Flaxseed Oil: This Anti-Inflammatory Oil Is Great For Blood Sugar & Skin Health
Olive oil, coconut oil, grapeseed oil, peanut oil, avocado oil, canola oil—the list of all the different types and forms of oil goes on and on and on (and on!). Admittedly, sometimes it can feel overwhelming to separate the healthy fats and oils from the unhealthy ones so that you can make the best choice for your health. With so many options in front of you, where do you even start?
Well, I have some good news: You don't have to be a world-renowned cardiologist to know healthy oils from unhealthy ones. It's all about identifying your favorite healthy oils, learning to use them the right way, and then sticking to those habits. And one healthy oil in particular, called flaxseed oil, is worth learning about in more depth because of its exciting health benefits.
Flaxseed oil: what you should know about this healthy fat.
The first thing you need to know about flaxseed oil is that it's healthy largely because of its high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids1, which are a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids that are important for a number of functions in the body—including the cardiovascular, pulmonary, immune, and endocrine systems—and play a critical role in the structure of cell membranes.
If you're particularly nutrition-savvy, you know that there are different types of omega-3s. An important one to know about when it comes to flaxseed oil is ALA, also known as alpha-linolenic acid. ALA is a plant-based source of essential omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid ("essential" means they must be obtained through the diet because our bodies don't make this type of fat naturally). The body converts ALA to EPA and DHA, which are the healthy fats found in fish oil.
ALA is present in many plant-based oils, including—you guessed it!—flaxseed oil. You can safely supplement with ALAs in a variety of supplement and food sources to receive many health benefits, particularly ALAs brain-protecting properties2.
So why not just take fish oil? You could also take a fish oil supplement, which contains the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA (normally in doses around 80 mg EPA and 120 mg DHA3). But because it's plant-based, flaxseed oil is a particularly great option for vegans and vegetarians—who sometimes have trouble incorporating adequate levels of healthy fats into their daily diet—and for the health of the planet.
The benefits of omega-3s.
As we mentioned before, omega-3s are famous for their health-promoting properties. One of the most exciting benefits is their ability to fight depression. A meta-analysis of current research suggests that consuming omega-3s reduced the risk of depression by 17 percent4. That is a pretty striking number, but the brain-supporting benefits of omega-3s don’t end there. A double-blind study showed that omega-3 supplementation improved cognitive performance5 in young adults, and another study showed that they can improve memory function in adults6 with mild cognitive impairment. In other words: Omega-3s are proving to be critical for a healthy brain and mood.
Research has also shown that consuming plenty of omega-3s—from either supplements or food—can decrease the risk of cancer, particularly breast cancer7 and colorectal cancer8. Omega 3s have also been shown to improve blood pressure9 and are well-known for reducing inflammation and fending off autoimmune diseases10, which are a group of illnesses classified by an overactive immune system that attacks the body's own tissues.
Finally, consuming adequate amounts of omega-3s can help improve eye health11 (reducing symptoms of dry eye disease), and one study that evaluated questionnaires and dietary records from over 200 women was able to link a higher consumption of omega-3s to decreased menstrual pain.
Flaxseed oil benefits.
And now on to some flaxseed oil and flaxseed-specific benefits. Studies have shown that consuming flaxseed can help relieve constipation. One four-week double-blind, randomized controlled trial that was conducted on 50 patients showed that daily use of flaxseed oil was as effective (as using olive oil or mineral oil) at treating constipation12. Other research on animals shows that flaxseed has anti-tumor and cancer-reducing effects13 and can lower cholesterol levels14, not unlike the research above on omega-3s—which makes sense because flaxseed oil is rich in omega-3s.
If you're reading mindbodygreen, chances are that you're interested in fending off chronic inflammation and all the health woes—like aches and pains, headaches, and poor sleep (just to name a few)—that come with it. Well, good news! Flaxseed powder was shown to reduce inflammatory markers (specifically TNF-α and C-reactive protein) in men during a 42-day, single-blinded weight loss study. C-reactive protein and TNF-α are just two of the many ways to test for chronic inflammation.
