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Flax Seeds & Its Benefits

This Blog highlights the benefits of taking Flax seeds and the effects of plant based phytoestrogens on the female menopause symptoms


 

Flax seeds (Linum usitatissimum) also known as common flax or linseed, are small oil seeds that originate in the Middle East thousands of years ago.

Flax seeds are available both as whole and ground seeds however it is better to consume ground seeds as whole seeds can be difficult to digest.

Brown flax seeds have slightly higher antioxidant activity than yellow flax seeds.

Flax seeds are very high in fibre and provide a good amount of protein. They are also rich in fats and one of the best plant-based sources of heart healthy Omega 3 fatty acids. They have high content of vitamins and minerals including phytoestrogens.

Flax seeds may be useful as part of a weight loss diet as they contain soluble fiber which becomes highly sticky when mixed with water. This fiber has been shown to be effective in depressing hunger and cravings potentially promoting weight loss.

Flax seeds may improve digestion by relieving diahorrea and constipation. They may also reduce fasting blood sugar in people with diabetes and lower the risk of several cancers.

Supplementing with flax seed oil could help improve skin smoothness and hydration and symptoms of Menopause i.e. Hot flushes, tiredness, dry skin etc.

Flax seeds are exceptionally rich in Lignans containing up to 800 times more than any other food. Lignans (are present in almost all plants acting as both antioxidants and phytoestrogens.

What are Phytoestrogens?

Phytoestrogens are plant-based compounds which are similar to the female sex hormone oestrogen. They have weak estrogenic and antioxidant properties. Flax seeds are one of the richest known dietary sources of lignans which function as phytoestrogens.

Flax lignans also help reduce blood pressure, oxidative stress and inflammation in the arteries. As they are fermented by bacteria in the digestive system, they may reduce the growth of several cancers especially hormone sensitive types such as breast, uterus and prostate cancer.


How does phytoestrogen work in the female body?

Oestrogen is a hormone which is released in a woman’s body and it regulates the menstrual cycle. The body endocrine system produces this hormone. Oestrogen plays a role in the development of a woman’s breasts, pubic hair and armpit hair in adolescence. Oestrogen controls a woman’s periods up until menopause. Low estrogenic levels due to age related menopause or surgical removal of ovaries causes loss of sexual desire and libido in women.

The chemical structure of phytoestrogens is similar oestrogen and hence it imitates the effects of oestrogen.

Once phytoestrogens enter the body the oestrogen receptors treat them as if it was actual oestrogen.

As phytoestrogens do not bind as strongly to the oestrogen receptors as oestrogen does hence the effects are weaker on the body as one would expect of oestrogen.


Benefits of Phytoestrogens:

Phytoestrogens are natural compounds found in plants and plant-based foods which, when are eaten, can affect a person in the same way as oestrogen produced by the body.

Foods which contain phytoestrogens are fruits, vegetables, legumes and some grains. Phytoestrogens are also known as dietary estrogens hence when a person eats foods containing phytoestrogens it can have a similar effect on the body as raw estrogen would have.

Women looking to rebalance their hormones as they approach menopause would find taking foods containing phytoestrogens beneficial. Peri-menopause is defined as a period before a woman reaches menopause and stops menstruating. At this time the hormone levels in the body are fluctuating and cause a variety of symptoms such as hot flushes, tender breasts, slow sex drive, tiredness, irregular periods and mood swings. Peri-menopause usually starts around the age of 40 and lasts until menopause.

These symptoms can be unpleasant and some women use hormone replacement therapy also known as HRT to control them.

The benefits of taking phytoestrogens has been scientifically proven to help in relieving hot flushes, preventing osteoporosis, combating menstrual issues, actively fighting breast cancer, promoting heart health. A study by Jennifer D Brookes (et al February 2004) published in the American Journal of Nutrition Volume 79. They reported supplementation with flax seed oil on the estrogen metabolism in post-menopausal women is to a greater extent than the supplementation with an equal amount of soy. This was based on the fact that phytoestrogens which are abundant in flax seed and soy have chemical structures resembling those of endogenous estrogens and have been shown to exert hormonal effects thereby affecting chronic diseases.

However, with benefits there are also some side effects as one would expect with taking any food in excess. Some of the risks are obesity, cancer and problems with reproduction. Flax seeds may cause mild laxative issues as they contain plant compounds that may adversely affect some people and are not considered safe for high level consumption during early pregnancy.

Cyanogenic glycosides (these are compounds made from thiocyanates in your body, which can impair thyroid function in some people so precaution needs to be taken by people with thyroid disorder).

It is advised to weigh the risks and benefits of any food product prior to consumption.

The benefits of phytoestrogen for women in the peri-menopausal stages still require further research.


References:

  • Flax seeds 101: Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits written by Adda Bjarnadottir, MS on March 28’2019

  • What are Phytoestrogens? Benefits and Foods: by Lana Burgess,17th Jan 2018

  • Increasing women’s sexual desire: The comparative effectiveness of oestrogens and androgens. Maurand Cappelletti., Horm Behav.2016

  • Magnesium: its role in nutrition and carcinogenesis. Braszczok U, et al.Rocz Panstw Zaki Hig 2013

  • Flaxseed: A Potential source of food, feed and fiber. Singh KK et al. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 2011

  • Flaxseed and Cardiovascular Health. Prasad K.J. Cardiovasc Pharmacol 2009.

  • Lignans and Human Health.Adlercreutz H. Crit Rev Clin Lab Sci.2007.

  • Plant sterols/stanols as cholesterol lowering agents: a meta-analysis of Randomised control trials. Budweis et al., Food and Nutrition research 2008.

  • Metabolic effects of dietary fibre consumption and prevention of diabetes.MO Weickert., The J of Nutr,2008

  • Thiocyanate overload and Thyroid disease. Erdogan MF. Biofactors 2003.

  • Diet and Cancer prevention. Greenwald P, et al. Eur J Cancer.2001


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