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Flax has roots dating back to ancient Egypt and China, making it one of the oldest fiber crops to be recorded. Flaxseeds are a rich source of nutrients, such as manganese, vitamin B-1, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Although researchers are still exploring the potential health benefits of flaxseed, some people think it protects against a number of conditions ranging from diabetes to prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer affecting American men. Approximately 1 in 7 men will be diagnosed with this disease.

The health benefits of flaxseed

Benefits

  1. This fiber-rich food can help you manage your blood sugar levels.
  2. The omega-3s found in flaxseed may help lower blood pressure and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
  3. Dietary lignans are estrogen-like compounds that can benefit women’s overall health.

Many of flaxseed’s benefits come from its high-fiber and omega-3 content. It’s also rich in phytochemicals known as lignans. These phytochemicals are in many fiber-rich foods and considered a natural antioxidant.

Although more research is necessary, it’s been suggested that eating flaxseed can help:

Some people think the dietary lignans in flaxseed contribute to the seed’s cancer-fighting properties. This may be because lignans are a type of phytoestrogen, which is similar to the hormone estrogen. Because of this, lignans may be beneficial for people with hormone-linked cancers. This includes prostate cancer.

What the research says

Flaxseed consumption may reduce the risk of prostate cancer. Researchers in one 2014 study found that flaxseed might help maintain overall prostate health and reduce the risk of an enlarged prostate.

If you’ve already been diagnosed with prostate cancer, flaxseed consumption may be an effective complementary treatment. Researchers in one 2013 study concluded that the lignans in flaxseed might prevent cancerous cells from spreading in men with localized prostate cancer.

Men receiving radiation treatment for prostate cancer may also benefit from flaxseeds. Researchers in one 2007 animal study looked at the potential radioprotective effects of flaxseed oil. Researchers found that mice treated with flaxseed oil had a longer lifespan after radiation than mice in the control group. These mice also had fewer radiation-related deficits in weight.

Research regarding flaxseed’s effect on prostate cancer is ongoing. Overall, health experts still aren’t sure why flaxseeds and other lignans may help with prostate health and cancer prevention.

Check out: 11 Things you don’t know about prostate cancer »

How to use flaxseed

Flaxseed is available in many forms. Although you can purchase flaxseed supplements or capsules, many people opt to add flaxseed to their diet. It’s thought that the most benefit can be derived from ground flaxseed, as whole flaxseed may pass through your system undigested.

You can buy flaxseed at most grocery or health food stores. If you buy whole flax seed, you can grind the seeds in a coffee grinder to maximize their potential health benefits. If you store them in an airtight container, ground flaxseed can last several months. You may keep whole seeds fresh by storing them in the refrigerator.

You can add flaxseed to your diet in several ways. You may consider adding about a tablespoon of ground flaxseed to:

  • breakfast cereal
  • yogurt
  • smoothies

Some raw or unripe flaxseeds contain toxins. Although flaxseed is generally safe when you eat it in small amounts, consuming more than 5 tablespoons, or 50 grams, of whole flaxseed per day may cause mild side effects.

If you wish to eat a larger amount, toast, cook, or bake the seeds. Although this will destroy the toxins, this may decrease the potential nutritional benefits.

Risks and warnings

Risks

  1. Consuming large amounts of flaxseed may cause mild gastrointestinal discomfort.
  2. Flaxseed may affect your blood sugar or blood pressure.
  3. You shouldn’t eat flaxseed if you have a bowel disorder.

Most people can eat flaxseed or flaxseed oil without experiencing any side effects. You should stay hydrated when consuming flaxseed. The seed is naturally absorbent and eating it can lead to dehydration if you don’t use moderation when consuming it.

If you consume over 5 tablespoons of certain raw or unripe flaxseeds, you may experience mild side effects, including:

  • bloating
  • a stomachache
  • indigestion
  • gas

You shouldn’t eat flaxseed if you have in inflammatory bowel disease, diverticulitis, or frequent diarrhea.

Flaxseed may lower your blood sugar levels, so people with diabetes or hypoglycemia should exercise caution. You should also consult your doctor before eating flaxseed if you’re taking anticoagulants or blood pressure medication.

Other treatments for prostate cancer

If you’ve been diagnosed with prostate cancer, you shouldn’t use flaxseed as a first-line treatment. Talk with your doctor about adding flaxseed to your overall regimen. Together, you can determine the best treatment plan for you.

Traditional treatment for prostate cancer may include the following:

  • Several surgical methods are available, but a radical prostatectomy is the most common. During this surgery, your doctor will remove your prostate gland and some surrounding tissue.
  • Your doctor may recommend watching and waiting, or surveillance, if your cancer is slow growing. Your doctor will monitor any growth with a digital rectal exam or prostate-specific antigen test.
  • A vaccine that boosts the immune system to help it fight off cancerous cells is available.
  • Hormone therapy reduces the level of male hormones, or androgens, which can cause cancerous cells to grow.
  • Your doctor may recommend radiation as a localized treatment if your cancer is low-grade. It may prevent the cancer from spreading.

What you can do now

Research on the anticancer properties of flaxseed is ongoing. If you want to add flaxseed to your treatment or prevention regimen, consult with your doctor. They can discuss the potential benefits and risks of consuming flaxseed and help you determine whether this is the best option for you.

If you decide to give flaxseed a try, keep the following tips in mind:

  • You should limit your consumption to 5 tablespoons or less per day.
  • Large amounts of flaxseed may trigger unpleasant side effects, such as a stomachache.
  • Flaxseed can affect certain medications, so consult your doctor before consumption.

Although flaxseed may have a positive effect on your health, it isn’t a first-line treatment. If you’ve been diagnosed with prostate cancer and wish to try flaxseed, you should still continue with any traditional treatments your doctor may recommend. Flaxseed may be beneficial as a complementary treatment.

Other ways to prevent prostate cancer

You can’t change some risk factors, such as your family history. You do have control over certain lifestyle choices, such as your diet. You may be able to reduce your risk by eating a diet that’s low in fat and high in fruits and vegetables.

Here are some tips to improve your diet:

  • Choose lean cuts of meat.
  • Opt for low-fat or reduced-fat dairy products.
  • Use plant-based fats, such as olive oil, in place of animal fats, such as butter.
  • The more fruits and vegetables you eat, the better.

Add foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish and flaxseed.

Getting exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and quitting smoking may also help you reduce your risk. Keep up with your regular physical exams, and discuss your risk with your doctor. They can recommend tips for prevention and set up an appropriate screening schedule for you.

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