Flaxseed Oil Supplementation: Blood Pressure, Longevity, Cancer, and Other Applications
Source: Various Clinical Studies (See References)
Lifestyle Medicine Update (March 2, 2021)
Over the years I’ve made it a point to take an essential fatty acid supplement each day that contains 400 mg each of Fish oil, Flaxseed oil, and Borage Seed oil. Each capsule is 1200 mg, consisting of 400 mg of each oil. I generally take 2-3 capsules per day. There is solid evidence to show that the omega-3 fats in fish oil (EPA and DHA) are converted by the body into local hormones that reduce inflammation, and blood pressure may help to reduce cancer risk, along with supporting brain health. The GLA fatty acid in borage seed oil has also been shown to reduce inflammation in human subjects and shown to improve certain skin problems, arthritis, and nerve damage.
In this update, I want to touch on the research supporting the use of flaxseed oil. Flaxseed oil is a rich source of omega-3 fat known as ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). Studies show that the human body can slowly elongate ALA into the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA, found in fish. This elongation process directly inhibits the conversion of omega-6 fats into the dangerous Arachidonic acid, which the body otherwise converts into local hormones (PG-2) that increase inflammation and have been shown to increase cancer risk in many experimental studies. Many people are aware of the benefits of fish oil, but very few people appreciate the studies showing the health benefits of flaxseed oil, rich in the ALA omega-3 fat (57% ALA).
In 2005 the National Heart and Lung in Adults was one of the first studies to show that higher intake of ALA (from flaxseed oil) was associated with lower blood pressure. They also showed that higher tissue stores of ALA (adipose tissue) were linked to lower blood pressure readings in this large study involving over 4500 subjects (aged 25 to 93 years) (1) A well-designed study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2007 showed that supplementation with flaxseed oil reduced high blood pressure in high blood pressure patients who also have other risk factors for heart disease, including high LDL-cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) and low HDL-cholesterol (the good cholesterol). This 12-week study included eighty-seven male volunteers aged 35 to 70 years, who had high blood pressure, high LDL-cholesterol, and low HDL-cholesterol. One group was given safflower seed supplementation, which is high in omega-6 fats and the other group was given flaxseed oil, which is 57% ALA omega-3 fat. After 12-weeks the flaxseed oil group realized a drop in systolic and diastolic blood pressure of 5 mmHg compared to the original baseline level. No change in blood pressure occurred in the safflower seed oil group. Remember that for every 2-point decrease in blood pressure, the risk of heart disease decreases by 7%, and the risk of stroke decreases by 10%. (2) So, a 5 point drop in systolic and diastolic pressure is very significant regarding the reduction in risk of heart disease and stroke.
In-vitro studies have also shown that flaxseed oil supplementation may also reduce the risk of developing atrial fibrillation, which is a condition that affects 9% of people over the age of 65. (3). Consistent with these findings, studies link increased intake of ALA with a reduction in sudden death and non-fatal heart attack (myocardial infarction) (2). Also noteworthy in my view is the fact that experimental studies show that flaxseed oil supplementation inhibits chemical-induced colon cancer in animal studies when tested against corn oil supplementation. This is likely due to the fact that ALA (in flaxseed oil) is indirectly converted to prostaglandin hormones that slow the rate of cell division, whereas the LA (linoleic acid) in corn oil is indirectly converted to prostaglandin hormones that speed up the rate of cell division. Slowing the rate of cell division is a known way to reduce cancer risk in most tissues in the body. Higher intake of ALA has been shown to accumulate in colon cells when flaxseed oil supplementation is provided. (4)
As so aptly explained in the 2015 review paper in the Journal of Food and Science Technology, “over the past 100 to 150 years, the consumption of vegetable oils from corn, sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, cottonseeds, and soybeans has greatly increased, which resulted in a drastic imbalance of the essential fatty acids. Today, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid is shifted to 20–30:1 in western diets.” (5). Thus, daily supplementation with fish and flaxseed oil can help to shift our omega-6 to omega-3 fat intake ratio back to what is considered to be more optimal for many health reasons and is more compatible with the genes we inherited from our human ancestors, who largely foraged for their food, ate animals that foraged for their food, consuming much higher amounts of omega-3 fats than is customary in our modern world. A direct quote from the 2015 review paper on flaxseed states, “A large number of clinical studies have recognized the tremendous potential of omega-3 fats against inflammatory mediators like prostaglandins E2, leukotriene B4, TNF-α, interleukin, and cytokines. These clinical studies revealed that omega-3 fats are helpful in the prevention of coronary heart diseases, atherosclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and asthma.” (5) As a side note, skin cells in the body also use the essential fats found in fish, flaxseed, and borage seed oil to make mini-hormones that make the skin smooth and soft. Many people notice a marked improvement in the softness and smoothness of their skin when they begin supplementing with a combination of fish, flaxseed, and borage seed oil.
Flaxseed oil is very much an underappreciated source of omega-3 fats and many recent studies have shown its ability to reduce high blood pressure, inflammatory mediators, and potentially help to reduce atrial fibrillation and possibly some forms of cancer. Taking a supplement each day that contains fish oil, flaxseed oil, and borage seed oil, in my view, is an ideal way for most people to capitalize on the benefits of these health-promoting essential fatty acids.
I’ve included the references for this information in the text below.
1. Hypertension Journal (2005) https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/01.HYP.0000154679.41568.e6
2. European Journal of Hypertension (2007) https://www.nature.com/articles/1602631.pdf
3. Ander BP, Weber AR, Rampersad PP, Gilchrist JS, Pierce GN, Lukas A. Dietary flaxseed protects against ventricular fibrillation induced by ischemiare perfusion in normal and hypercholesterolemic rabbits. J Nutr. 2004;134:3250–3256. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
4. 2010 Study – Nutrition and Cancer: Colon Cancer Study https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1207/s15327914nc5101_8
5. 2015 review of flaxseed in J Food Sci and Technology highlighted the following (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4375225/ )
Eat Smart, Live Well, Look Great,
Dr. James Meschino
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. James Meschino, DC, MS, ROHP, is an educator, author, and researcher having lectured to thousands of healthcare professionals across North America. He holds a Master’s Degree in Science with specialties in human nutrition and biology and is recognized as an expert in the field of nutrition, anti-aging, fitness, and wellness as well as the author of numerous books.