Elaine Magee, MPH, RD — WebMD Feature
Is flaxseed the new wonder food? Preliminary studies show that flaxseed may help fight everything from heart disease and diabetes to even breast cancer.
Flaxseed may be on everyone's lips -- and in everyone's cereal -- but this new darling of the plant world has been around for more than 4,000 years, known even in the days of Hippocrates for its healthful benefits.
Flaxseed has been a part of human and animal diets for thousands of years in Asia, Europe, and Africa, and more recently in North America and Australia, says Kaye Effertz, executive director of AmeriFlax, a trade promotion group representing U.S. flaxseed producers. As flax gained popularity for its industrial uses, however, its popularity as a food product waned, but it never lost its nutritional value. "Today flax is experiencing a renaissance among nutritionists, the health conscious public, food processors, and chefs alike," says Effertz.
The reason for the increasing interest in flaxseed is its apparent benefits for a host of medical conditions, says Roberta Lee, MD, medical director of the Center for Health and Healing at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in New York.
Flaxseed is very high in omega-3 essential fatty acids, Lee explains. It's the omega 3s -- "good" fats -- that researchers are looking at in terms of their possible effects on lowering cholesterol, stabilizing blood sugar, lowering the risk of breast, prostate, and colon cancers, and reducing the inflammation of arthritis, as well as the inflammation that accompanies certain illnesses such as Parkinson's disease and asthma.