In the early 2000’s flax seeds were all the rage, at least in my neck of the woods. It was common to see people (myself included) eating them by the spoonful or mixing them in with a glass of water and pouring it down the hatch (yuck! Just thinking about it makes me gag). Flax was sprinkled in cereals, breads, granola bars, and muffins. But what is it about flax seeds that make them so great, and what is simply marketing hype?
1. Flax Seeds Contain Protective Phytoestrogens
Phytoestrogens are a naturally occurring chemical compound (found in plant based foods) that mimic estrogen in the body. Essentially they are plant-based estrogens.
I know what you’re thinking…in a world that is saturated with estrogen dominance (think early puberty in girls, delayed puberty in boys, men developing “man-boobs”, and an increase in endocrine diseases like T1D and thyroid disorders) the last thing we need is more estrogen.
HOWEVER, protective phytoestrogens aren’t as potent as human estrogen. So when phytoestrogens fill up your estrogen receptors you’re not getting the full-blown action of human estrogen filling up your receptors. Studies have shown that this can be a good thing for women & men suffering from estrogen dominance and may help reduce tumor growth in estrogen dominant cancers like breast cancer. Some examples of protective phytoestrogens foods include:
- Flax seed
- Herbs: Rosemary, Sage, Oregano, Thyme, and Turmeric
- Chamomile (Apigenin)
But I can’t talk about protective phytoestrogens without mentioning harmful phytoestrogens. In studies, these harmful phytoestrogens have been shown to cause cancer and influence tumor growth. Some examples of harmful phytoestrogen foods include:
- Red Clover
- Canola Oil & Sunflower Oil
- Hops (beer)
- Black Cohosh
- Tea Tree oil
The autoimmune connection: It’s no secret that people with autoimmune diseases are more prone to adrenal fatigue. An unfortunate side effect/consequence of adrenal fatigue is estrogen dominance. Flax seed is a great food to incorporate to your healing adrenal fatigue/ healing estrogen dominance protocol.
2. Flax seeds Contain Lots of Fiber, However…
A high fiber content is probably what flax seeds are most widely known for. However you can’t reap any of the benefits of this beautiful fiber if you’re eating whole flax seeds.
Poop talk warning!…
If you’ve ever eaten a spoonful of whole flax seed take notice of what it looks like when it’s on it’s way out (aka look in the toilet). You’ll notice that just like corn, these seeds pass right through your body without being digested. Undigested food is hard and stressful on your digestive tract. Which I’m guessing is the opposite effect you were going for.
Instead, use ground or milled flax seed. They are easier on your digestive tract and allow you to access the BOAT LOADS of fiber they contain.
3. They’re Not a Great Source of Omega 3’s (like they’re marketed to be)
In a previous post I talk about the benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids in the diet. These fatties are great to have, especially since they’re lacking, pretty severely, in the Standard American Diet (SAD – how fitting for an abbreviation). If you’re looking for a good food source of Omega 3’s do not look to flax seeds.
Omega 3 fatty acids come in three forms: ALA, EPA, and DHA. Plant sources of Omega 3’s (like flax) contain only ALA. In order for the body to utilize ALA it must first break it down into usable forms of EPA and DHA. A lot is lost during this conversion process and leaves you with only a tiny bit of EPA or DHA. Not to mention 80% of the population lack the enzyme to break down ALA.  
4. Flax Seeds are Packed with Antioxidants
Thanks to the lignans in flax seeds, these little fatties are packed with antioxidants. Antioxidants help with hormone balance & cell health, but are most well known for their role in anti-aging benefits.
Lignans also help support gut health (by encouraging the growth of good gut bacteria) and have anti-viral properties.
Looking for a delicious flax seed recipe? Try my Savory Flax Seed Waffles!