Flaxseed Oil Frequently Asked Questions
What Are the Health Benefits?
The essential fatty acids in flaxseed oil are its key healing components.
EFAs are particularly valuable because the body needs them to function
properly, but can't manufacture them on its own. Essential fatty
acids work throughout the body to protect cell membranes, keeping
them efficient at admitting healthy substances while barring damaging
One of the EFAs in flaxseed oil--alpha-linolenic acid--is known
as an omega-3 fatty acid. Like the omega-3s found in fish, it appears
to reduce the risk of heart disease and numerous other ailments.
Flaxseed oil is an excellent source of omega-3s: Just 1 teaspoon
contains about 2.5 grams, equivalent to more than twice the amount
most Americans get through their diets. Flaxseeds also contain omega-6
fatty acids in the form of linoleic acid; omega-6s are the same
healthy fats found in vegetable oils.
In addition, flaxseeds are a rich source of lignans, substances
that appear to positively affect hormone-related problems. Lignans
may also be useful in preventing certain cancers and combating specific
bacteria, fungi, and viruses, including those that cause cold sores
and shingles. When taken in ground form, flaxseeds provide an extra
fiber boost, easing the passage of stools and benefiting the digestive
tract in multiple ways.
Specifically, flaxseed oil (and flaxseeds) may help to:
- Lower cholesterol, protect against heart disease and control
high blood pressure. Several studies indicate that flaxseed oil,
as well as ground flaxseeds, can lower cholesterol, thereby significantly
reducing the risk of heart disease. Taking flaxseed oil may also
protect against angina (chest pain) and high blood pressure. In
addition, a five-year study done recently at Boston's Simmons
College found that flaxseed oil may be useful in preventing a
second heart attack. It may also help prevent elevated blood pressure
by inhibiting inflammatory reactions that cause artery-hardening
plaque and poor circulation.
- Counter inflammation associated with gout, lupus and fibrocystic
breasts. Omega-3 fatty acids appear to limit the inflammatory
reaction associated with these conditions. In cases of lupus,
flaxseed oil not only reduces inflammation in the joints, skin
and kidneys, but also lowers cholesterol levels that may be elevated
by the disease. Taking flaxseed oil for gout may lessen the often
sudden and severe joint pain or swelling that is a symptom of
this condition. In addition, the ability of omega-3 fatty acids
to boost the absorption of iodine--a mineral often found in low
levels in women suffering from fibrocystic breasts--makes flaxseed
oil potentially valuable for treating this often painful condition.
- Control constipation, hemorrhoids, diverticular disorders and
gallstones. Because they are high in dietary fiber, ground flaxseeds
can help ease the passage of stools and thus relieve constipation,
hemorrhoids and diverticular disease. In those with diverticular
disease, flaxseeds may also keep intestinal pouches free of waste
and thus keep potential infection at bay. Taken for inflammatory
bowel disease, flaxseed oil can help to calm inflammation and
repair any intestinal tract damage. In addition, the oil may prevent
painful gallstones from developing and even dissolve existing
- Treat acne, eczema, psoriasis, sunburn and rosacea. The essential
fatty acids in flaxseed oil are largely responsible for its skin-healing
powers. Red, itchy patches of eczema, psoriasis and rosacea often
respond to the EFA's anti-inflammatory actions and overall skin-soothing
properties. Sunburned skin may heal faster when treated with the
oil as well. In cases of acne, the EFAs encourage thinning of
the oily sebum that clogs pores.
- Promote healthy hair and nails. The abundant omega-3 fatty
acids in flaxseed oil have been shown to contribute to healthy
hair growth (in fact, low levels of these acids may cause dry
and lackluster locks). Hair problems exacerbated by psoriasis
or eczema of the scalp may respond to the skin-revitalizing and
anti-inflammatory actions of flaxseed oil as well. Similarly,
the oil's EFAs work to nourish dry or brittle nails, stopping
them from cracking or splitting.
- Minimize nerve damage that causes numbness and tingling as
well as other disorders. The EFAs in flaxseed oil assist in the
transmission of nerve impulses, making the oil potentially valuable
in treating conditions of numbness and tingling. The oil's nerve-nourishing
actions may also help in the treatment of Parkinson's disease,
a degenerative disorder of the nervous system, and protect against
the nerve damage associated with diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
- Reduce cancer risk and guard against the effects of aging.
The lignans in flaxseed oil appear to play a role in protecting
against breast, colon, prostate, and perhaps skin cancer. Although
further studies are needed, research undertaken at the University
of Toronto indicates that women with breast cancer, regardless
of the degree of cancer invasiveness, may benefit from treatment
with flaxseed oil. Interestingly, the oil's lignans may protect
against various effects of aging as well.
- Treat menopausal symptoms, menstrual cramps, female infertility
and endometriosis. Because the hormone-balancing lignans and plant
estrogens (phytoestrogens) in flaxseed oil help stabilize a woman's
estrogen-progesterone ratio, they can have beneficial effects
on the menstrual cycle, and relieve the hot flashes of perimenopause
and menopause. Flaxseed oil may also improve uterine function
and thus treat fertility problems. In addition, the essential
fatty acids in flaxseed oil have been shown to block production
of prostaglandins, hormonelike substances that, when released
in excess amounts during menstruation, can cause the heavy bleeding
associated with endometriosis.
- Fight prostate problems, male infertility and impotence. The
EFAs in flaxseed oil may help to prevent swelling and inflammation
of the prostate, the small gland located below the bladder in
males that tends to enlarge with age. Symptoms of such enlargement,
such as urgency to urinate, may lessen as a result. The EFAs also
play a role in keeping sperm healthy, which may be of value in
treating male infertility, and they can improve blood flow to
the penis, a boon for those suffering from impotence.
Note: Flaxseed oil has also been found to be useful for a number
of other disorders. For information on these additional ailments,
see our Dosage Recommendations Chart for Flaxseed Oil.
Other Flaxseed Oil FAQ's:
Flaxseed Oil: What Is It?
What Are the Health
Benefits of Flaxseed Oil?
Is Flaxseed oil beneficial
to body builders?
Golden vs. brown flax
seed - difference?
Is flaxseed good for children?