There are a number of sources of Omega-3. The most well known are cold water fish and flaxseed oil. Interestingly both these sources differ as to the amount of Omega-3 they contain and how the Omega-3 is processed in the body.
Unrefined organic flaxseed oil contains around 55% Omega-3 more than any other source. The American Dietetic Association lists flaxseed oil as the richest source of ALA (alpha linolenic acid), and ALA is a parent compound of Omega-3 fats. ALA is converted in the body to EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
What is flaxseed?
Flaxseed is also known as linseed which is a flowering annual with blue flowers. It is versatile, being used in industrial and culinary contexts. The fibre from the outer part of the plant is used in textiles and rope. Highly valued for its oil and fibre, flaxseed has been linked to many health benefits.
Flaxseed can be purchased as oil, or as whole or ground seeds. Flaxseed oil has a nutty flavour and the oil is not used for cooking as the nutritional value is lost but is used in dressings over salads, cooked vegetables, in dips among other dishes. It is stored in an amber coloured bottle in the fridge to prevent oxidisation.
There are two types of flaxseed: Brown and Golden. Golden is preferred for its nutty flavour, while Brown is used for Linseed oil and paints. As for many seeds and beans, it is always best to grind the flaxseeds just before consumption, keeping the quality and flavour. The nutrients are absorbed easily from the flaxseeds when ground.
What nutrients are in flaxseeds?
As well as being high in Omega-3, flaxseeds are an excellent source of dietary fibre, and manganese, and a good source of folate, vitamin B6, as well as the minerals magnesium, phosphorus, and copper. Another important nutrient contained in flaxseeds is lignan phytonutrients. The flaxseed is densely packed with nutrition.
What are the health benefits?
Canadian Council of Flax lists, with studies and references, the benefits of flaxseed for certain conditions, which include: arrhythmia, prostate cancer, blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, heart health, depression.
Balanced omega-3 and omega-6 ratio
In general, western diets contain around 10 times more Omega-6 than Omega-3. Medical bodies such as the National and Medical Research Council recommend increasing the amount of Omega-3 consumed so that there is an even balance with Omega-6. Omega-6 is derived from a range of vegetable oils including sunflower, safflower, sesame, peanut, as well as polyunsaturated margarines or spreads, dairy and fatty meats.
The body uses Omega-3 to make anti-inflammatory molecules which are effective against inflammatory conditions including arthritis, asthma, migraines and osteoporosis. On the other hand the body uses Omega-6 to produce pro-inflammatory molecules. We need both types of Omega as long as Omega-6 is balanced by Omega-3.
Consuming more Omega-3 is beneficial against excessive bone loss because of the higher ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6. When the ratio is even, the damaging effect of Omega-6 is reduced which researchers believe is due to the anti-inflammatory molecules protecting the body against the pro-inflammatory ones.
Other research has found that a healthy heart benefits from a balance of the Omega oils.
As previously mentioned flaxseed contains lignans. Lignan compounds, which may be found in other seeds and grains, are converted in the body into hormone-like molecules. These molecules have been found to provide some protection against breast cancer. Other benefits for women include: reduced dry eyes, hot flashes, help with ovulation and balancing the hormones.
The lignans are recognised as antioxidants and beneficial for viral, fungal and bacterial infections.
Recommendations for taking flaxseed
If you are taking medications (particularly those for blood thinning, diabetic and hormonal conditions) and wish to take flaxseed, it is advisable to discuss this with a qualified health care practitioner. If you are taking dietary supplements, the recommendation is to take flaxseed at a different time so as not to affect absorption — 1 hour before or 2 hours after. (Source: University of Maryland Medical Center)
The Omega-3 and Omega-6 oils are essential fatty acids which can only be obtained from food sources and cannot be synthesized. Lynn Berry, Natural News