The Health Benefits of Flaxseed Oil

Flaxseed oil can reduce inflammation and promote heart and skin health

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Flaxseed oil is known for its many health benefits, which include lowering inflammation, preventing heart disease, and reducing cancer risk. There are many more health benefits, along with some side effects and precautions to take when adding flaxseed oil to your diet.

Health Benefits of Flaxseed Oil
Illustration by Brianna Gilmartin, Verywell

Health Benefits

Flaxseed oil is also known as flax oil and linseed oil. It is made from ground and pressed flax seeds. 

Compounds

The oil contains many active and helpful compounds including: 

  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Healthy proteins that may decrease risk factors of heart disease
  • Fiber to prevent digestive issues and constipation
  • Phenolic compounds (lignans) which may prevent cancer
  • Minerals, including calcium and magnesium

Here are some of the impressive health benefits of flaxseed oil and evidence to back up these claims. 

Lowers Inflammation 

Because flaxseed oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, it may reduce inflammation. One animal study found flaxseed oil is loaded with anti-inflammatory properties and these offered impressive inflammation-lowering qualities. However, studies in humans have yielded mixed results. 

One analysis of multiple human studies found flaxseed contained compounds helpful for reducing C-reactive proteins (inflammation markers) in some of the study participants. The analysis may indicate the properties of flaxseed oil affect people differently and therefore, more research is needed to determine its effects on inflammation in the general population.

Reduces Cancer Risk 

Flaxseed oil contains linoorbitides, compounds known for their cancer-fighting and antioxidant properties. The oil is also a rich source of dietary lignans, which have been found to reduce breast cancer risk.

Alpha-linolenic acids (ALA) in flaxseed oil may also slow down the growth of cancer cells and even kill them. While the research on ALA and cancer risk reduction is promising, the amount needed to make it a helpful therapy is excessive, which poses the risk for significant side effects and complications.

Promotes Heart Health

Studies have found flaxseed oil supplements can increase omega-3 fatty acids and EPA and DHA levels, all essential compounds for promoting a healthy heart and preventing heart disease. ALA is converted to EPA and DHA in the body, while flaxseed naturally contains omega-3 fatty acids.

Improves Gut Health 

Flaxseed oil has laxative properties. In a study of 50 hemodialysis patients, daily supplementation of flaxseed oil helped relieve constipation. An irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) study of 40 patients found that flaxseeds were helpful in lowering inflammation associated with IBS symptoms, including constipation and diarrhea.

Improves Skin 

Low ALA is connected to skin problems and because flaxseed oil is high in ALA, it may support skin health. Research shows flaxseed oil may help with reducing skin cell inflammation and promoting skin regeneration.

Aids in Weight Loss 

Flaxseed oil may keep things moving along in the digestive system to detoxify the body and help with weight loss. In fact, a 2012 report in the journal, Appetite, finds that flaxseed oil can help with suppressing appetite, allowing for reduced food intake and weight loss. 

Reduces Menopause Symptoms 

There has been some evidence flaxseed oil may help with menopause symptoms. One study of 140 menopausal women using flaxseed oil supplements showed decreased hot flashes and increased life quality.

Possible Side Effects

Flaxseed oil is usually safe for most adults when taken by mouth correctly and in the short-term. Large doses can cause diarrhea and loose stools. Allergic reactions are also possible. 

There has been some research suggesting ALA can increase the risk of prostate cancer or promote tumor growth. However, much of this research is speculative and other research suggests flaxseed can actually benefit men’s prostate health. 

Additional research shows ALA from animal-based foods high in saturated fats might be linked to prostate cancer and even then, ALA may not be the culprit and other substances in those foods might promote tumor growth. Any man who is concerned about the effects of flaxseed oil on their prostate should direct their questions to their doctor before adding flaxseed oil to their diet.

Anyone using flaxseed oil on skin and hair should be aware that there is not enough evidence on the safety of flaxseed oil when applied topically. 

People who shouldn’t use flaxseed oil include:

  • Pregnant women: It may pose adverse effects on pregnancy, including an increased risk for premature birth.
  • Children: There has not been enough evidence on the safety of flaxseed oil when taken by children, although it is likely safe for children to consume small amounts of flaxseeds.
  • Breastfeeding mothers: There isn’t enough reliable information about the safety of flaxseed oil for women who are breastfeeding.
  • People with bleeding disorders: Flaxseed oil may increase the risk of bleeding so anyone with a bleeding disorder should talk to their doctor before using flaxseed oil in food, in supplement form, or as a topical treatment.
  • Surgery: Flaxseed oil should not be used before surgery and should be stopped at least two weeks before surgery, and after surgery to avoid bleeding risk.
  • Persons on blood clotting drugs: Taking flaxseed oil with medications that slow down blood clotting (i.e. aspirin, diclofenac, warfarin, etc.) may increase the risk of bleeding and bruising.

Dosage and Preparations

There is no standard dosing for flaxseed oil. It is available as an oil used in food preparation and in gel cap supplements. The recommended dosage varies based on the manufacturer. Consult your doctor to determine if a flaxseed oil supplement is right for you.

Flaxseed oil can be used as a salad oil, in cold sauces, and added to juice, shakes, or smoothies. However, the oil should not be used in recipes that require heating, such as stir-fries or baking. When it is exposed to heat, it can form harmful chemicals

In addition to using in food, flaxseed oil can be applied to the skin or added to your favorite skin cream to increase moisture in the skin and improve skin health. Moreover, it can be applied to hair to promote shine and growth. 

What to Look For

Look for cold-pressed oil packaged in an opaque bottle to protect it from the light. Some flaxseed oils have additional antioxidants added to make it shelf-stable, which means it doesn’t need to be refrigerated until opened. Otherwise, look for flaxseed oil in the refrigerated section of your health food store. Once opened, all flaxseed oil should be refrigerated. 

Fresh flaxseed oil has a mild nutty aroma reminiscent of sunflower or sesame seeds and tastes crisp and mildly nutty. The oil should be clear, golden-yellow flavor. Some oils, known as high-lignan oil, contain particulate of ground flaxseed and may appear to have dirt or grit in it, which is normal.

Oil that is cloudy, smells fishy or like fried oil, or has a bitter or burnt flavor, is rancid and should not be used. If it has a foul odor or is past its expiration date, throw it out.

A Word From Verywell

Flaxseed oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids and other healthful compounds and has been shown to have a variety of health benefits. Most of the research conducted on the effectiveness and health benefits of flaxseed oil has been on animal models and studies on humans have been limited. It is, therefore, important for anyone considering flaxseed oil in supplement form or as an oil to talk to a doctor on safety and precautions.

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