Flaxseed oil is derived from dried, ripened seeds from the flax plant. It is colorless to yellowish in color and is generally obtained through pressing. When taking a cold-pressed flaxseed oil as a nutritional supplement, it offers a hearty taste and the highest concentration of the omega-3 fatty acid ALA compared to any other vegetable oil. The human body can then take ALA and convert it into EPA and DHA which is the same omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, however, the body isn’t highly efficient at doing so.
Flaxseed oil also contains omega-6 and the balance between omega-3 and omega-6 within our diet is very important. Both of these fats are essential, meaning we need to obtain them from our diet and our bodies cannot produce them naturally. Omega-3 fatty acids are known to reduce inflammation while an excess of omega-6 tends to worsen inflammation.
A healthy diet yields a balance of around two to four times less omega-6 than omega-3. With that being said, the Standard American Diet is closer to twenty times more omega-6. Researchers believe this is a large contributing factor to the degree and rising rates of inflammation throughout the United States.
Benefits of Flaxseed Oil
There are multiple uses for flaxseed oil, as it’s believed to help treat a wide range of conditions.
While studying the Mediterranean diet, this population generally has increased levels of good or HDL cholesterol. This is due to their high consumption of healthy fats, such as fish and olive oil. These, of course, offer a healthy balance between both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Flaxseed, flaxseed oil, and walnuts are also part of a Mediterranean diet which offers ALA.
Although there’s some debate on whether or not flaxseed supplements lower cholesterol levels, several small studies have reported the beneficial effects that this oil has on the user’s cholesterol level.
Eating foods such as vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fruit, and ALA-rich foods have been shown to reduce one’s risk of cardiovascular and heart disease. To prevent heart complications and maintain positive health, it’s critical to reduce your intake of trans and saturated fats, increasing your intake of polyunsaturated fats (including omega fatty acids) and monounsaturated fats (such as olive oil).
Research shows that those who consume a diet rich in ALA foods are less likely to experience a fatal heart attack. When consuming ALA, it’s believed to reduce inflammation, promote blood vessel health, make platelets less sticky, and reduce one’s risk of an irregular heartbeat. All of the factors contribute to heart attack risk, which is why controlling them helps reduce your risk.
Flaxseeds (but not typically flaxseed oil), contains chemicals known as lignans that could play a significant role in cancer prevention. In fact, flaxseeds are the best vegetable source of lignans. Now, research suggests that flaxseed oil could potentially prevent breast tumor growth. This was found within a Canadian study which is more than likely due to the ALA content of this nutritious oil. If you or someone you know has breast cancer, please speak with your doctor before starting any nutritional regimen.
How to Take Flaxseed Oil
Flaxseed oil comes in various forms, including capsules and liquid form. If not refrigerated, flaxseed oil can go rancid and oxidize. The highest quality flaxseed oils will be made using freshly pressed seed and packaged in dark bottles to reduce damage from light. Whenever purchasing flaxseed oil, ensure that it’s from a reliable source that is absent from any heavy metals, such as mercury or lead.
The dosage of flaxseed oil will depend on how much omega fatty acids you consume in your diet and which condition you’re trying to improve. For anyone under 18, please speak with your doctor before giving flaxseed oil to children.
For adults, there’s no set recommended dose. The best dose is dependent on a number of factors which should be discussed with your doctor and what the manufacturer recommends. Flaxseed oil is often taken in liquid form and contains 7 grams of ALA per 1 tbsp (15mL), containing around 130 calories.
Possible Side Effects
Like any supplement, you should let your health care provider know that you’re including a new nutritional supplement into your routine. If taken at the same time, flaxseed oil can actually reduce the absorption rate of other medications and supplements. For this reason, avoid taking flaxseed oil in conjunction with with other oral medications.
If you suffer from diabetes or schizophrenia you may not be able to convert ALA into EPA and DHA. If you live with either of these conditions, you should get your omega intake through an array of dietary sources, including fish. The same is true with macular eye disease, although some studies have shown that ALA may reduce one’s risk of eye disease.
If you’re currently taking any blood-thinning medications or drugs to lower your blood sugar, please speak to your doctor before taking flaxseed oil. Omega-3 fatty acids can strengthen the effects of anticoagulants, including warfarin, aspirin, and clopidogrel.
Although there’s evidence that aspirin and omega-3 fatty acids can reduce one’s risk of heart disease when taken together, this needs to be discussed with your doctor. The same is true for blood sugar medications, such as insulin, Glipizide, Glucophage, and Glyburide.