Aside from being a vegetarian source of these essential fatty acids and its well-known benefits for digestive health, this tiny golden seed yields some surprising health effects that extend far beyond that of its oil and fibre content.
You may or may not have heard of ‘lignans’, but it is these valuable polyphenols found in plants that are the flax seeds most prized possessions. Its humble seed provides a whopping 100 times more lignans than any other plant making it a true hero of the seed world, but just what makes this such an impressive fact?
The primary lignan in flax is secoisolariciresinol diglucoside or SDG for short, which once in our digestive system is metabolised by bacteria in our gut to enterodiol and enterolactone. These are known to possess phytoestrogenic effects by acting as weak oestrogens exerting positive effects on female hormone balance both pre and postmenopausally. They also possess antioxidant activity, which may prove useful in inflammatory situations where oxidative stress is present. To a certain extent the quality of our gut flora impacts on our ability to reap the rewards from these valuable substances, so to maximise their benefits we should be mindful of this.
Over recent years scientists have delved a little deeper into the potential health benefits of SDG, and thrown up some very interesting research that puts flax well and truly on the optimum health map.
Studies show evidence that SDG may be cardio protective. This is thought to be attributable to several mechanisms including its ability to lower total and LDL cholesterol levels as well as reduce blood pressure by indirectly increasing nitric oxide which is a potent vasodilator (widens the arteries). SDG may also improve glycaemic control and lower blood sugar levels, thereby having the potential for delaying the development of type II diabetes.
Just these two beneficial effects could have far reaching consequences for many of us as we age, but men in particular may want to consider adding flax to their diets on a regular basis with further research suggesting lignans may have positive effects on prostate health. They found that higher levels of lignans in the blood were associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer.
Perhaps with such a plethora of virtues we ought to give the small seed a big round of applause. It may be small but it certainly seems mighty.