We can think of no other seed that sparks as much discussion as flaxseed. You may have heard that its phytoestrogens are the same as human estrogen in the body, and therefore flaxseed may not be safe for people with a history of hormone-linked cancers. Then again, you may have heard that it works to prevent those very same cancers. Both can’t be true — so which is it?
The Case for Yay
There are many available studies that show the health benefits of eating flaxseed. Among the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids, cancer-fighting lignans and fiber, flaxseeds have been shown to do everything from reduce blood pressure to help prevent breast and thyroid cancers. Research shows they help lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation, and treat constipation and IBS. They help reduce hot flashes, alleviate PMS symptoms, and improve vaginal dryness.
If you’re going to eat flaxseed, don’t eat it whole: It passes through the body undigested. Instead, buy whole flaxseed and grind it fresh every couple of days in a coffee grinder or spice grinder. By grinding the seed you make it easier for the body to access all its important nutrients.
The Case for Nay
Bloggers, not doctors, are responsible for the fear around flaxseed. Armed with just enough information to be dangerous and social media, bloggers spread the idea that flaxseed is estrogenic and causes cancers and hormonal problems in women.
“This could not be further from the truth (most of the time),” says certified holistic health coach Magdalena Wszelaki. But don’t take just her word for it. Sources from WebMD to The Academy of Dietetics and Nutrition to world-renowned medical doctors like Dr. Michael Gregor agree. The caveat is that there is a very small portion of the population for whom flaxseed causes an increase in symptoms of estrogen dominance.
The majority of women (and men) should eat 1 to 2 tablespoons of freshly ground flaxseed every day to protect their heart and other organs. Toss it into your morning oatmeal, your lunchtime smoothie, or your soup at dinner. Bake with it or put it in sauces. If you add flaxseed to your diet for a couple of months and find that you feel bad, stop eating it and monitor your symptoms. If they improve, you are in that very small number who shouldn’t eat it.