Flax seed is derived from Linseed (Linum Usitatissimum) and is sourced from a blue flowering plant from the Linaceae family that is only prevalent in the Mediterranean area and India. The attributes of this miracle plant were adopted by our forefathers for its valuable oil (which is used to moisturize skin, leather and for medicinal purposes).
Intake of the seed for healthful benefits was also recognized by the early Egyptians and it was commonly used to achieve the silky black hair that made them esthetically differentiated in their time. Evidence of the use of flax seed by human beings has been traced to 30,000 B.C.
Flax seed comes in both a dark brown and a golden seed varietal but both are equally potent and flax is a miracle plant; truly one of Mother Nature’s incredible biological gifts to us. It has a number of applications that continue to be beneficial today in health, beauty and industry. It is widely grown in response to demand for organic alternatives for specific holistic therapies and supplements and demand continues to grow for the dynamic plant.
Flax Seed Health Benefits
Flax seed is rich in many valuable nutrients. Once it is processed flax seed is made up of 30% oil and 66% fiber and protein. The oil becomes a very excellent source of fatty acids which are essential for good health. The oil contains alpha linolenic acid, omega 3 and omega 6 acids which are critical for the construction of cell membranes in the body. Alpha-linolenic acid is a power anti-oxidant which assists the body in removing toxins from the blood stream and vital organs, as well as the digestive tract. It also assists by regulating bowel movements.
Flax is also an excellent source of fats known as phospholipids which are vital building blocks on the human body and essential for healthy brain functioning. For vegetarians flax seed oil is a very rich source of omega 3 which can be hard to source on a restricted diet. The essential fatty acids are necessary for the production of prostaglandins which regulate fat metabolism, management of inflammation, human hormone levels as well as enhancing immunity and cardiovascular and central nervous system functions.
Flax is currently being researched as a supplement for women entering into menopause. The high fiber of flax coupled with the health benefits of the essential fatty acids have shown to have a positive impact on hormonal modulation in clinical trials of women over the age of fifty in North America. Part of the hypothesis is that the average North American woman is not consuming a high fiber diet (unlike women in other parts of the world who consume lentils and other fibers on a daily basis). In other global communities women who enjoy high fiber diets experience fewer problems and side effects due to menopause than the average North American woman. And since modification of diet seems so difficult for most, adding a power daily supplement such as flax seed to the diet is fast and easy, providing assistance moderating hormonal fluctuations and reducing negative symptoms. The ease with which flax can be added to home cooked foods makes it an excellent supplement and easily implemented healthy diet change.
Agricultural Use of Flax Seed
A visit to the egg section in the grocery store and you will discover where more than 45% of the world’s production of flax seed is used for the agricultural sector. Given consumer demand for fortified products and eggs that are enriched with omega fatty acids, egg laying hens are provided with a feed that is highly rich in flax seed. This quality diet (although marginally more expensive in terms of production costs for the grower) results in a tangible increase in the omega fats in eggs making the consumption of eggs a very healthy advantage to any balanced diet.
It does not just stop at poultry farmers however. Given the fact that the omega fatty acids are easily absorbed into meats and preparations, omega enriched foods such as yogurt, tofu and other items that we bring to our table every day are fortified with the healthful addition of flax seed.
Linseed oil (flax) is an effective water repellent and is used in the production of stains and sealants for outdoor wood structures by the hardware industry. It is used by interior and exterior paint producers as it maintains its biochemical structure and assists in keeping the paint color lubricated, preventing drying up of the paint and extending its shelf life. It is also used as a lubricant in leather treatment and manufacturing for furnishings, shoes or garments to treat the leather and make it moist and supple to the touch.
Risks Associated With Flax Seed
As with all good things there must be a counter balance or negative attribute. Flax offers a high content of alpha linolenic acid (omega 3) which clinical studies have shown to increase the growth of prostate cancer in men when consumed in higher doses. Medical studies revealed that men who developed the advanced (and most severe life threatening form) of prostate cancer presented higher than average levels of alpha linolenic acid (ALA). The research clearly showed that this health risk was only presented with extremely high doses of flax seed to the diet and a second healthful oil (cod liver) was a greater risk as it contained higher doses of ALA.
According to research by Anick Berard, Professor of the University of Montreal’s Faculty of Pharmacy in Canada there is an increased risk of miscarriage in the first and second trimester by women who increase their intake of flax while pregnant. The study was conducted from 1998 to 2003 in Quebec and followed the habits of 3354 women who were attempting to have children. While the study did not conclusively blame flax seed for the issue it indicated that the unregulated use of supplements during pregnancy was the number one cause of miscarriage and referred to other supplements in combination with flax.
The ongoing concern for medical researchers is “how much is enough?” when it comes a good thing such as flax seed as a source of omega essential fatty acids. Additionally the concern seems to present as a dramatic increase of risks proportionate to an increase in the use of the supplement to abnormal levels. It concluded that all natural supplements should be reviewed with a pharmacist or family physician to avoid counter indications or drug reactions. Too much of anything (no matter how good) can have serious negative health consequences and so moderation is the key and always under the scrutiny and advice of a qualified medical practitioner.
For the average individual flax seed presents a number of valuable health benefits. It is not expensive and is easy to add into the diet either by means of supplement or by purchasing omega fortified products at the grocery store. Few people have developed an allergy to flax which makes it a safe product to incorporate into daily cooking and an affordable way to enhance daily nutrition and reach the goals to incorporate more fiber and omega essential fatty acids into our diets. Flax truly is a gift from nature and with so many healthful benefits and industrial applications it is likely to be a crop that continues to be in demand for future agricultural production around the world.