As our ancestors knew only too well, flaxseeds provide relief from both diarrhoea and constipation. Flaxseeds are high in both soluble and insoluble fibre – it is the insoluble fibre that adds bulk to digestive waste, thus acting as a laxative and relieving constipation.
It is thought that the soluble fibre binds to water in the digestive tract which causes it to swell and increase the bulk of the stool, therefore preventing diarrhoea.
The fibre contained in flaxseeds is prebiotic, meaning it will also feed the friendly bacteria in the colon, further helping to cleanse waste from the system.
High in Omega 3
Flaxseeds are one of the richest dietary sources of Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA). ALA is the parent or pre-cursor to Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA). Whilst ALA is considered an important fat, EPA and DHA are critical to human health. If we rely on plant based Omega sources, our bodies must be able to convert ALA to these important fats. Conversions of ALA to DHA and EPA are dependent on adequate levels of other nutrients, such as vitamins B6 and B7 (biotin), copper, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and iron.
If our body’s assembly line for converting ALA is working smoothly and we are getting enough omega 3 supportive nutrients, consuming ALA rich foods such as flaxseeds is extremely beneficial to health. By providing the compound at the beginning of the assembly line, the body can then decide the exact types and proportions of omega 3’s it wants to create.
The benefits of Omega 3 are well documented and many:
Alleviate Anxiety and Depression – EPA appears to be the best for depression with one study finding EPA to be as effective as Prozac.
Improve Heart Health – Omega 3’s can reduce blood pressure, prevent blood platelets from clumping together avoiding blood clots, keep the arteries smooth and free from plaque and reduce inflammation.
Improve Eye Health - DHA is a major structural component of the brain and retina of the eye, it may help to prevent macular degeneration.
Anti-Inflammatory – Whilst inflammation is an important part of any healing process, chronic low-level inflammation can contribute to almost all chronic Western diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
Brain Health – It is especially important to get enough Omega 3 as children and as we age. This will ensure optimal brain development in children and prevent age related mental decline as we get older.
High in Antioxidants
Abundant in flaxseeds are the antioxidant plant compounds – lignans. Lignans are unique fibre related polyphenols that provide us with antioxidant benefits for anti-aging, hormone balance and cellular health.
Lignans also have a mild oestrogenic effect – this can be beneficial to women’s health, especially in the menopause. If oestrogen levels are too high, the weak oestrogens from lignans can bind to oestrogen receptor sites, reducing total oestrogen activity. Conversely if oestrogen levels are too low, lignans can supplement levels thus promoting a more optimal balance.
The oestrogenic effect of lignans can also help to maintain bone density in post-menopausal women, lowering the risk of osteoporosis.
Folklore and history
The 8th century king, Charlemagne deemed flaxseed so important to the health of his subjects he passed laws and regulations governing its consumption. Pioneers in North America made dressings for cuts and burns from flaxseed flowers. Fibre from the plant was made into linen, and oil from the seed was used in paints, among other products.
Flaxseed is one of the world’s oldest crops, having been cultivated since the dawn of civilisation – in 500 BCE, Hippocrates himself used flaxseed as a remedy for intestinal discomfort. The Ancient Egyptians used flaxseed as food and medicine, one of the main traditional uses of this oily seed was to relieve constipation.
Add 1-3 tablespoons of ground flaxseed to a morning smoothie
Bake ground flaxseeds or flaxseed flour into muffins, biscuits and breads
High in Soluble and Insoluble Fibre
Vitamins: E, K, B1, B3, B5 (Pantothenic Acid) B6, B9 (Folate)
Minerals: Potassium, Magnesium, Calcium, Iron, Zinc, Copper, Manganese
Not suitable for young children