Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Flax Seed: What You Need to Know


Flax Seed Benefits

A wealth of scientific literature has established the importance of polyunsaturated fatty acids in our diet. Our bodies thrive when we eat foods with omega-6 and omega-3 fats in the proper proportion, roughly two to one. But in the modern American diet, the usual ratio is more like 20:1 because of things like over-processing of foods, decreased fish intake and a spike in sugar consumption [source: Healing Daily].

Some nutritionists believe an omega-3 deficiency may be the root of a host of common maladies, from arthritis to eczema, asthma to heart disease, breast cancer to macular degeneration [source: Ho]. The anti-inflammatory effect of omega-3 molecules in the body can make them useful in preventing and slowing disease.

The beauty of flax seed is it contains more of a certain omega-3 fat, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), than any other food source [source: Schardt]. Within the body, ALA converts into small amounts of DHA and EPA, the main omega-3 components of fish and fish oil. ALA plays a crucial role in our metabolism, helping our bodies regulate heart rate, blood pressure and dilation of our blood vessels.

Studies have shown flax seed oil can lower cholesterol and reduce high blood pressure. Flax also appears to be good for cardiovascular health and preventing heart disease. And because it inhibits inflammation in the joints, it is used to treat gout and lupus.

Omega-3 acids have also been found effective at soothing skin inflammations related to acne, eczema, and psoriasis. These fatty acids help keep harmful substances out of the cells in our bodies and help form the lipid sheath that insulates our nerves and speeds the conductive ability of our nervous systems [source: Sundene].

Because of its high fiber content and laxative effect, flax seed has been used to treat constipation and hemorrhoids. The lignans found in flax seeds also appear to help correct hormone imbalances, such as those that cause menopausal symptoms [source: Herb Wisdom]. These properties of lignans have led to animal studies on the possible value of flax seed in fighting breast cancer [source: Medline Plus].

Flax seed also has less appealing qualities. Read on to find out what they are.