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May 02, 2008

Some Reasons to Avoid Flaxseeds - Study Finds Flaxseeds Weaken Antioxidant Defenses

Flaxseeds72_2In recent years, health magazines, newspaper articles, and Internet websites have been nearly unanimous in touting the seemingly endless nutritional virtues of dietary flaxseed. In fact, the incessant promotion of flaxseed has so dominated both the scientific and popular literature lately that it’s rare, and even difficult, to find any mention of how dangerous flaxseed (and oil) can be if consumed in the doses commonly recommended.

Of course, the promotion of flaxseed as “health food” enables its producers to make a much greater profit than could be achieved through its more traditional uses. In the past, the largest use of flaxseed (also known as linseed) was in the production of paints, varnishes, and textiles. The oil in flaxseed oxidizes and hardens readily, making it valuable in drying paints, and for treating things like leather, rope, and wood. But, in recent decades, with more cost-effective petroleum–based products replacing flax/linseed oil in the industrial realm, the producers of flax were left with tons of their product to sell. Their solution, as is too often the case, has been to try and feed it to the public under the guise of a "rediscovered" health food.

Paralleling the baseless promotion of processed soy foods which began decades ago, scientists with a clear financial motive have found it easy to whip up some seemingly impressive “scientific” studies supposedly showing how flaxseed can benefit health. These studies, combined with just a little marketing spin, have been sufficient enough to convince a great number of highly intelligent and well–meaning health experts that flax is something that any rational person should add to his or her diet to obtain things like fiber, lignans, and “good” omega–3 fats.

Of course, in the rampant promotion of flaxseeds (and flaxseed oil), only a passing mention is given to how easily the oil from flax become rancid and biologically harmful. We’re sometimes told to grind our flaxseeds “fresh,” or to keep flaxseeds and their oil refrigerated, giving the impression that the rancidity of these oils can be minimized, but the fact that the oxygen–rich environment of the body causes oxidative destruction of these oils after they are consumed is conveniently ignored.

Even supposedly “defatted” flaxseed meal, commonly touted as a source of fiber and lignans, may still contain up to 20% fat, and the highly unsaturated Omega–3 fats in flaxseed are certain to go rancid in any such product – a phenomenon which shouldn’t be taken lightly by anyone contemplating the ingestion of flaxseeds on a regular basis.

For example, the following study looked at the effects of partially defatted flaxseed meal consumed over a three–week period. The researchers noted a significant decrease in antioxidant markers known as thiol groups in those taking flax meal:

Study Link – Health aspects of partially defatted flaxseed, including effects on serum lipids, oxidative measures, and ex vivo androgen and progestin activity: a controlled crossover trial

Quote from the above study:

The decrease in protein thiol groups, which indicates an increase in oxidative stress, would currently be seen as an undesirable effect. Increased oxidative stress may damage proteins, cellular membranes, and genetic material.

The potent cellular antioxidant glutathione is an example of a thiol. We’ve discussed the importance of a healthy level of glutathione several times in this blog, so we know that anything which depletes this important substance, like flax seems to do, should certainly not be embraced unquestioningly. When we read of the many “benefits” of flax, it seems that, yet again, we’re only being shown part of the picture – and, by now, it shouldn’t surprise you to see that the part of the picture being shown is just enough to sell a product.

Other Toxic Effects of Flaxseed

In the above study, the flaxseed meal lowered both HDL and LDL cholesterol without improving the ratio of the two. To read the marketing behind flaxseed, you may be led to believe that flax “lowers cholesterol,” but any substance which lowers both good and bad cholesterol in this fashion, without improving their ratio, can only be honestly described as imparting a toxic effect. This sort of toxic effect is well–known to occur with the ingestion of rancid fats.

Before consuming flaxseeds (or any seeds for that matter) we should remember that plants often store some of their most potent toxins in their seeds to protect their “offspring.” The fragile oils in flax are just one example of such toxins, there are others which, in a general sense, tend to hinder digestion, and irritate the digestive tract. The fact that they cause intestinal irritation is why flaxseeds are so widely used as a “laxative,” but there are safer ways to achieve a laxative effect if one is needed – the long–term use of flaxseeds will probably do significantly more harm than good, and we’ll have more to say about the various seed toxins in flax in upcoming posts.

Fiber Done Right

Fiber-BalanceRelating to its effects on the intestines, many people have begun using flaxseeds and ground flaxseed meal as a regular source of fiber. But the problems with flaxseeds (and seeds in general) are what led us to create Integrated Supplements Fiber Balance™ with none of the common seed ingredients often used in fiber supplements (i.e., flax, chia, psyllium). We used fiber from real food ingredients like oats, chicory roots (inulin) and apples. Unlike seeds, root foods and fruits are especially known for containing low levels of food–based toxins. And unlike the omega–3 fats in flax, the oat fiber beta–glucan is able to lower cholesterol levels reliably and safely – simply by binding cholesterol in the gastrointestinal tract and blocking its absorption. It’s our honest belief that there is simply no better fiber supplement available for daily use.

It seems that flax is simply the latest in a long line of “health foods” which always seem to be “rediscovered” when some industry is sitting on a ton of easily available product they can’t otherwise sell. We’ve witnessed the same phenomenon with the runaway success of processed soy and whey protein concentrate. But rest assured, at Integrated Supplements, we’re not easily swayed by fashionable trends, fluff science, and marketing hype. We’re bringing you the big picture in health and nutrition like no other company in the industry. And stay tuned here – we’re just getting warmed up.

Related Articles:

Rancid Fats and Oxidative Stress - Strategies To Reverse Aging - Part 1
http://www.integratedsupplements.com/articles/Newsletter200711.pdf

The Anti-Aging Diet Part 1 - Can Some Foods Accelerate Aging?
http://www.integratedsupplements.com/articles/Newsletter200801.pdf

Oxidative Stress And Exercise - Too Much of a "Good Thing"
http://integratedsupplements.typepad.com/integrated_supplements_bl/2008/03/oxidative-stres.html

Is Exercise More Harmful Than You Think? How To Protect Yourself With Whey Protein Isolate.
http://integratedsupplements.typepad.com/integrated_supplements_bl/2008/01/is-exercise-mor.html

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