“Just the Flax and nothing but the Flax” — Officer Joe Friday

The benefits of flaxseed have been described for decades. If you eat flaxseeds whole, they will pass through undigested. In practice, the seed is crushed, and the oil is harvested. The most important component of the flaxseed is the husk. It is rich in lignin, which has the unique property of binding toxic substances, such as LDL cholesterol and lipoprotein-a, which can reduce atherosclerotic heart disease. Through a different mechanism, it reduces the risk of prostate and breast cancer. Many patients with years of irritable bowel syndrome have found relief with milled flax.

The way to maximize lignan exposure is to mill fresh flaxseed. How one mills it can make a significant difference. Historically, the seeds contained about 10% to 15% oil, were milled, and sold refrigerated or freeze-dried, and kept refrigerated until consumed. Left on the counter, exposed to sun and air, milled flaxseed becomes rancid in 2 to 3 weeks.

Look for cold-milled flax, and refrigerate or freeze it. Click To Tweet

I recently found milled flaxseed that doesn’t require refrigeration. It had 5 to 7% oil content, and smells like sawdust. Researching the topic, I discovered there are four ways to commercially mill flaxseed. More intense milling results in higher temperatures, smaller particles, and more oil extraction. No one has published an article comparing how this processing affects the binding capacity of hot-milled flax, but I think agricultural science has again found a way to produce a less nutritious product from a better one.

Until I see evidence that this new flaxseed is superior to the old, I would advise sticking with the old. Colder milled flax is proven to reduce cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, lipoprotein a, and block receptors that are implicated in prostate and breast cancer. It is the only substance known to bind lipoprotein-a, which the American Heart Association last year declared to be a significant independent risk for heart disease. Since I found the suspect flaxseed at Whole Foods, I can only advise you to read labels carefully. Otherwise, Swanson Vitamins has an inexpensive milled flaxseed. (www.Swanson.com) Remember to refrigerate or freeze it after you open the package.

James Katz MD

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