NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Flaxseed may help to reduce levels of cholesterol in the blood of postmenopausal women, researchers report.
Overall, total cholesterol fell in the women by an average of 6%, according to the report in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. While LDL cholesterol fell, so did HDL ("good") cholesterol, resulting in only a minor reduction in the ratio of "bad" to "good" cholesterol.
Flaxseed is a whole grain that can be found in health food stores and some supermarkets. It can be sprinkled on food, or is sometimes used in baked goods, such as muffins or bread. Flaxseed is rich in lignans, a group of phytoestrogens. These plant-based estrogen-like compounds are associated with lower levels of total cholesterol and LDL ("bad") cholesterol, possibly due to their fiber and omega-3 fatty acid content.
In the study, volunteers consumed 40 grams of either ground flaxseed or wheat daily for 3 months. All 36 women who completed the study took a supplement containing 1,000 milligrams of calcium and 400 international units of vitamin D, which helps the body to absorb calcium.
Apolipoprotein B (apo B), a cholesterol-carrying molecule that may be a more sensitive indicator of heart disease risk than cholesterol alone, fell by nearly 8% among women who consumed flaxseed.
There was no reduction in cholesterol among women who took the wheat supplement, report researchers, and neither the flaxseed nor the wheat had any affect on bone metabolism.
"The findings of the present study suggest that flaxseed consumption by postmenopausal women is effective in reducing...known risk factors of coronary heart disease," Dr. Bahram H. Arjmandi from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater and colleagues conclude.
But more research is needed into the mechanisms, they add.
SOURCE: The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 2002;87:1527-1532.