What Is Flaxseed Oil?
Flaxseed oil is also called linseed oil or flax oil, and it is produced by grounding up and pressing the natural oils out of the seeds. Flaxseeds are real little miracle workers praised for their extraordinary health benefits, so it’s not surprising that the plant oil extracted from them has several healthy uses as well. This nutrient-packed oil is rich in many beneficial compounds, namely:
- Plant proteins
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Phenolic compounds (lignans)
In fact, just one tablespoon is more than enough to meet the daily recommended dose of omega-3 fatty acids, as it contains 7,196 mg of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a form of omega-3. As you may or may not know, omega-3 fats are essential for heart and brain health, and these oils are probably why flaxseed oil has a marked anti-inflammatory effect.
A meta-analysis of multiple human studies suggested that flax oil reduces the levels of an inflammation marker called C-reactive protein in some participants. Reducing the level of inflammation in the body, in turn, is crucial for anyone suffering from any chronic pain or health issue. Read on to learn about the targeted ways flaxseed oil benefits one’s health.
1. Improves Digestion
If you suffer from digestive upsets, flaxseed oil may be for you. For one, flaxseed oil can remedy both constipation and diarrhea. Taking flax oil daily can help promote regular bowel movements and may even reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Research from 2012 found an improvement in IBS symptoms, including constipation and diarrhea, and another paper in hemodialysis patients confirmed that taking flaxseed oil daily relieved constipation while also acting as an antidiarrheal agent. So, if you’re suffering from IBS or just experiencing indigestion, taking flaxseed oil may help you find relief.
2. Benefits Heart Health
Scientists have known for a while that omega-3 fatty acids are essential for the heart, as they lower inflammation and blood pressure. Research investigating the effectiveness of various plant oils on blood pressure found that taking 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of flaxseed oil is superior to safflower oil in reducing blood pressure.
In addition, there’s evidence that suggests that flaxseed oil improves the elasticity of arteries and lowers bad LDL cholesterol levels. Both of these factors increase the risk of heart disease.
One issue is that not all omega-3s may be equally effective at being absorbed by the body and transformed into fatty acids our body can use. Alpha-linolenic acid present in flaxseed oil is absorbed by the body exceptionally well. It was shown to boost the level of naturally occurring omega-3s in the body, namely eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Both DHA and EPA are crucial for a healthy heart and blood vessels, and flaxseed oil is great at providing our body with these essential compounds.
3. Promotes Hydrated and Healthy Skin
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is an important antioxidant capable of reducing skin inflammation and promoting skin healing. Flaxseed oil is on the thicker side, so it’s especially beneficial for people who have very dry skin and can be applied on the skin to soften hardened skin on the knuckles, elbows, feet, and nail cuticles. Flaxseed oil coats and protects the skin from the elements, so it’s a good oil to apply on the hands and face when the weather is very cold and dry.
Consuming flaxseed oil may be also beneficial for skin health. One study in women who took flaxseed oil for 3 months reported improvements in skin hydration, smoothness, and less irritation and sensitivity. Lastly, there’s also some limited evidence of flaxseed oil consumption improving atopic dermatitis, a variety of eczema that causes itchy and red skin. Only 3 weeks of daily flaxseed oil consumption reduced itching, redness, and swelling in mice suffering from the condition.
4. Hair Health
If your hair is looking dull, dry, or brittle, applying a tiny bit of flaxseed oil on clean dry strands may be able to hydrate and return the shine to your hair. In addition, the omega-3 fatty acids and proteins present in flax oil can nourish the hair follicles and reduce inflammation of the scalp.
You can either apply a hot flaxseed oil hair mask before washing your hair or take flaxseed oil internally. Flaxseed oil can improve hair and scalp health in the long run, helping you reduce problems like dandruff and an itchy scalp.
5. Reduces the Risk of Cancer
Flaxseed oil is rich in compounds called linoorbitides that have antioxidant and cancer-fighting properties. It also contains lignans - plant compounds known to reduce the risk of breast cancer. Several studies have confirmed that flaxseed oil may fight cancer cells from breast cancer, lung cancer, and colon cancer, but current research is limited to in-vitro and animal studies. Nevertheless, these findings are certainly promising, even if we’re not sure if these results translate to humans yet.
6. Improves Dry Eyes
Dry eye syndrome (DES) is an increasingly common eye problem that makes your eyes feel tired, scratchy, and irritated. The condition occurs when there isn’t sufficient lubrication to the eyes, and it may even make you experience blurry vision. Those who suffer from dry eyes may not find that eyedrops improve their symptoms.
Luckily, taking flaxseed oil internally seems to help the tear-producing glands in your eyes called meibomian glands increase the lubrication potential of your tears while also reducing inflammation and swelling on the surface of the eyes. Avoid applying flaxseed oil in or around the eye area - only consuming the oil internally can help the meibomian glands, and it will take a few weeks.
7. Improves Menopause Symptoms
Women struggling with hot flashes and other menopause symptoms may benefit from taking flaxseed oil too. According to a 2015 study that included 140 women, taking the oil decreased the participants’ hot flashes and raised their overall quality of life.
Researchers believe that this may be due to the presence of compounds called lignans in flax oil that have a weak estrogen effect. Interestingly, the same effect was not observed in studies of women taking flaxseeds, which is likely due to the fact that the oil is more concentrated in nutrients and plant compounds than whole seeds.
How to Use Flaxseed Oil
Flaxseed oil has a yellow color and a mild, nutty smell similar to sesame seed oil. However, unlike sesame seed oil, flax oil shouldn’t be used in baking and high-heat cooking, as it may become ineffective. Flax oil is sold in opaque bottles to protect it from light exposure. Once opened, a bottle of flaxseed oil must be refrigerated.
Flaxseed oil is incredibly versatile. Here are just a few ways you can use it at home:
- Add flaxseed oil to any dish, e.g. to dress salads, prepare sauces, dips, or smoothies. Remember that just 1 tablespoon of the oil a day is more than enough for you to experience the benefits.
- Apply a few drops of flaxseed oil to the skin as a moisturizer. It works especially well for dry skin patches and tough skin on the elbows and knees.
- Warm flaxseed oil can be applied to the scalp and hair length as a calming, nourishing, and shine-enhancing hair mask. Simply apply it on dry hair before a wash day and leave for an hour. Then wash your hair as usual.
Who Shouldn’t Use Flaxseed Oil?
Before surgery or if you have a bleeding disorder: flaxseed oil can increase the risk of bleeding in some people, which is why it’s not recommended to take it for people with bleeding disorders and for 2 weeks before and after surgery.
People who have low blood pressure, those who take medications for heart health and high blood pressure, blood sugar, or prescription medications that manipulate estrogen levels should talk to their doctor before taking flaxseed oil.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women: Flaxseed oil may be dangerous for pregnancy and it’s not clear if it’s safe for children.
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