Flaxseed oil taken to supplement dietary essential fatty acids is unrelated to the New Zealand flax plant (harakeke of the genus Phormium), which is really a lily unique to New Zealand. Flaxseed oil is sourced from the flax plant Linum usitatissimum, from the Linaceae family native to eastern Europe and parts of Asia, commonly known as Linseed. New Zealand Flaxseed Oil is produced from a blue flowered, annual crop grown mainly in the South Island.
How important is flaxseed oil?
Traditionally this flax plant has provided fibre for weaving (linen) and linseed oil for preserving woodwork. Oil from the seeds of this plant has high nutrient value, providing Omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids (EFAs).
Essential fatty acids, as their name suggests, are essential to our health, and our bodies can’t produce them. Good quality food sources of EFAs are therefore vital and flaxseed oil is one of the best available to us. Other good plant sources are chia seeds, hemp oil and walnuts. A benefit of using plant based oils over fish is that you aren’t risking exposure to mercury, often found in fish due to industry run-off and environmental pollution.
The plant form of Omega 3 is called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Flaxseed oil has one of the highest ALA content of any vegetarian source. Our bodies convert ALA to the bioactive fatty acid nutrients eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) through a series of enzymatic reactions. EPA is necessary for healthy cardiovascular function. DHA is the main fatty material in the brain, vitally important as a structural component of grey matter and the retina of the eye. Both brain and eye development and function can be negatively impacted without adequate levels of DHA.
The second essential fatty acid found within Flaxseed oil is Omega 6, or linoleic acid. Due to the amount of Omega 6 found in the modern diet through vegetable oils in processed foods, grain-fed meats, and roasted nuts, we are over-consuming Omega 6 and under-consuming Omega 3. This becomes a problem because too much Omega 6 creates a pro-inflammatory environment in the absence of adequate Omega 3s, which are the balancing anti-inflammatory EFAs. For a healthy balance of Omega 3 and Omega 6 EFAs through daily food intake, the traditional Mediterranean diet is recommended, being rich in Omega 3 through both fish and plant sources.
Flaxseeds are made up of approximately 18% protein, 42% fat, 29% carbohydrate (of which, 95% is fibre!!), and minerals including copper, manganese, molybdenum, magnesium, phosphorus. Of the 42% fat, about 73% of this is the Omega 6 and Omega 3, and 27% is other fats, mostly monounsaturated. In order to get the oil, it’s important to either grind up the fresh seeds or consume a cold-pressed oil product, because just eating the seeds whole, won’t give you access to the fats inside.
What are the health implications of a distorted ratio of Omega 6: Omega 3?
It appears that humans evolved with a ratio of Omega 6: Omega 3 of 1:1, whereas some western diets have become distorted to a ratio of around 15:1, with many people deficient in Omega 3 food sources. When there is excessive omega 6, many disease states are promoted. A lot of research has been done into the ideal ratio for good health and it appears that a range of around omega 6: omega 3 of 4:1 to 1:4 doesn’t promote many diseases and supports good health.
There are many functions of essential fatty acids within the body; some of which include growth & reproduction; the health of the hair and skin; healing of wounds; and they are a structural part of every cell membrane. Because of this, there is a broad range of health concerns that may be supported with oils rich in Omega 3.
What is the best way to take Flaxseed oil?
Flaxseed oil can be blended with other foods, like hummus, cottage cheese, yoghurt, smoothies, or as a salad dressing. It can be mixed through warm foods, but shouldn’t be heated because that will destroy the structure of the fat. You can drizzle it on toast with your favourite topping.
It’s best to start with a small amount – about 5 ml (1 teaspoon) per day and build up to 1 or 2 tablespoons (15-30 ml) per day.
Are there any contraindications, concerns or adverse effects reported?
When taken by adults within the recommended dosage range there are no adverse effects known and has an excellent safety profile.
Importance of quality processing
The best method to extract the oil is to ‘cold-press’. This means that there is a lot of pressure placed on the seeds. Pressure can generate heat, so it is important that the process is done in a way that they heat is kept as low as possible in order to protect the fats. It’s also ideal, if the supplier flush the bottle with a gas that will reduce oxygen, like argon or nitrogen. This helps extend the life of the product you are buying. Ideally the bottle will be protected from the light, and stored in the fridge once it has been open. It’s best to consume your open bottle within a few weeks.
-The HealthPost Naturopaths