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Take the Flax Fast Track to Lower Cholesterol

Healthnotes Newswire (September 24, 2009)—Flaxseeds have garnered a lot of attention from researchers, and with good reason: They are loaded with essential fats, fiber, and protein. They also contain lignans, a group of compounds found in large amounts in flax.

Regularly eating flaxseeds may help balance blood sugar levels, improve bone health, dampen inflammation in the body, and protect against breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer. The latest research suggests that eating flaxseed may have the added benefit of lowering cholesterol levels.

Seeds of heart health

In a process called meta-analysis, data from 28 previous clinical trials on flaxseeds, lignan dietary supplements, and cholesterol levels were combined and analyzed, allowing for a large number of people to be studied together. This approach is beneficial because the larger the study, the more likely it is that relationships between causes and effects will be discovered, if they exist.

The researchers analyzed data from 1,381 people who participated in the 28 clinical trials and found that:

• Adding flaxseeds to the diet decreased blood levels of total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol by an average of 8.1 and 6.2 mg/dL, respectively.

• Taking a lignan dietary supplement decreased blood levels of total and LDL cholesterol by an average of 10.8 and 6.2 mg/dL, respectively.

• Flaxseeds and lignan supplements were most effective at lowering cholesterol levels in people with higher initial cholesterol levels and in postmenopausal women.

• Flaxseed oil did not have a significant effect on blood cholesterol levels in any of the groups studied, probably because the lignans are concentrated in the fiber portion of flaxseeds, not in the oil.

Fast flax facts

This is the most comprehensive study to date on flaxseeds and blood cholesterol levels and the results speak for themselves: Along with other heart-healthy habits, including regular exercise, avoiding tobacco, and eating a high-fiber, low-saturated fat diet, flaxseeds and lignans will lower cholesterol. The following tips will help you incorporate flaxseeds into your heart-healthy lifestyle:

• Find whole flaxseeds in the bulk aisle or refrigerated section of your grocery or health food store.

• For maximum health benefit, eat your flaxseeds ground.

• You can reduce flaxseeds to a fine powder using a coffee grinder or coffee mill.

• Whole flaxseeds are shelf-stable, meaning that they remain fresh and safe to eat for several months after purchase.

• Once ground, the fat in flaxseeds can oxidize (“go rancid”). Grind only as much as you plan to eat in one sitting, or store whole and ground flaxseeds in airtight containers in the freezer.

• For best benefit, aim for 1 to 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds per day. More is not better.

• Start by adding 1 teaspoon of ground flaxseeds into your diet. You can work your way up to one to two tablespoons slowly, to give your body time to adjust and minimize intestinal gas and bloating.

• Try adding ground flaxseeds to yogurt, salads, oatmeal, cereal, or fruit smoothies.

• Flaxseeds can be added into baked goods, such as whole grain breads and muffins.

(Am J Clin Nutr 2009;90:288-97)

Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by The New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.

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