Looking for a superfood that is as effective at lowering cholesterol as cholesterol drugs, but with none of the associated side effects such as joint pain, muscle atrophy and degradation, weakness, liver or kidney failure? Look no further than flaxseeds.
A new study from Iowa State University’s Nutrition and Wellness Research Center (NWRC) found that making flaxseeds a part of routine diet helps reduce LDL cholesterol levels in men. The study took 90 people diagnosed with high cholesterol and had them take 150 milligrams of flaxseed lignans per day (the equivalent of about three tablespoons of seeds). Curiously, the the cholesterol-lowering effect was only seen in men, not women.
It was the lignans in flaxseeds, a group of phytochemical compounds found in plant foods that have been studied for their health-protective effects, which were being examined for their cholesterol-lowering abilities. The lignans in flaxseeds have been found in past investigations to play a role in protecting against breast, colon, prostate, and perhaps even skin cancer.
While cholesterol lowering drugs like statins are able to lower cholesterol levels by 10 to 20 percent in three months, study author and ISU professor Suzanne Hendrich says flaxseed’s ability to lower cholesterol by 10 percent is still enough to make them a more natural option for some men. “Because there are people who can’t take something like Lipitor, this could at least give you some of that cholesterol-lowering benefit,” reported Hendrich. “The other thing is, there are certainly some people who would prefer to not use a drug, but rather use foods to try to maintain their health. So this potentially would be something to consider.”
Hendrich says further investigation on why the lignans affected men but not women and whether flaxseeds in combination with other known cholesterol-lowering substances may have further effects is planned for the future.
Although the concentrated lignan tablets used in the study are not available to consumers, using ground flaxseeds in your diet may be just as good. In fact, whole flaxseeds contain fibre and the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), both of which have cholesterol-lowering and heart protective effects respectively and both control for blood pressure. Plus, three tablespoons of ground flaxseed per day gets you the same amount of lignans that were supplemented in the study.
When supplementing with flaxseeds, it’s better to use ground instead of whole since the body has a tough time breaking down the exterior of the seeds and they may go through the body undigested thus leaving all their healthful nutrients locked inside. However, ground flaxseeds can go rancid rather quickly and rancid omega-3 fats are harmful to the body, not helpful. The solution – buy your flaxseeds whole and grind them yourself. A cheap coffee grinder or spice grinder will do the trick and then you have fresh ground flaxseeds to sprinkle on your foods.
The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale