A Humble Flax Seed - Powerhouse of Nutrition
It may or may not be a well-known fact that despite its size, the tiny flax seed (also known as linseed) contains large amounts of protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals, omega 3 fatty acids and lignans.
Omega 3's are crucial for keeping our heart and brain healthy, adding nourishment to the skin, nails and hair and lowering inflammation in the body. Every cell in the body needs omega 3's to function well.
And what about those lignans?
Can they balance hormones or support overall immunity?
The simple answer is YES.
Lignans are powerful antioxidants. As we know, oxidation in the body means stress, ageing and damage on cellular level. Our humble flax/linseeds, thanks to the omega 3's and lignans, can take care of arthritis, rheumatism, eczema, psoriasis, some studies even show their beneficial effect on lupus.
Lignans are also known as phytoestrogens. Estrogen has been getting bad reputation recently - but let me tell you one thing: plant based estrogen behaves very differently to the artificial one, derived from plastics, heavy metals or medication. Both, women and men, we naturally have some levels of estrogen in our bodies. Of course, it's women who need high levels of NATURAL estrogen for fertility, but also to look feminine (estrogen gives us our typically feminine figures), have a regular and smooth monthly cycle, deposit calcium into the bones and have hydrated supple skin (among others). Estrogen also helps with map reading, planning and organizing, computing and lots of other mental activities - but that's for another article.
The problem occurs when we have high levels of artificial estrogen. These xenoestrogens mimic the natural estrogen and bind themselves to the estrogen receptors in the body. Normally, our body eliminates/ detoxifies any used up estrogens as needed. However, xenoestrogens are tricky to be eliminated, especially when they block the receptors.
The only way to detox these estrogens from the body is through lignans and fibre. The phytoestrogens in flax/linseeds are able to bind themselves to the artificial ones and remove them from the body. They can also bind to the receptors, thus prevent the xeno types attaching.
The fibre is important to speed up the waste removal. This process is very gentle yet powerful. Phytoestrogens never behave aggressively in the body.
In fact, I have not found one SINGLE study showing that we can overdose on phytoestrogens and cause estrogen dominance this way.
So whether there is too much or not enough estrogen in the body, flax/linseeds can balance both conditions.
And how about men, should they be worried about getting too much estrogen from flax/linseeds? Well, it turns out that the tiny seeds are also able to balance testosterone levels in the male body. Good, healthy levels of testosterone mean good fertility and prostate health. (I will attach links to clinical studies on improving prostate health with flax.)
I mentioned estrogen dominance. This is a condition where the estrogen levels become unnaturally high and start causing problems. It can be anything from constipation to premenstrual tension and painful or heavy periods, to tender breasts to uterine and breast cancers... Estrogen is a growth hormone. If there is too much of it, it will cause weight gain as well as all sorts of other growths - fibroids, cysts, tumours. Also, you may remember from my Liver article (The Liver - King of Balance) a little about estrogen dominance and the role of the liver in breaking down used up estrogens. I mentioned that often it's a combination of a sluggish liver and a colon problem that will lead up to estrogen dominance.
I had been on a hormone balancing journey for many years. I tried many supplements, herbs, foods, drinks and all sorts of other things to balance my hormones. It cost money and effort. Trial and error. Eventually I realized that none of the expensive supplements had such a deeply balancing effect on my body as a daily serving of the humble flax/linseeds. Those, and being really conscious of my lifestyle!
Flax/linseeds can strengthen your immunity, lower inflammation, balance hormones and lubricate the body where needed, joints as well as the bowel. (I personally tried flax tea in the last 3 months of my second pregnancy and I can testify that it helped lubricate the birth canal.)
Let's not forget to mention the benefit of lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, too. As a source of good fats, it will help balance your blood sugar levels and help nourish your hair, nails and skin. There is also evidence that flax has the ability to lower cortisol - the hormone of stress.
Flax vs. linseed
There are two types - BROWN (flax seeds) and GOLDEN (linseeds). Their nutritional profile is very similar but the TASTE is totally different.
I would only swallow the brown seeds whole as a laxative or to prepare a late pregnancy tea.
For a delicious drink and nutritious addition to a meal (porridge, salad, smoothie, rice etc.) I always use the golden linseeds. Of course, if you only have the brown variety it will have to do. You will still get all the health benefits but the taste will be much more bitter.
Freshly grind your flax
In order to get all the powerful benefits you need to FRESHLY GRIND your flax/linseeds. Due to the high omega 3 content the seeds will start oxidation process as soon as exposed to the air. So ideally, we consume the ground flax/linseed meal within 20 minutes or less. Even storing it in the fridge won't stop the oxidation.
Sure, you can buy already ground flax, processed in a protective atmosphere. However, as soon as you open the bag the oxidation process will set in. Trust me on this one - you want the ground flax/linseed as FRESH AS POSSIBLE. We know that oxidation means inflammation and aging. It is the very thing we want to avoid
I use a coffee grinder attachment to prepare flax/linseed for sprinkling on foods. You could also use a Nutribullet to grind the seeds. For adding to a smoothie, simply put a couple of tablespoons in the blender with the rest of the ingredients.
To make a nourishing, deeply hydrating drink, pour boiling water over 1 teaspoon of seeds in a mug. Let cool and enjoy. You can swallow the seeds or leave them, it's up to you. You can also add a squeeze of lemon. It's a lightly nutty, refreshing drink, good for summer or winter.
To help with constipation, you may need to extract more of the mucilage from the seeds by boiling them in a cupful of water for a few minutes. The longer you boil them for, the more of the 'snotty' consistency will float in your drink. It may not look very appealing, but it will relieve constipation - naturally and totally safely. In this case, drink the seeds as well. Add a squeeze of lemon if you like.
Ideally, we want our flax/linseeds to be hydrated when consumed so they can gently move through the body. Having them dry or even baked is not a great idea as they could get stuck somewhere in the body and irritate.
Especially for people with diverticulitis/diverticulosis, you don't want any dry seeds in the body. In fact, in your case you may prefer to strain or ground them to avoid getting stuck in the large intestine.
We want fibre
If you are taking flax oil you are still getting the anti inflammatory and lubricating effects, plus vitamins and minerals. However, for balancing hormones you need the FIBRE. Fibre is crucial for efficient elimination and detox. Constipation or even regular but inefficient elimination plays quite often a role in estrogen dominance and other problems.
How much ground flax/linseed to take? I started with 1 tablespoon a day and quickly realized that my body just LOVED and craved it. I can easily have 2-3 tablespoons of golden linseeds with my breakfast pretty much every day.
Maybe start with 1 heaped teaspoon in a drink a day and continue for a week or two, see how you feel.
It may seem like a very tiny and insignificant seed, but our humble flax is pretty impressive, indeed!