What is flaxseed?
Flaxseed is plant based and therefore contains lignans, a group of chemicals found in plants. It is thought that the lignans in flaxseed are the component which actually offers the beneficial effect for women experiencing hot flushes.
It is important to mention that all of the studies reviewed for this article have looked at the efficacy of ground flaxseed, rather than flaxseed oil.
How does flaxseed reduce symptoms?
Flaxseed is high in omega 3 fatty acids. Studies show that a higher intake of omega 3, and therefore a better balance of fatty acids within a woman’s diet, leads to less severe menopause symptoms. Flaxseed is also high in the essential fatty acid alpha linoleic acid, which is a biological precursor to omega 3. With flaxseed being plant based, it is also suitable for vegetarians and vegans too, as most rich omega 3 sources are fish based. In the UK, we have a very high intake of omega 6 fatty acids and need to increase our omega 3 fatty acid intakes.
A review of 2 studies found that a higher intake of omega 3 fatty acids was linked to less severe menopausal symptoms. It is also believed the high omega 3 intake of Japanese women is why they have very few menopausal symptoms.
Flaxseed is also high in lignans which are a natural phytoestrogen, and replicates female oestrogen within the body. This replication helps to balance natural oestrogen as women go through perimenopause and menopause: many menopausal symptoms are related to changes in hormone levels, specifically oestrogen and progesterone. There are chemical methods and drugs available for balancing the changes in hormone levels, but many women also want to try something more natural with less potentially severe side effects.
A small study in Canada found that whilst flaxseed had some health benefits in terms of reducing cholesterol, there was no statistically significant improvement in other menopausal symptoms. Although the study was small, it was well designed, with a placebo being given to participants, as well as flaxseed and wheatgerm.
However, another smaller study found that flaxseed did offer reductions in the number of hot flushes women were experiencing. The researchers gave the participants 40g of flaxseed each day. Unlike the previous study mentioned, there was no placebo making the study design weaker. Some of the participants withdrew early because of digestive complaints.
A study by Pruthi et al, found that whilst there was no statistically significant reduction in hot flushes using initially flaxseed and then a flaxseed bar, there was still a reduction in their hot flush scores. The study used the standard 40g dose daily of flaxseed. Again, the study was small but for some of the participants, there did appear to be a reduction in the severity and frequency of their hot flushes.
The most effective dose of flaxseed was found to be 40g per day usually split into two servings. This could be mixed into porridge, or served on top of fruit and yoghurt. It can also be used in cooking and other recipes. As this is a natural remedy, it does need to be given time to work, so allow 2-3 weeks of daily use before expecting to see results.
Flaxseed is high in fibre and therefore may cause some digestive discomfort, diarrhoea or bloating. If you have a diagnosed digestive complaint such as IBS, colitis, Crohn’s or any other diseases, seek medical advice before starting to include flaxseed in your diet. Check with a qualified medical practitioner for any interactions between flaxseed and medication, supplements or health conditions.
From Hannah Bailey
Hannah Bailey set up Wise Choice Nutrition was set up in 2010 and is South Yorkshire’s only real food nutritionist. Hannah studied Public Health Nutrition at Sheffield Hallam University before setting up the business.