The use of herbal remedies for tackling diseases has been in existence since time immemorial. Several medicinal herbs and spices happen to be part of our everyday living. Interestingly, most of the natural sources of these herbal remedies serve as food and satisfy most of our numerous basic needs. Due to the high medicinal properties of these herbs, they are always in high demand especially by individuals who are acquainted with what they can benefit from these herbs.
Herbal remedies can be consumed either as an infusion, decoction, spices, fresh vegetable or as food. There is great need to continuously research and explore more plants with known efficacies. Albeit, increasing recognition on the impact of healthy food and the need for general wellbeing continues to draw people’s attentions towards functional foods.
Functional foods are believed to perform like medicines and researchers agree that it is essential for us to regularly include more functional foods in our diets. Foods that fall into this category offer us high dietary and health benefits above elemental nutrition. One of such essential functional foods is flaxseed.
Tulsi and Darshan (2006) classified flaxseed as a functional food because it is an excellent source of essential nutrients. It also offers countless health benefits even when consumed alone or as a herbal medicine.
Flaxseed, which is botanically known as Linum usitatissimum L. is an oilseed that belongs to the family of Linaceae. Flaxseed is also known as linseed with different countries having a particular name for it such as linho, linum crepitans, linaza, alasi, winterlien, aliviraaii, linseed flax, brown flaxseed, linum usitatissimum, brown-seeded flax, lignanes de lin, common flax, lint bells, lin commun, echter lein, malsag, flachs, flachssamen, lignans, lini semen, lino usuale, flax, lino mazzese, ta ma, flax hull, linum humile, saatlein, flax lignans, flax meal, lin textile, lino comune, flax seed, gemeiner flachs, lin, linum, tisii, lin oléagineux, golden flax, phytoestrogen, graine de lin, kattan, keten, leinsamen or lino.
Flaxseed is simply the seed from a flax plant, which is originally from the Mediterranean and West Asia before spreading to other parts of the world. It is believed to be among the oldest cultivated crops in the world and is planted mainly for its fiber and oil. This suggests why the plant can be grouped as either fibered flaxseed or oily flaxseed. The flaxseed oil is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acid linolenic acid. The high demand for consumable oil sources with high amount of omega-3 fatty acids has led to the high consumption of flaxseed.
Flaxseed can be eaten either raw, as a spice or cooked as a main meal. However, it is preferably consumed raw because it tends to lose most of its nutrients if cooked. This is as a result of both the physical and chemical changes that could take place during the oxidation and thermal deformation process. Statistically, Canada is the highest producer of flaxseed, followed by China, United States and India respectively.
Mature flaxseed is distinguished by its flat and oval shape with a pointed tip. It consists of an embryo with two cotyledons enclosed by a thin endosperm and a shiny yellowish or brown seed coat. It bears a strong smooth shiny shell with the seed testa containing up to 15% of mucilage. The fruit capsules measure between 6 to 8mm length, 6 to 7mm in diameter and comprise of 10 seeds. Flax seeds measure between 3.0 to 6.4mm length and 1.8 to 3.4mm width with 0.5 to 1.6mm in thickness.
Phytochemical Composition of Flaxseed
Flaxseed is a rich source of phytochemicals, which are natural chemical compounds present in plants. These phytochemicals are found mainly in the seeds, stems, flowers, fruits, leaves and roots of flax. Phytochemicals offer numerous health benefits to human beings due to their antimicrobial, anti-oxidizing and detoxification properties.
They also regulate the hormone, stimulate the immune system and reduce platelet aggregation (clumping together of platelets in the blood). Monica and Joseph (2016) study also supports that flaxseed is an excellent source of various phytochemicals such as terpenoids, alkaloids, phenol, flavonoids, glycosides, tannins, steroids, saponins and coumarins.
Nutritional Values of Flaxseed
Several researchers have studied the nutritional components of this plant. For example, Saxena and Vashishth (2016) support that flaxseeds are packed with numerous health-promoting properties that are essential for the healthy functioning of the body. Flaxseed is an excellent source of nutraceutical, micronutrient, and macronutrient components.
It is rich in cyclic peptides, protein, minerals, oil, lignin, dietary fiber, magnesium, manganese, albumins, globulins, alkaloids, omega-3 fatty acids, lignans, cyanogenic glycosides, selenium, linoleic acid, cadmium, copper, oleic acid, gamma-tocopherol (a type of vitamin E - alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and alpha- and gamma-tocopherol), linoleic acid, polysaccharides, arachidonic acids and B-complex vitamins (vitamin B-6, riboflavin, folates, niacin, pantothenic acid and thiamin). Flaxseed is also a rich source of phytoestrogens, which are diphenolic compounds found in plants.
