We have all heard the saying, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” but the apple has some tough competition when it comes to helping people stay healthy. Scientific studies over the past half century indicate that the seeds of a special type of plant, called flax, is a nutritional powerhouse that rivals even the most nutritious foods. A small amount of this 'miracle food' each day, either ground into a meal or cold pressed into an oil, provides amazing health benefits that include the prevention and treatment of life threatening illnesses, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
A Long and Important History
The connection between good health and flax seed is nothing new. Humans have consumed flax seed since the dawn of civilization in ancient Mesopotamia. Hippocrates, in 650 B.C., documented the medicinal benefits of flax in his writings. In the 8th century, king Charlemagne lauded its greatness and ordered his subjects to consume flax regularly to stay healthy. In the industrialized modern world, flax left mainstream consciousness by way of processed foods and hydrogenated oils with a longer shelf life. However, in recent years, flax has received renewed interest due to its high levels of a specific type of unsaturated fatty acids, called Omega 3s, which include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These fatty acids are essential, possibly critical, to proper human cell function, but the human body is unable to produce them. The only way to obtain Omega 3s is through food, and flax contains more Omega 3's than any other food source.
Flax and Heart Health
The Omega 3 fatty acids found in flax seed are best known for their heart health benefits. ALA, in particular, proves to be effective in lowering cholesterol, blood triglycerides and blood pressure. The Omega 3s also keep blood platelets from forming clots that can lead to a heart attack. But the nutrients and health benefits of flax do not stop at heart disease prevention. That is only the beginning for this miraculous little seed.
Flax and Cancer Prevention
In addition to Omega 3s, flax seed contains lignan, a powerful type of phytoestrogen, or plant compound, that can help prevent hormone related cancers, specifically breast, prostate, and ovarian cancer. Also, recent scientific studies show that lignan can play a vital role in preventing other, non-hormone related types of cancer, including colon cancer.
Not only is flax a key component in the prevention of cancer, it may help treat the disease, as well. In the 1950's, Dr. Johanna Budwig, a pharmacist, bio-chemist and six time Nobel Prize nominee, discovered the powerful effects flax seed oil had on tumor cells during her scientific research of oils for the German government. Through her research, Budwig discovered that cells without the essential compounds and fatty acids found in flax oil did not function properly on the molecular level. As a result, the cells, when damaged or abnormal, were unable to die off since their electrically charged particles were not 'firing' properly. When the fatty acids and lignan contained in flax seed oil were introduced into the body, oxygen re-entered the cells. As a result, the cells' molecules began to fire properly and normal cell function was restored. In other words, the damaged, cancerous cells died, thus slowing tumor growth. Based on her findings, Johanna Budwig created a diet protocol that she used to treat her patients, the details of which you can find in her books: The Oil Protein Diet, 1952; Flax Oil as a True Aid Against Arthritis, Heart Infarction, Cancer, and Other Diseases, 1992; Cancer –The Problem and the Solution, 1999. The basis of Dr. Budwig's diet was a daily intake of flax seed oil mixed with a sulfurated protein, such as cottage cheese or yogurt, which helped the flax oil's compounds become more water soluble and able to penetrate cell membranes. Through her oil and protein diet protocol and additional treatment measures, Budwig was able to help patients, even those who were terminally ill, with a success rate of 90%.
In addition to Dr. Budwig's research, other studies show the promise of flax seed in treating cancer. In a clinical cancer research study conducted in 2005, newly diagnosed breast cancer patients were given a muffin each day for thirty days. Some patients ate a muffin containing 25 grams of flax seed, while a control group of patients ate a 'placebo' muffin without flax seed. By the end of the thirty days, biopsies of tumor cells showed that the group who consumed muffins containing flax seed had a reduction in tumor cell growth by 34%; a reduction in tumor aggressiveness; and apoptosis (death) of the tumor cells increased by 31%. The tumor cells in the patients who consumed the placebo muffins had no change. Scientists concluded with this study that “dietary flax seed has the potential to reduce tumor growth in patients with breast cancer.”
More Flax Health Benefits
Flax is not only beneficial in preventing and treating heart disease or cancer. The essential fatty acids and fiber in flax seed also helps lower blood glucose levels, thus preventing and, possibly, controlling diabetes. Daily consumption of flax seed can help other ailments, too, such as fatigue, dry skin, constipation, frequent colds, asthma, Alzheimer's, joint pain, menopause symptoms, depression, and obesity.
Incorporating Flax Into Your Diet
To incorporate flax seed oil into your daily diet, mix some with cottage cheese or yogurt, as Dr. Budwig prescribed, for a healthy breakfast or snack, or add some to a smoothie or protein shake. In addition, try it on vegetables, over a salad or mixed into your favorite dip. Flax seed oil has a low smoking point, so unlike other unsaturated oils, you cannot use it to fry food. In addition, flax seed oil must be refrigerated.
Ground flax seed can be mixed into food before, during or after cooking. Like the oil, you can mix ground flax seed into cottage cheese or yogurt, or you can sprinkle some on your morning cereal. Before baking, try mixing ground flax seeds into muffin, pancake or even cookie batter. You can even use ground flax seed as a thickener for soups, stews or chili. Whole flax seeds are hard to digest, and therefore, may not provide as many benefits as ground seeds. For best results, grind your own flax seeds in a coffee grinder right before you use them and refrigerate any leftovers.
The suggested daily amount for both flax seed oil and ground flax seed is two tablespoons. Both forms of flax can have a laxative effect if too much is consumed before the body is used to it. To begin, start incorporating flax seed into your daily diet slowly, starting with one teaspoon and gradually working your way up to two tablespoons.
The Bottom Line
Without the proper amount of Omega 3's in the body, normal cell function breaks down, leading to cell dysfunction and disease. Research shows that 99% of Americans are deficient in these essential nutrients, and history shows that as the consumption of foods containing Omega 3s and lignan began to wane in the second half of the 20th century, the rate of disease began to rise. Populations that consume proper amounts of Omega 3's in their daily diet, such as in Japan and in the Mediterranean, have significantly lower rates of heart disease and cancer. Could the answer to a growing health epidemic be as simple as two tablespoons per day of a food that has been around since the dawn of civilization? If it is, then what are we waiting for? In addition to that apple, why not try a little flax seed? It just may be the prescription we need to stay healthy and keep the doctor away.
© 2015 Kristen Hughes