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Heart-Friendly Flax
by Luke Huber, N.D.

Flax is the best source of the omega-3 fatty acid alpha linolenic acid (ALA) in nature. It is also a great source of dietary fiber and lignans (plant hormones). A growing body of research shows clearly that flaxseed is a beneficial dietary supplement for people who want to reduce their risk of heart attack, atherosclerosis, and maintain a healthy level of blood cholesterol.


Cholesterol has received more attention than any other heart disease-related risk factor. High "bad" LDL and total cholesterol levels are considered to be key risk factors for atherosclerosis. Flaxseed contains significant quantities of fiber, which has been reported to help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Milled flaxseed actually has higher dietary fiber levels than that of oat bran, while also containing the important omega-3 fatty acid, ALA, both key elements in heart health.

Several studies have demonstrated the benefits of milled flax. Researchers at the University of Toronto studied a group of nine healthy women who added 50 grams of milled flaxseed (as is or cooked into bread) a day to their regular diets for four weeks. They found that total blood cholesterol levels dropped by 9 percent and LDL cholesterol decreased by 18 percent. In another study, 10 young healthy men and women ate flaxseed muffins providing 50 grams of flaxseed per day for four weeks. Their total plasma cholesterol was reduced 6 percent and LDL cholesterol was reduced up to 8 percent; plasma or "good" HDL cholesterol and triglycerides did not change.

Lastly, a group of researchers conducted a threemonth clinical trial studying the effects of flaxseed consumption on a group of 15 men and women with high cholesterol. The patients, who were on longterm intakes of vitamin E, added three slices of bread containing flaxseed and 15 grams of ground flaxseed to their daily diets. The result: a 7 percent decline in total blood cholesterol and 11 percent reduction in LDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol levels did not change during the study.

New research is also showing how the lignans in flaxseed decrease the LDL cholesterol, increase the HDL cholesterol, decrease blood pressure, suppress plaque development and inflammation, and enhance blood vessel tone. Increasing flax and lignans naturally through diet or supplementation is an effective method for achieving health and preventing chronic disease, especially heart disease.


One of the most significant landmark studies examining the relationship between dietary ALA and heart disease was that of the Framingham Heart Health Study. The dietary habits of more than 120,000 registered nurses were followed for more than 10 years. Nurses with the highest dietary intake of ALA experienced 30 percent fewer fatal heart attacks than those who consumed lower amounts of ALA. Regular consumption of flaxseed and/or flaxseed oil can provide similar results.


Flax oil may also be important for those with hypertension. A study that examined fatty acid profiles of male volunteers found that for every one percent increase in adipose ALA, there was a five-point drop in mean arterial blood pressure. In another study, 15 patients were put on a high-ALA, low-fat diet for 4 weeks, which resulted in increased arterial compliance, meaning increased elasticity of the blood vessels.


Flaxseed comes in many forms. It is available whole, milled, or as an oil in bottles or capsules. Two tablespoons (approximately 30 grams) per day of milled flaxseed may provide adequate supplementation of ALA, fiber, and lignans. Milled flaxseeds are easy to use in cooking and baking or add to foods, such as yogurt or cereal. Liquid flax seed oil can be used as a daily supplement, when added to a salad or a blender drink, or taken by the spoonful.

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