Flax Seed Oil: Health Benefits and Side Effects
Flax seed oil is derived from the seeds of a blue flowering plant (Linum usitatissimum) that is grown as an alternative cash crop in North America. It is one of the richest known sources of alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid that’s important for health.
While EPA and DHA are typically associated with fish oils, many people prefer flax seed oil because it does not have a “fishy” aftertaste. In addition, strict vegetarians often choose flax seed oil as it’s a plant—not animal—derived source of essential fats.
The omega-3 fatty acids in flax seed oil benefit almost every system of the body. Studies show that EPA and DHA can help to protect the cardiovascular system from a host of problems, including blood clots, high blood pressure, and high blood fat levels.
People with diets rich in the omega-3 fatty acids have a lower risk of death from heart disease. Other benefits include the ability to reduce inflammation and contribute to the health of the central nervous system.
Flax seed oil also appears to help the skin.
Many users report that conditions like dandruff, psoriasis, eczema and dry skin have shown improvement with the use of flax seed oil as a dietary supplement.
Likewise, flax seed oil is often used by bodybuilders, who feel it helps improve fat loss and body composition.
Flax seed oil is available in capsules and in liquid form (either plain, flavored or in “optimized” fatty acid blends such as Udo’s Choice). Due to its highly unsaturated nature, however, it can oxidize very quickly when exposed to heat, light and air.
Thus, liquid flax seed oil should not be cooked with, but kept refrigerated, and used before the expiration date printed on the box or bottle (avoid purchasing oil without this information). If taking it off a spoon is an unappetizing prospect, it can be used in salad dressings or stirred into other foods (such as yogurt, smoothies, oatmeal, etc.) just before eating.
Some flax seed oils are advertised as “high lignan,” although in truth, the amounts are low compared to the whole/ground seeds. If you wish to obtain the health benefits of the lignans (not to mention other nutrients), it’s probably best to add some (freshly ground) flax seeds to your diet, in addition to the oil.
There is no accepted recommended dose for flax seed oil: people take anywhere from 1g–2g (caps) to several tablespoons per day. It can be readily purchased both on and offline (online, we recommend purchasing flax seed oil from BodyBuilding.com—they offer both great prices and service!).
There are no side effects associated with the use of flax seed oil itself, although there is the potential for interactions with blood-thinning and/or blood-sugar lowering medications. If you are taking prescription medications, be sure to check with your doctor before using flaxseed oil (or other supplements).