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Flax - a role in the treatment of cancer?

Flax - a role in the treatment of cancer?

Lignan, a fiber found in flax, is the latest hope in the treatment of cancer

Flax - the plant that gave grateful world the classic look of linen - hot research property nowadays. Prized for millennia as a source of seeds and cooking oil as well as cloth, the flax plant has also been long celebrated for its medicinal properties, especially in easing coughs. But the therapeutic potential of flax really took off in the late 20th century, when scientists found that flax seed is rich in alpha linolenic acid, an inflammation-alleviating omega-3 fatty acid.

The latest substance in the scientific spotlight: flax lignans. While many plant foods supply this unique type of fiber, flax seed is the richest possible source. Question is, what makes lignans so special?

Hormonal Shifts

Sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone affect a lot more than just libido and reproduction; if these powerful substances go out of balance, they can actually stimulate the overgrowth of breast or prostate tissue (which may lead to breast cancer or prostate cancer). Lignans act as phytoestrogens. When they are ingested, the body transforms them into a form that keeps hormones from over-stimulating cells, a process that helps support healthy cell growth. Lignans also interfere with enzymes that can promote cancer development and therefore may be helpful in the treatment of cancer.

Populations that eat lignan-rich diets have lower breast cancer rates, and early research suggests that increased lignan intake may help protect breast tissue through cancer prevention. In one study, women newly diagnosed with breast cancer who ate muffins made with 2 1/2 tablespoons of flaxseed every day experienced reduced tumor growth (Breast Cancer Research & Treatment 11/00) suggesting a role for flax in the treatment of cancer. This may explain why some women find relief from mild menopausal miseries after taking flax lignans.

Lignans are antioxidants, substances that can keep harmful free radicals from ping-ponging through tissues; scientists think thatís why flax lignans have shown an ability to lower cholesterol and act in cancer prevention. Flax also appears to have an ability to reduce stress; among post-menopausal women who ate three different flax diets, the ones who consumed more lignans experienced the biggest drop in both stress hormone levels and blood pressure (Journal of the American College of Nutrition 12/03).


What is it?: A plant, I.inum usitatissimum, used for food, clothing and remedies
What it does: Flax seeds are high in an anti-inflammatory omega-3 fat called alpha linolenic acid; recent research has focused on flax lignan, a fiber that shows promise in the both the prevention and treatment of cancer, keep arteries clear and reduce prostate enlargement

Keeping Men Comfortable

While women certainly benefit from lignans, flax can be beneficial for men too. Prostate cells, like breast cells, can be kicked into overdrive by hormones which may result in prostate cancer. A pilot study at Duke University suggested that flax lignans, combined with a low-fat diet, may reduce cancer risk - yet another indication that flax may be useful in the treatment of cancer. The researchers gave finely ground flaxseed to 25 men with prostate cancer who were awaiting surgery; after a month, all had reduced hormone levels and their cholesterol levels were lowered as well. Tumor growth also slowed (L/ro/ogy7/01)

Whatís more, flaxís testosterone-moderating effects appear to help reduce benign prostate hyperplasia an uncomfortable predicament that vexes many men as they age. Rats fed a lignan supplement had comfortably smaller prostates then other rodents, and men scheduled for repeat prostate biopsy who took supplemental flax experienced reduced rates of benign prostatic growth (Urology 05/04). Flax may even help reduce hairloss in men. DHT, the form of testosterone that can harm the prostate, attacks hair follicles and spurs excess oil production in the skin, increasing the chances of pimple formation. Flax lignans interfere with DHT production.

From the tiny flax seed mighty health benefits grow. Some forms of fiber really are special!
- Lisa Janet

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