Flax (Linum usitatissimum) is a blue flowering crop that produces small, flat seeds ranging in color from golden yellow to reddish brown. The seeds are commonly consumed in one of three ways: whole seed, ground seed (powder or meal), or flaxseed oil. In the last decade, flaxseed has garnered attention due to its reported health benefits. The American Botanical Council reported a 177% increase in sales of flax products in 1999 alone. Most of the benefits reported from flaxseed consumption are believed to be due to the following three important components found in flaxseeds, α-linolenic acid (ALA), lignans, and fiber.
Flaxseed oil differs from whole and ground flaxseed by being devoid of both fiber and lignans. It is a unique oil in that it is composed of 73%polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), 18% monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and 9% saturated fatty acids (SFA), making it a low-saturated fat food. It is also the richest known source of the omega 3 (n-3) fatty acid, ALA, which comprises 55% of the total fatty acids. In fact, the percent of fat as ALA in flaxseed oil is 5.5 times higher than the next highest sources, walnuts and canola oil.
Uses of Flaxseed
Flaxseed is used primarily for constipation. In cases of gastritis, colitis or other inflammations of the digestive tract. Lowers blood fat levels often associated with heart attacks and strokes. Reduces harmful blood cholesterol levels with its soluble fibers. Prevents colon and breast cancer through its rich source of lignin’s, a documented anti-cancer agent. Improves moods, diminishes allergies and produces healthier skin.
- Flaxseed is most commonly used as a laxative.
- Flaxseed is also used during menopause for hot flashes and breast pain.
- Flaxseed oil is used for various conditions including arthritis.
- Both flaxseed and flaxseed oil have been used for high cholesterol levels and in the prevention of cancer.
Flax and Heart Disease
Flax has been suggested to protect against cardiovascular disease (CVD). A number of mechanisms have been proposed by which flax may exert its beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system:
- Reducing serum cholesterol
- Reducing platelet aggregation
- Reducing inflammatory markers
- Improving glucose tolerance
Anti-inflammatory and Antiplatelet Effects
Since atherosclerosis has been identified as an inflammatory disorder, there has been much interest in the effect of n-3 fatty acids on inflammation. Dietary supplementation with ALA significantly decreased inflammatory markers in a study in middle aged men.
Although ALA is a precursor of EPA and DHA, it may have independent effects on blood pressure and blood lipids.
- Hypolipidemic Effects:
The ability of whole flaxseed (or its powder) to reduce cholesterol in humans has been supported in severalstudies. A review of 9 clinical trials suggests that 15-50 grams of flaxseed a day (either whole or powder) can modestly reduce total and LDL cholesterol by 1.6 to 18% in both normo– and hypertensive patients without any significant effects on HDL or triglycerides.
- Flaxseed oil does not seem to be as effective in reducing cholesterol as whole flaxseed and flaxseed powder.
- Glucose Metabolism
Some studies have suggested that flaxseed may improve glucose homeostasis. In a study, participants (after an overnight fast) were given bread made either from flaxseed or wheat flour. Blood glucose samples were taken at baseline and at 15, 30, 45 and 60 minutes after the meal. A 28% reduction was observed for those who consumed bread with flaxseed flour compared with those who consumed wheat bread. Favorable effects on glucose metabolism observed from flax consumption was believed to be due to improvement in insulin sensitivity. This is likely due to the soluble fiber content of flax, which may delay postprandial glucose absorption in the gut.
Flax and Cancer
A strong positive relationship has been established between high concentrations of plasma estrogen and an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Counteracting the effects of estrogen with antiestrogenic therapies decreases the incidence and growth of invasive and noninvasive breast cancer. However, some of the medications have serious side effects.
Flaxseed is the richest source of the mammalian lignan precursor secoisolariciresinol diglycoside (SDG). SDG is converted to the lignans enterolactone and enterodiol in the colon by intestinal bacteria. Lignans have a very similar chemical structure to some of the therapies available for breast cancer, and recent research has focused on using lignans for cancer treatment and their role Breast Cancer in cancer prevention.
Flaxseed supplementation has shown beneficial effects on breast cancer in laboratory animals.
- In a study, mice were injected with human cancer cells and then fed a typical lab chow diet for 8 weeks. At 8 weeks, rats were randomly assigned into a group that continued with the chow diet or to a 10% flaxseed diet. At the end of the study, flax seed supplementation was shown to reduce the tumor growth rate and reduce metastasis by 45%.
- In another study, feeding nursing mice with a 10% flax seed diet protected the offspring from mammary gland tumors. When challenged with a carcinogen to induce mammary gland tumors, they had significantly lower incidence of tumors, tumor load, mean tumor size, and tumor number compared to those whose mothers had not received flaxseed supplementation.
Flaxseed supplementation (particularly ground flaxseed) has shown to be beneficial for prostate cancer in both animal and human studies. The beneficial factor may be the lignans found in flaxseed.
