To start off with let’s establish the difference between linseed and flax, as there are so many flax and flaxseed products available. Flax is actually a fibre plant which is used to produce linen, it’s taller than linseed and produces a much smaller seed, and can’t yield as much oil. The linseed plant has a bigger seed with more oil, and its Latin name is Linum usitatissimum meaning most useful, and it has been used in all its forms for many thousands of years. So, if you purchase flax or flaxseed you are almost certainly buying linseed or linseed oil.
Our bodies do not produce essential fatty acids which we need for the health of every cell in our bodies, including the cells in our brains and hearts. Omega-3 is particularly important because it accounts for one-quarter of all our cell membranes, and makes the body super-efficient at absorbing nutrients.
A diet deficiency of Omega-3 fatty acids, which is quite common, can result in fatigue, dry skin, cracked nails, thin and breakable hair, constipation, immune system malfunction, aching joints, depression, arthritis, and hormone imbalances. Historically we would have gained these essential fatty acids from nuts and seeds, and before commercial farming, animals would have been fed a diet rich in omega-3 from linseed. You might have seen Omega-3 eggs, where the chicken’s diet has been supplemented with linseed. We need to top up our diets with Omega-3 and cut out highly processed, hydronated vegetable oils that end up being deposited as cellulite. These hydronated oils shut out Omega-3 and stop it doing its essential work.
Omega-9 is produced by the body, so it isn’t considered an essential fat, but along with Omega-3 and Omega-6, they play a vital role in our bodies. A balance of these Omega’s makes up every cell membrane in our bodies; everything depends on a balance of these fats for our cells to function and to allow these building blocks in our body to ‘communicate’ with each other. Omega-3 and Omega-6 are also the precursors to all the hormones the body makes. Omega-3 makes anti-inflammatory hormones and Omega-6 makes pro-inflammatory hormones.
Many begin with inflammation! Silent inflammation goes unnoticed for years and invades all body organs; it has no pain, but will continually assault organs, leading to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension. The most commonly associated illness is probably arthritis, but a lack of essential fats is also related to heart disease, disordered brain function, and high blood pressure, to name but a few.
Compounds known as lignans are found in foods such as grains, fruits, and vegetables. Linseed has the highest concentration of lignans, in fact, 100 times greater than other food substances, making it the best available source of these anti-cancer and phyto-oestrogenic compounds. Lignans are plant substances that get broken down by intestinal bacteria into two chemicals, enterodiol, and enterolactone. These substances circulate through the liver and are later excreted in the urine.
Whether you are experiencing perimenopause, menopause or are post-menopausal, there are many reasons why you should consider increasing the lignans in your diet. Lignans have potent anti-cancer effects, and an impressive number of studies have shown linseed lignans to help in the prevention and treatment of breast and colon cancer due to their ability to modulate the production, availability, and action of the hormones produced in our bodies.
Lignans are potent phyto-oestrogens. Studies have shown that women who have linseed in their diets experience significant hormonal changes, including alterations in oestradiol levels, similar to those seen with soya isoflavones. This makes linseed a great choice for women who want to avoid soya but still want the benefit of phytohormones. There are also anti-oxidant benefits to lignans, they have anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties, which means they help to prevent free radical damage to tissues, which is when cells are damaged and ageing and disease occurs. Protect your cardiovascular system with lignans; studies have found that lignans in flaxseed (linseed) significantly lower LDL, the so-called ‘bad’ cholesterol, while raising the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol and can reduce the incidence of atherosclerosis.
Studies have also shown that menopausal women with the highest blood levels of enterolactone had a BMI 4kg/m2 less than women with the lowest blood levels. So linseed may help to stabilise weight in menopausal women.
Linseed is an excellent source of fibre, as well as its phyto-oestrogenic properties, linseed is rich in soluble and insoluble fibre. Constipation may be a thing of the past if you include ground linseed to your diet, just make sure you take enough water with it. The fibre in linseed is much gentler and softer than that of wheat bran, and is less likely to irritate the bowel. When combined with fluid, linseed fibre forms a mucilage in the body which can significantly help reduce the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Fibre has also been shown to reduce both total cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood.
The total dietary fibre content in 45g of linseed (about ¼ cup) is 11.7g. This is nearly four times greater than the fibre contained in ½ cup serving of ground oatmeal.
Linseed meal is an excellent source of Omega-3 if it is freshly ground, you can grind your own in a coffee grinder, or buy ready ground from a reliable supplier. Linseed meal and linseed oil should be kept refrigerated, as it will quickly turn rancid. Aim to consume within two months. Linseed oil is not suitable for cooking, so use it in salad dressings instead.
Use 45g or ¼ cup of linseed three – seven times a week; add to soups, cereals, muesli, and flapjacks. Take two tablespoons of oil daily and add to salads and yogurt and smoothies. Alternatively, take 2-6 1000mg pods daily.
The best supplier I have found is The Linseed Farm. Farmer Durwin Banks and his sisters grow and cold press linseed oil on their farm in Horsham, Sussex.
Read more about my visit to The Linseed Farm HERE
Research source: The Wisdom of Menopause* Dr Christine Northrup