Flaxseed is emerging as an important functional food ingredient because of its rich contents of α-linolenic acid (ALA, omega-3 fatty acid), lignans, and fiber. Flaxseed oil, fibers and flax lignans have potential health benefits such as in reduction of cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis, autoimmune and neurological disorders.
Flax protein helps in the prevention and treatment of heart disease and in supporting the immune system. As a functional food ingredient, flax or flaxseed oil has been incorporated into baked foods, juices, milk and dairy products, muffins, dry pasta products, macaroni and meat products. The present review focuses on the evidences of the potential health benefits of flaxseed through human and animals’ recent studies and commercial use in various food products.
Flaxseed, or linseed (Linum usitatissimum L.), comes from the flax plant, which is an annual herb. The ancient Egyptians used flaxseed as both food and medicine. In the past, flaxseed was used mostly as a laxative. It is high in fiber and contains a gummy material called mucilage, both of which expand when they come in contact with water. They add bulk to stool and help it move more quickly through the intestines.
Flaxseed and flaxseed oil are rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid that may be helpful for heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), arthritis, and other health problems. Other omega-3 fatty acids include those found in fish oil, which are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Mackerel, salmon, and walnuts are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Flaxseed oil contains only ALA, not the fiber or lignans found in the flaxseed. Other plants that contain ALA include canola (rapeseed), soybean oil, walnuts, and pumpkin seed. Studies suggest that flaxseed may help prevent and treat of the following health conditions.
Flaxseed gets the nod because it’s high in the omega-3 fatty acid A.L.A. plus phytochemicals called lignans, and fiber. It’s great for heart and digestive health and to support the immune system. It may even lower cholesterol and possibly blood pressure in some people, researchers report.
The health benefits of flaxseed, such as protection from heart disease and arthritis, are probably due to a high concentration of the omega-3 fatty acid ALA. In addition to the important omega-3 fatty acid ALA,flaxseed, NOT the oil, also contains phytoestrogens, which are plant chemicals called lignans.
Flaxseed is the richest plant source of the ω-3 fatty acid i.e. α-linolenic acid (ALA) (Gebauer et al. 2006). Flaxseed oil is low in saturated fatty acids (9 %), moderate in monosaturated fatty acids (18 %), and rich in polyunsaturated fatty acid (73 %) (Cunnane et al. 1993). Of all lipids in flaxseed oil, α- linolenic acid is the major fatty acid ranging from 39.00 to 60.42 % followed by oleic, linoleic, palmitic and stearic acids, which provides an excellent ω-6:ω-3 fatty acid ratio of approximately 0.3:1 (Pellizzon et al. 2007). Although flaxseed oil is naturally high in anti-oxidant like tocopherols and beta-carotene, traditional flaxseed oil gets easily oxidized after being extracted and purified (Holstun and Zetocha 1994). The bioavailability of ALA is dependent on the type of flax ingested (ALA has greater bioavailability in oil than in milled seed, and has greater bioavailability in oil and milled seed than in whole seed)
Credit: US National Library of Medicine
University of Maryland Medical Center