Astounding Benefits of Flaxseed
Pan et al., (2007) investigated the impact of a flaxseed-derived lignan supplement on glycemic control, insulin sensitivity and lipid profiles in type 2 diabetic patients. This randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind and cross-over trial was carried out between April and December 2006 in Shanghai, China. Patients were randomly selected to supplement on flaxseed-derived lignan capsules i.e. 360 mg lignan per day or be on a placebo for 12 weeks with an 8-week wash-out interval.
Both the insulin resistance index, HbA1c, lipid profiles and inflammatory factors were measured. The results showed that lignan supplement significantly improved the glycemic control as measured by HbA1c compared to the placebo group. But there is no significant changes observed in insulin concentrations, fasting glucose, blood lipid profiles and insulin resistance.
Urinary excretion of lignan metabolites (enterolactone and enterodiol) was significantly high after the lignan supplement was compared to baseline. The findings show that daily lignan supplementation results in simple and statistically significant improvements in glycemic control in type 2 diabetic patients without possibly affecting the insulin sensitivity, fasting glucose and lipid profiles.
Reduces Total Cholesterol Level
Khalesi et al., (2011) report that consuming flaxseed can significantly reduce total cholesterol level. They agreed that consuming flaxseed for 30 days can significantly lower the total cholesterol level while increasing high-density lipoprotein cholesterol in the blood.
High blood pressure
Djoussé et al., (2005) agree that the dietary ALA present in flax reduces the onset of hypertension as well as reduces the systolic blood pressure. The ALA in flaxseed lowers the blood pressure by acting as a precursor for eicosanoids. This can facilitate the production of leukotrienes and prostaglandins. Paschos et al., (2007) also demonstrated that consuming dietary flaxseed for 12 weeks significantly reduced the diastolic and systolic blood pressure in dyslipidemic patients.
Reduces the onset of Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a health condition associated with fragile and delicate bones due to hormonal changes or deficiency of vitamin D and calcium. Nahla et al., (2013) examined the possibility of using flaxseed or its lignan extract to improve bone health in experimental animals. Their findings showed that daily intake of flaxseed is capable of preventing bone loss caused by estrogen deficient. As a result, flaxseed can be used as a natural alternative for balancing hormone especially in postmenopausal women.
Reduces the onset of Cardiovascular Diseases
Makni et al., (2008) report that Hypercholesterolemia and Hyperlipidemia are among the main risk factors associated with the development of cardiovascular diseases. Being an excellent source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), researchers have justified the need to use flaxseed for withstanding the onset of cardiovascular diseases.
Triglycerides, High Density Lipoprotein (HDL), Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) and Cholesterol and the main lipids in the blood. People suffering from cardiovascular diseases have high levels of triglycerides and LDL - cholesterol in their blood. However, this can be tackled by adopting a healthy eating plan and increasing physical exercise. According to Prasad (2009), flaxseed is capable of improving cardiovascular health due to its numerous essential constituents. This is also supported by Verma and Mishra (2015) who agree that flaxseed has lipid lowering properties thus essential in our diets.
According to Narasinga (2003), flaxseed contains anticancer properties such as Lignan. As a result, it can help to reduce the early risks and onset of colonic and mammary carcinogenesis and breast carcinogenesis (Prasad, 2009).
Previous studies on lignans activities on prostate, breast, colon and thyroid cancer revealed that lignans from flaxseed can reduce mammary tumor size. Moreover, Phipps et al., (1993) demonstrated that consuming 10 g of flaxseed on a daily basis can trigger many hormonal changes connected with reduced breast cancer risk.
Prevention of Post Menopausal Symptoms
Phenolics are plant-derived compounds with varying essential functions. Flaxseed contains approximately 3 types of phenolics namely; phenolic acids, flavonoids and lignans. It contains a higher percentage of lignans more than any other plant source. According to Saxena and Vashishth (2016), such high amount of lignans in flax are located in the hulls of the seeds. Due to its high phenolic content, it is regarded as a phytoestrogen. As a result, flaxseed helps to balance the hormone levels in the body and reduces menopausal symptoms.
Flaxseed is a natural functional food that has strong antioxidizing properties due to its high constituent of phenol.
Chewy flax seeds are distinguished by their nutty and sweet taste. Flax can be consumed raw or used for preparing medicines and assorted recipes such as physalis and golden linseed muffins.
Due to the polymerization properties of flaxseed oil, it is suitable for producing paints, ink, and varnishes.
Flaxseed can be used for textile production. Textiles manufactured from flaxseed have been reported to be very comfy, well aerated and static-free.
Flaxseed is a rich source of dietary fiber thus essential for preventing and reducing constipation. It aids easy digestion of food and improves bowel movement. (Tulsi and Darshan 2006).
Being rich in dietary fiber and healthy fats, flax seeds are suitable for individuals that want to maintain a balanced weight. Flax seeds can also make you feel full thus limiting your excessive intake of food.
This post is for enlightenment purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for professional diagnosis and treatments. Remember to always consult your healthcare provider before making any health-related decisions or for counselling, guidance and treatment about a specific medical condition.
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