Flaxseed has a reputation for being a great source of fiber and healthy fats. The most abundant fat in flaxseed is called alpha linoleic acid (ALA). This fat is thought to offer a number of health benefits which is one of the reasons researchers have focused a great deal of their attention on flaxseed.
A study done at Oklahoma State University was designed to see by how much flaxseed was able to lower bad cholesterol. The researchers in this study had 55 postmenopausal women with high cholesterol either include 30 grams of flaxseed in their diet or not include flaxseed in their diet.
After 3 months they found that the women who included flaxseed in their diets were able to lower their cholesterol by 10%. They also found that levels of good cholesterol were not affected.
Flaxseed vs Wheat Bran
A group of scientists at the University of Pennsylvania also wanted to test the cholesterol lowering power of flaxseed. The study they did involved 62 men and women who had relatively high levels of cholesterol. The women were all post-menopausal.
- These test subjects were instructed either eat baked goods that contained 40 grams of ground flaxseed or wheat bran every day for 10 weeks.
- They were also all put on a low fat, low cholesterol diet.
- At several points throughout the study these test subjects had their cholesterol measured.
Flaxseed was able to reduce bad cholesterol more than wheat bran for at least the first 5 weeks of the study. They also found that it helped improve what’s called insulin resistance which is good for preventing diabetes. Interestingly, they found that in men flaxseed lowered levels of the good kind of cholesterol but they noted that needs to be studied more. Based on this study it seems flaxseed does offer several benefits.
Another group of researchers at the Shanghai Institute for Biological Sciences decided to review 28 studies that were done to see the effects that flaxseed and flaxseed products had on cholesterol.
They found that whole flaxseed was able to significantly lower levels of bad cholesterol and so were supplements that had something called lignan which is found in flaxseed. Flaxseed oil was not found to be as effective. Women seemed to benefit more from the cholesterol lowering power of flaxseed especially when they were postmenopausal. Unlike with the last study, these researchers found that levels of good cholesterol were not affected by flaxseed.
Benefits of Lignan
As I mentioned, lignan is one of the healthy components of flaxseed. A study done at the University of Saskatchewan was designed to see how much lignan was able to help the cardiovascular systems of rabbits.
The rabbits were put into 1 of 3 groups.
- One group was given lignan.
- The second was given lignan plus a diet high in cholesterol.
- The last was given just a diet high in cholesterol or a normal diet.
The diets lasted for 2 months.
They found that the rabbits that were fed a diet high in cholesterol developed atherosclerosis which is a condition that causes your arteries to be too stiff. They also found however that lignan was able to prevent the development of atherosclerosis by 34.37% and lowered levels of bad cholesterol by 14%.
Additionally, they found that levels of good cholesterol increased from taking lignan by 30% in rabbits who had bad cholesterol levels and by 25% in rabbits who had normal cholesterol levels. These results show lignan can improve the cardiovascular system not only by lowering levels of bad cholesterol but also by increasing good cholesterol levels.
Most studies seem to show a clear advantage to including flaxseed in your diet. Flaxseed helps lower bad cholesterol and it appears that the lignan in flaxseed can help raise good cholesterol.