Flaxseed for Constipation and IBS Symptoms

Flaxseed, also known as linseed, is the tiny seeds from the flax plant. Because of their nutritional makeup, flaxseed has been investigated as a way to address the symptoms of many health conditions, including constipation.

Here you will learn about flaxseed so that you can make an informed decision as to whether it would be a good thing to add to your diet to ease your symptoms of constipation of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Bowl of flaxseed
Bill Noll / Getty Images

What Is Flaxseed?

The flaxseed plant has a long history of being used by humans for a wide variety of uses. The leaves, stems, and seeds of the flax plant have been used for clothing, in cooking, and for medicinal purposes, as well as in the manufacture of many worldwide goods.

More specifically, flaxseeds are the tiny, sesame seed-size seeds from the plant. Although flaxseed can be eaten whole, grinding the seeds allows the body to fully benefit from flaxseed’s many nutritional benefits:

  • Protein
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Dietary fiber (particularly soluble fiber)
  • Vitamins, minerals, and the phytochemical lignan

Nutritional and Health Benefits

When eaten in a ground form, flaxseed offers a wealth of healthful nutrients. Research on animals in laboratories and some preliminary studies with humans who have certain diseases have found evidence that flaxseed may:

  • Improve heart health
  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Reduce the risk of certain cancers (breast, colon, prostate)
  • Ease the symptoms of menopause

Clearly larger studies need to be conducted before any firm conclusions can be made about the helpfulness of flaxseed for these health problems. Still, these findings are exciting, nonetheless.

Research on Flaxseed and IBS

Although most studies have been done with laboratory animals, one small older study on 55 humans with constipation-predominant IBS found that flaxseed may not only help to ease constipation but may also help to reduce bloating and abdominal pain.

Flaxseed is effective in speeding up intestinal movement, resulting in an increased frequency of bowel movements.

Animal studies suggest that flaxseed may not only ease the symptoms of constipation but may also help to ease diarrhea due to its effect on stool formation.

That being said, if you have diarrhea-predominant IBS, (IBS-D) and you decide to give flaxseed a try, you may want to start with very small doses to allow your body time to adjust.

Although there is no research on the subject, it is possible that flaxseed might be a nice option for you if you have alternating type IBS (IBS-A) as the increase in fiber might theoretically help to stabilize the makeup of the stool.

On the flip side, it's worthy to note that another small study of 31 people with IBS found that flaxseed did not improve stool frequency or consistency. With that, more research is needed to better understand the role of flaxseed as a way to ease IBS symptoms.

How to Use and Store

You have the option to buy flaxseed pre-ground or to use a small coffee grinder to grind your own. Flaxseed has a pleasant nutty taste.

To avoid stomach upset, add flaxseed to your diet gradually. Start with about 1 teaspoon and work your way up to 2 tablespoons per day.

Make sure to drink lots of water when consuming flaxseed. Here are some ways to incorporate it into your daily diet:

  • Sprinkle ground flaxseed on cereal or yogurt
  • Add ground flaxseed to baked goods
  • Add ground flaxseed to smoothies
  • Fold ground flaxseed into your favorite meatloaf or sauce recipes

It is important to consider shelf-life requirements when deciding which form of flaxseed to use. Whole flaxseed has a shelf life of up to one year. Ground flaxseed should be refrigerated and used within a few months.

Flaxseed oil should be stored in the refrigerator to prevent it from going rancid. Use within a few weeks of opening. It is also important to bear in mind that flaxseed oil lacks fiber and some of the other major-nutritional benefits of flaxseed in its seed form.

A Word From Verywell

Before using any new substance on a regular basis, you should get clearance from your healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How much flaxseed should you take daily to regulate your bowels?

    Start with a small amount, about 1 teaspoon, to avoid an upset stomach. Then work up to 1 tablespoon a day, which will give you the recommended intake of fiber plus other nutrients to stay regular and healthy overall.

  • Can flaxseed help with constipation quickly?

    There is research showing that flaxseed is an effective laxative. You'll probably see the results and loosening of stool within 12 to 24 hours after taking flaxseed. Be sure to drink water throughout the day to help relieve the constipation.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Parikh M, Netticadan T, Pierce GN. Flaxseed: its bioactive components and their cardiovascular benefits. Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2018;314(2):H146-H159. doi:10.1152/ajpheart.00400.2017

  2. Deluca JAA, Garcia-villatoro EL, Allred CD. Flaxseed bioactive compounds and colorectal cancer prevention. Curr Oncol Rep. 2018;20(8):59. doi:10.1007/s11912-018-0704-z

  3. Ghazanfarpour M, Sadeghi R, Latifnejad roudsari R, et al. Effects of flaxseed and Hypericum perforatum on hot flash, vaginal atrophy and estrogen-dependent cancers in menopausal women: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Avicenna J Phytomed. 2016;6(3):273-83.

  4. Tarpila S, Tarpila A, Grohn P, Silvennoinen T, Lindberg L. Efficacy of ground flaxseed on constipation in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Current Topics in Nutraceutical Research. 2004;2:119-125.

  5. Hanif palla A, Gilani AH. Dual effectiveness of flaxseed in constipation and diarrhea: Possible mechanism. J Ethnopharmacol. 2015;169:60-8. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2015.03.064

  6. Cockerell KM, Watkins AS, Reeves LB, Goddard L, Lomer MC. Effects of linseeds on the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome: a pilot randomised controlled trial. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2012;25(5):435-43. doi:10.1111/j.1365-277X.2012.01263.x

  7. Nutrition Data. Flaxseed Nutrition Facts & Calories.

  8. Xu J, Zhou X, Chen C, et al. Laxative effects of partially defatted flaxseed meal on normal and experimental constipated mice. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2012;12(1):14. doi:10.1186%2F1472-6882-12-14

Additional Reading
  • University of Maryland Medical Center. Flaxseed.

  • Cockerell KM, Watkins AS, Reeves LB, Goddard L, Lomer MC. Effects of linseeds on the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome: a pilot randomised controlled trial. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics 2012 Oct;25(5):435-43.
  • Xu J. Laxative effects of partially defatted flaxseed meal on normal and experimental constipated mice. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2012 12:14.

By Barbara Bolen, PhD
Barbara Bolen, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and health coach. She has written multiple books focused on living with irritable bowel syndrome.