS, BUT was VERY GOOD information for all of us , I might add!! I'm only a couple of years late in reading it. My wife & I started adding ""ground""flax seed to soups, salads, etc.. a few years ago when I discovered it's benefits thru reading. The whole seeds are practically indigestible by the human gut and go thru mostly undigested; thus losing most of their nutritional benefits. We also add Wheat Germ along with the flax seed for added benefits.
The alpha- LA in flax seed is converted in the body to Omega-3 type fat. and that's just what we need more of for optimum health. Our "modern" American diet is too rich in Omega-6 fats and we need to increase our intake of ALA or Omega-3 fats. Thanks, Darius, for all that important information.

NW Qtr, AR(Zone 6a)

Some additional info ..

Flaxseed is also high in B vitamins B-1 & B-2, as well as C, carotene, and vitamin E. Additional minerals include zinc, iron, small amounts of potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, and calcium. A simple tablespoon of flaxseed can be used as an alternative to those expensive vitamin tablets you may be taking.

From MayoClinic/Drugs & Supplements/Flaxseed and flaxseed oil (Linum usitatissimum) .. Flax seed OIL, specifically:
Flaxseed oil contains only the alpha-linolenic acid component of flaxseed, and not the fiber or lignan components. Therefore, flaxseed oil may share the purported lipid-lowering properties of flaxseed, but not the proposed laxative or anti-cancer abilities.
Preliminary evidence suggests that alpha-linolenic acid may be associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer.

More about the Flaxseed & flax oil, from the .. {Natural Standardģ Patient Monograph, Copyright © 2006 ( Commercial distribution prohibited. This monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. You should consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions.} Here >

A very interesting note about the Flax seed OIL ..
A common myth about the benefits of flaxseed oil ...
As more and more people become aware of the importance of fat in their diet, there's growing interest in the benefits of flaxseed oil. Flaxseed oil is rich in a type of fat known as omega-3 (you'll also see it written as n-3).

Over the past few years, a number of studies have shown that fish oil (which is also high in omega-3 fatty acids) can reduce the risk of heart disease, lower your blood pressure, and also alleviate some of the symptoms of depression.

Because flaxseed oil also contains omega-3 fatty acids, it's easy to confuse the benefits of flaxseed oil with those of fish oil. However, what many don't realize is that the omega-3 fatty acids found in flax are not the same as those in fish.

Flaxseed oil
Fish oil contains two omega-3 fatty acids known as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Flaxseed oil, on the other hand, is rich in alpha-linolenic acid, which is the "parent" fatty acid to DHA and EPA.

Although similar in structure, the benefits of alpha-linolenic acid, EPA, and DHA are not the same.

Your body converts alpha-linolenic acid rapidly into EPA, and more slowly into DHA. Roughly 11 grams of alpha-linolenic acid is needed to produce one gram of DHA and EPA. However, other foods in your diet can easily put the brakes on this conversion process.

A diet that's rich in trans-fatty fatty acids, for instance, will "interfere" with the conversion of alpha-linolenic acid into EPA and DHA. Trans-fatty acids are found in foods such as cookies, some types of margarine, chips, cakes, and popcorn.

When you see hydrogenated oil on the ingredients label of a food, there are probably some trans-fatty acids in there somewhere.

It's also very important to make sure that your diet contains the right balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

A healthy diet consists of roughly two to four times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. In other words, for every four grams of omega-6 fatty acids, aim for at least one gram of omega-3 fatty acids.

Because traditional sources of fat (such as butter) have been replaced with vegetable oils (sunflower oil and corn oil, for example), the typical diet contains 14 to 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids.

A diet that contains too many omega-6 fatty acids at the expense of omega-3 fatty acids also limits the conversion of alpha-linolenic acid into EPA and DHA.

This doesn't mean there are no benefits of flaxseed oil. Foods high in alpha-linolenic acid (such as walnuts and flaxseed oil) are a useful addition to the diet of anyone who wants a leaner, healthier body.

They should, however, be consumed as part of a diet containing high-fat, cold-water fish (such as salmon) and/or fish oil supplements.

- Magpye

McGregor, IA(Zone 4b)

Popcorn is high in trans fatty acids?

Linden, VA(Zone 6a)

Not if you pop it yourself with liquid oil or air-popped.

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