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Flax and Hormonal Cancers

Flaxseed has proven anti-cancer benefits for breast, colon, ovaries, prostate, and other tissues in the body and is excellent for digestion, gut health, and heart health. Flax is an excellent source of fiber, with 1 ounce yielding 11 grams of fiber!

Flaxseed contains lignans, which have weak estrogen activity. Here is where the waters get a little muddy, depending on your cancer type concern.

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Is flaxseed suitable for breast cancer?

Cancer studies show lignans bind to receptors, blocking human estrogen, which helps suppress breast tumor growth. Researchers have shown that flaxseed sprouts can increase apoptosis (programmed cell death) for cancer cells. Animal studies have shown that both flaxseed oil and lignans can reduce breast tumor growth and spread, even for hormone negative cancer cells. Another animal study showed that flax increased the effectiveness of tamoxifen. 

There’s an interesting twist for prostate cancer! 

Researchers found that ground flaxseed may be a very beneficial food for men battling prostate cancer. One study published in 2013 followed 147 men who added flaxseeds into their diet and found that the men who had the highest levels of flaxseed nutrients excreted in their urine—an indication of eating and absorbing the nutrients found in flaxseed—had the lowest levels of tumor proliferation. Proliferation refers to how quickly tumor cells are growing and reproducing. Less proliferation is better. Some studies have found that a type of fat found in flaxseeds, called alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, actually may make prostate tumors more aggressive. (PLoS ONE, Dec 2013) 

These statements seem confusing: how can the seeds benefit, but the fat from these seeds cause harm?

Well, flaxseed oil usually doesn’t contain lignans, which potentially reduce prostate tumor aggressiveness. It only contains pure fat, and it’s a type of fat that may cause more harm than good. There are high lignin flax oils on the market, but there is no research to suggest that processed oil in this way is equivalent to seeds from nature. Some health experts also suspect that genetic differences in how men metabolize alpha-linolenic acid may contribute to whether or not this fat is harmful in terms of prostate tumor growth. Since flax oil, whether with or without lignans, contain about 130 calories per tablespoon daily consumption can lead to unwanted weight gain if you do not monitor your intake. 

So, what’s the takeaway?

When you add flaxseeds into your diet, stick with ground flaxseeds, not flax oil. 

Here are a few more flax tips!

· Brown flaxseeds have a bit more ALA than golden flax seeds – but both colors are great choices. 

· You can’t digest whole flaxseeds. You need to grind the seed (or purchase ground meal) before the nutrients can be digested and used by the body!

· If you add flaxseeds to any liquid, be sure to consume right away, or you’ll end up with sludge!

· Avoid opaque packaging when you buy flaxseed as light can damage the nutrients and cause the oil to go rancid.

· Store flaxseed in the refrigerator to extend its shelf life.

· Quick Pick for 100% flax: Bob’s Red Mill Organic Flaxseed Meal

· Quick Pick for flax blend with hemp: Carrington Farms Organic Flax Hemp Blend

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