Flaxseeds Reduce Breast Cancer Risk

Thursday, January 11, 2007 - 3:29pm

By Erin Dummert RD, CD

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 212,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. Scientists at the American Institute for Cancer Research estimate that between 30 to 40 percent of all cancers are directly linked to diet, weight, and physical activity. Common guidelines for avoiding cancer include eating 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables per day and limiting consumption of meat and animal products. However, recently oncology nutrition professionals have added flaxseed to the list of cancer prevention tools. New guidelines suggest eating 1 to 3 tablespoons of ground flaxseed daily for prevention of many chronic diseases, including breast cancer.

What Is Flaxseed?

Throughout history, flaxseed has been consumed for its nutritional and health benefits. A simple seed rich in omega-3 fatty acids, dietary fiber, and plant lignans, flaxseed was used by Hippocrates as one of the original cures for abdominal pain. Until recently, flaxseed's beneficial nutritional qualities have virtually been forgotten. In fact, its main uses have become primarily industrial, due to its ability to act as a protective oil and its use as a fiber for linen products. Fortunately, researchers have recently rediscovered the health benefits of this ancient seed and have found that it can not only help prevent breast cancer from developing, it can even slow the growth of existing breast cancer cells and prevent them from spreading to the lungs and other organs.

The Importance of Omega-3s

New research indicates that women who regularly consume omega-3 fatty acids over many years may be less likely to develop breast cancer. Although fish such as salmon and tuna are touted for their high omega-3 content, flaxseed is the richest source in the world. The benefits of omega-3 are many, including reducing blood clotting, inflammation, and swelling. Studies also show that it has the ability to inhibit the growth of some cancers.

The Power of Lignans

Flaxseed is also the world's richest source of lignans, providing up to 800 times more than any other plant. Lignans are both antioxidants and phytoestrogens. Antioxidants are compounds that work to protect cells from damage. Phytoestrogens are weak plant estrogens that inhibit the body's own harmful estrogen and protect breast cells from developing cancer. Lignans have been shown in scientific studies to inhibit the growth and spread of breast cancer cells.

Add Flax to Your Diet

Incorporating flaxseed into your diet is simple and inexpensive, and can significantly impact your health. Follow these guidelines to start reaping all nutritional benefits flaxseed offers.

Purchasing Flaxseed

Flaxseed can be purchased at many health food stores and supermarkets. Available in bulk or pre-packaged, the price varies from approximately $1.50 per pound for bulk seeds, or up to $5 per pound for pre-packaged. To obtain the greatest nutritional benefit, purchase only whole seeds. Flax meal, flax flour, or pre-ground flaxseed are not recommended, as they lose much of the beneficial omega-3 in processing. Flax oil contains only a negligible amount of the beneficial lignans. Even oils that claim to have high lignan content pale in nutritional comparison with the actual flaxseed.

For more information on the different forms of flaxseed see the following article from TheDietChannel: Flaxseed: Which Form Should You Eat?

Handling flaxseeds

Flaxseeds must be ground for optimal nutritional benefit. Flaxseeds can be ground in a blender or coffee grinder. Many stores also have grinders for use. Grind 1 to 2 cups at a time and use as needed.

What is the best way to store flaxseeds?

Keep whole flaxseeds at room temperature for up to 1 year. Ground flaxseeds should be frozen in an opaque container for up to 4 months.

How and where can you use flaxseeds in your diet?

Use ground flaxseed in oatmeal, cream of wheat, yogurt, smoothies, casseroles, meatloaf, hamburgers, chili, muffins, pancakes, breads, cookies, etc. Be creative!

Substitution of other foods by flaxseed

Although ground flaxseed appears powdery and dry, it contributes a significant amount of healthy fat to a product. As a result, it can be used as a fat or egg substitute. Use the following conversions:

  • Oil substitute - Use 3 tablespoons of ground flax in place of 1 tablespoon margarine, butter, or oil.

  • Egg substitute - 1 tablespoon of ground flax mixed with 3 tablespoons water is equivalent to 1 egg. Let the flax and water mixture sit for 3-5 minutes before adding it to your recipe. Use this substitution in pancakes, muffins, and cookies. The finished product will be a chewier version of the original recipe, with less volume.

Daily recommended allowance of flaxseed

  • Use 1 to 3 tablespoons of ground flaxseed daily. Do not exceed 3 tablespoons.

  • Start with ½ tablespoon per day and work your way up to the recommended amount.
  • Do not use flaxseed if you have diarrhea.

With its high omega-3 and lignan content, flaxseed is one of the most beneficial plant foods on earth. It is inexpensive, readily available, and easy to incorporate into a healthy diet. Just 1 to 3 tablespoons daily can reduce the risk of many chronic diseases. Start reaping the many nutritional benefits today!