Flaxseeds or Linseeds as they are also called are seeds of a plant which grows up to a metre high and bears blue coloured flowers in the early months of every year. In the northern part of our country we know them as Alsi ke beej. Both the seeds themselves and the oil extracted from them have numerous therapeutic uses. Their nutritional benefits are due to their being a rich source of good quality fats and natural fiber. The Flaxseed oil is a potent source of essential fatty acids-- those that are critical to health but which the body cannot make on its own. Apart from having Omega-6 fatty acids in the form of linoleic acid (the same good fats that are present in most other edible vegetable oils), flaxseed oil boasts of containing Omega-3 fatty acids in the form of alfa- linoleic acid.
Omega-3s, we know have been acclaimed in the recent years for specifically protecting against heart disease apart from treating many other ailments. These essential fatty acids get to the membrane of body cells and act as guards admitting only healthy substances and barring damaging ones. This is how the flaxseed oil helps to lower bad cholesterol, thereby protecting against heart disease, angina and high blood pressure.
The essential fatty acids (EFAs) also facilitate the transmission of nervous impulses, therefore making flaxseed oil potentially useful for numbness and tingling as well as for preventing serious nerve ailments like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. Another benefit that fats of flaxseed oil have is that they speed up healing of skin lesions, and are effective for everything from acne to psoriasis, to eczema and to sunburn. Moreover, they promote health of hair and nails.
In addition to EFAs, flaxseed oil has substances called lignans. Lignans have beneficial effect on the hormonal system of the body, by which they help to fight cancers. Gram for gram, linseeds have up to 800 times more of this wonder substance than in most other foods. Though further studies are still required to confirm, but it is understood that consuming flaxseed oil may reduce the risk of breast, colon, prostate and skin cancers.
Flaxseeds also contain phyto-oestrogens that can mimic the human sex hormone oestrogen. In this capacity the oil is useful for infertility, impotence, menstrual cramps, endometriosis and menopausal problems. As an anti inflammatory, the oil relieves the pain of menstrual cramps and that associated with gout. It is also believed to possess a property by means of which it can help to prevent or even dissolve gallstones.
Crushed flaxseeds are an excellent source of fiber. Consuming them in the form of `Alsi ki pinni' or as such with a glass of water will add bulk to the stools and lubricate them too, thus relieving constipation. But remember to take plenty of water while consuming seeds in any form (a large glass per tablespoon) to prevent them from blocking the throat or digestive tract after swelling.
Consuming liquid flaxseed oil as such is the easiest way to get a therapeutic amount of this wonder food, that is about 2 to 3 tsp in a day and taking it with food enhances its absorption. The oil has a nutty, buttery taste that is usually enjoyed. It can therefore be sprinkled over foods and added to salad dressings. Cooking with flaxseed oil is not advised as heating breaks down its nutrients which are damaged by oxidation.
HOD Home Science
I. B. College, Panipat.