Flaxseed has been popular as a laxative since at least ancient Egypt. Now grown in many parts of the world, the seeds and oil (derived by crushing the seeds) from the flax plant are thought to have other medicinal values as well. For example, contemporary research shows the seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids, considered important for cardiovascular health.
Uses: Flaxseed is used variously to lower cholesterol, help prevent heart disease and cancer, ease premenstrual syndrome and improve the symptoms of inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis, lupus and psoriasis.
Dose: Comes in liquid, capsule or powder form. Typically, dose is 1 tablespoon of oil or 500- to 1,000-milligram capsules.
Precautions: Large doses can cause diarrhea (because of flaxseed’s laxative effect) and interfere with the absorption of other nutrients.
Research: Studies are mixed on whether flaxseed lowers cholesterol levels, but the possible effect on cholesterol is so promising that the federal government recently launched a study to evaluate it. The evidence for cancer prevention has only been established in animal studies. Other uses of flaxseed are based on folklore rather than science.
Dietary supplement makers are not required by the U.S. government to demonstrate that their products are safe or effective. Ask your health-care provider for advice on selecting a brand.