Strengthening the Kidneys with a Warm Breakfast and Healthy Snack
Excerpt from “Chinese dietary therapy” by M. Cissy Majebe in New Life Journal (AprilMay 2003)
Jeffrey Yuen, an 88th generation Daoist priest, is the Academic dean of the acupuncture program at the Swedish Institute in New York City. Mr. Yuen believes that nutrition is integral to good health.
He states "dietary therapy is the highest level of healing as it forces consciousness to evolve. The effects of dietary therapy are far reaching as food satisfies both physical hunger and emotional hunger". Mr. Yuen is a leader in the restoration of the spiritual roots of Chinese medicine.
We each consume food daily, and because the food choices we make are intricately connected to our health and well-being, this nutritional healing is healing that is accessible to each of us. But nutrition is not just about the food we consume. The workings of the digestive system are also important in nutrition. Chinese medicine acknowledges that the nutritional content of food consumed is moot if an individual's digestive system is so weak that it is unable to extract nutrients from the food.
In Chinese medicine theory, the spleen is responsible for the strength of the digestive system. If the spleen becomes weak, its ability to extract life force energy, or Qi, from the food an individual eats is compromised, and this will have a harmful effect on a person's health and vitality.
If the spleen Qi is weak, a person will be prone to developing damp conditions in the body, which are characterized by mucous or phlegm. The kidneys are also important in the relationship between the spleen and digestion. Known as the "root of life," the kidneys rule birth, growth, and development. If kidney Qi is weak, the kidneys will not support spleen energy, and digestion will be compromised. For this reason, any focus on digestion in Chinese medicine must address the Qi of both the kidneys and the spleen.
The following recipes nourish kidney and spleen energy.
The first recipe is an excellent hot breakfast cereal that is particularly important to consume in the winter months when kidneys need warmth and support. Its ingredients that are relevant to supporting the kidneys are cinnamon powder, chestnuts, and walnuts. Cinnamon bark, from which cinnamon powder is derived, is a warning spice that is used in dietary therapy and in many herbal recipes as well. It warms the kidneys and spleen, and it builds, or tonifies, the digestive system.
Chestnuts are the king of nuts. They are sweet and warming, and they also tonify the kidneys and spleen. Walnuts are warming and tonify the kidneys and lungs. They are also low in saturated fats. When cinnamon bark, chestnuts, and walnuts are combined and added to rice, it creates a breakfast cereal that is healthy and nourishing, and tastes good too!
In Chinese medicine theory, the kidneys store jing-essence. Kidney jingessence determines an individual's vitality and resistance to disease, as well as longevity. Congenital jing-essence is present at birth and influences an individual's health and development.
Acquired jing-essence can be obtained from food and can greatly enhance the activity of even small amounts of congenital jing-essence. Stress, overwork, emotions, toxins in food and water, and toxins such as heavy metals can deplete jing-essence.
- Seeds are powerful for building jing-essence and supporting the kidneys. Just as the kidneys are the root of life, seeds contain the essence of life.
- Sesame seeds, particularly those that are black and unhulled, nourish the kidneys.
- Seeds are high in calcium, an excellent source for those who do not consume dairy products. Because kidneys govern the bones, the high calcium content of seeds also supports both kidney and bone health.
- Seeds also nourish kidney yin and are especially helpful with hormonal imbalances. Seeds can treat hypertension and are high in soluble fiber to help
- They are useful for tinnitus, night sweats, hot flashes, and hormonal imbalances.
- Sunflower seeds have an affinity with the kidneys and lungs. They are especially good for moistening the lungs of smokers.
- Of all seeds, pumpkin seeds are the highest in zinc. They have an affinity with the kidneys and spleen, and can be used to alleviate stomach cramping and constipation.
- Flax seeds have an affinity with the kidneys and liver. They are high in omega-3 fatty, acids and are strong antioxidants.
- 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds (Kürbiskernen)
- 1/2 cup sunflower seeds (Sonnenblumenkernen)
- 1/2 cup brown flax seeds (Leinsamen)
- 1/2 cup golden flax seeds
- 1/2 cup black sesame seeds (schwarze Sesamsamen) kaufbar in Asia Laden,
- 1/2 cup white sesame seeds (Sesamsamen)
- Dry toast the pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds in a frying pan by continually moving the pan over medium heat, until the seeds start to pop.
- Mix all of the smaller seeds in a pan and dry toast them until they pop. This usually takes only a short period of time, 25 minutes, depending on your burner setting. The two different size seeds are prepared separately because the small ones cook more quickly.
- Mix all seeds together and sprinkle over food or eat as a snack.
WARMING THE GATE OF LIFE CEREAL
- 3 cups cooked rice (gekochter Reis)
- 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon powder (Zimt)
- 1 cup (vanilla or plain) rice milk (Reismilch)
- 1/4 cup chopped walnuts (zerhakte Baumnüsse/Walnüsse)
- 9 chestnuts (chopped or mashed) (Marroni/Esskastanien)
Place all ingredients in pan and heat and serve.