It also appears that flaxseeds have a positive influence on blood sugar balance, which is especially important considering the fact that one in three Americans have prediabetes. Consuming flaxseed has also been shown to reduce fasting blood glucose15 by 19.7 percent in patients with type 2 diabetes (the patients consumed flaxseed powder every day for one month).
Flaxseed oil for skin.
Many people also swear by flaxseed oil for improving skin health. And while the research supporting using flaxseed oil this way isn't particularly strong, there are a few studies that show that flaxseed oil can improve overall skin quality. One showed that flaxseed oil decreases skin roughness, scaling, and sensitivity while improving hydration and smoothness.
Another study performed on animals showed that skin damage that occurs as a result of cigarette smoke can be improved by ALA16 (remember, this is the omega-3 specifically found in flaxseed oil). This is likely due to ALA's antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which are thought to help reduce oxidative stress and even stimulate collagen synthesis. So next time you're making one of your favorite collagen recipes—like iced cream and chia pudding—consider adding a little flaxseed oil for extra skin-supporting benefits.
Flaxseed oil dosing and safety.
As we already know, flaxseed oil has a lot of potential benefits for our health. But are there any safety concerns? Because of flaxseed oil's ability to decrease platelet aggregation, it could interact with anticoagulant or antiplatelet medications. It may also lower blood pressure, and, therefore, you should always talk to your doctor about taking flaxseed oil with blood pressure medication17 because it has the potential to cause very low blood pressure. In fact, you should always talk to your doctor before trying any new supplement.
It's also important to avoid eating unripe flaxseeds because they could potentially contain toxic cyanide compounds. Many experts also recommend avoiding flaxseed and flaxseed oil during pregnancy because they may have some mild hormonal effects. In fact, some experts recommend strategically consuming flaxseeds as part of an alternative hormone therapy called "seed cycling." Flaxseed oil and flaxseeds have the potential to cause GI distress (i.e., diarrhea or constipation), so it's important to drink plenty of water when you take them because they are very high in fiber.
So how do you know if flaxseed oil is right for you? It depends on your goals and what nutrients you're looking for. One tablespoon of flaxseeds18 is about 2 grams of ALA and 1 tablespoon of flaxseed oil yields about 7 grams of ALA. It's typically recommended that you take 1 to 2 tablespoons of flaxseed oil19 each day; you can also take flaxseed oil in supplement capsule form, and in that case the recommended dose is 1,000 mg twice daily.
Flaxseed oil cooking.
If you've gotten this far, you might be wondering what the basic do's and don'ts are for incorporating flaxseed oil into your everyday routine. It's important to know that flaxseed oil, which is a golden-yellow color, is very sensitive to heat, light, and oxygen20. It's typically recommended that you avoid using flaxseed oil at high temperatures, and the smoke point of this oil is around 225 degrees Fahrenheit. That said, some studies have shown that heating it up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit didn't negatively affect the quality of the oil20. Flaxseed oil has a pretty neutral taste and is generally extracted by way of cold pressing. You always want to store flaxseed oil properly because it can easily become rancid; it's recommended that you keep it in a colored container in the fridge for no more than three to six months.
So there you have it! Everything you need to know about incorporating flaxseed oil into your wellness routine. Luckily, it's not difficult to take advantage of flax's many health benefits.
Gretchen Lidicker has a B.S. in biology and earned her master’s degree in physiology with a concentration in complementary and alternative medicine from Georgetown University. She's the author of CBD Oil Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide to Hemp-Derived Health and Wellness and Magnesium Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide to Epsom Salts, Magnesium Oil, and Nature's Relaxation Mineral. A Kripalu Center for Yoga and Ayurveda-trained yoga instructor, expert bread baker, and farmers market fanatic, she believes that no day is complete without a good dance party.