Flaxseed for Constipation and IBS

Bowl of flaxseed.
Photo: Bill Noll/Getty Images

You may be surprised to learn that one simple lifestyle change can not only help to ease your constipation, but also help to improve your heart health, reduce your risk of cancer, calm inflammation and fight a variety of other health problems. There is a good amount of research evidence to suggest that ingesting flaxseed on a regular basis can accomplish all of those things. Here is what you need to know before you decide to try flaxseed to relieve your symptoms of IBS and constipation.

What is Flaxseed?

The leaves, stems and seeds of the flax plant have been used throughout history in cooking, medicine and clothing as well as other manufactured goods worldwide. Flaxseed are the tiny, sesame seed-size seeds from the plant. Although flaxseed can be eaten whole, grinding the seeds allows the body to fully benefit from flaxseed’s many nutritional benefits.

    Nutritional Benefits

    Flaxseed offers a wealth of healthful nutrients:

    • Protein
    • Omega-3 fatty acids
    • Fiber
    • Vitamins, minerals, and phytoestrogens

      Flaxseed and Constipation

      Research regarding the benefits of flaxseed for constipation is limited but promising. In a study of healthy adults, a four-week trial of flaxseed ingestion resulted in bowel movements increasing by about one-third. A direct comparison of ground flaxseed and psyllium in patients who suffer from constipation predominant irritable bowel syndrome (IBS-C) was conducted over a three-month period.

      The patients who ingested flaxseed showed a significant reduction in constipation, bloating and pain as compared to the psyllium. Continued symptom improvement was seen over a six-month period with continued use of flaxseed.

        Flaxseed and Diarrhea

        Since flaxseed appears to increase the number of bowel movements, caution should be used if you suffer from diarrhea predominant IBS (IBS-D).

        If you do decide to try it, it is probably best to start with very small amounts and then work up from there. On the other hand, flaxseed might be a nice option for those who suffer from alternating type IBS (IBS-A) as the increase in fiber theoretically might help to stabilize the make-up of the stool.

        Who Should Not Use Flaxseed?

        Before using any new substance on a regular basis, you should get clearance from your doctor. Individuals who suffer from diverticulosis, a condition in which a person has small pockets in their intestine lining, need to be extremely cautious not to have seed fragments become trapped in those pockets and, thus, should only use finely ground flaxseed or flaxseed oil.

        Things to Keep in Mind

        It is important to consider shelf-life requirements when deciding which form of flaxseed to use. Whole flaxseed has a shelf life of up to one year. Ground flaxseed is best refrigerated and used within a few months. Flaxseed oil must be refrigerated to keep it from going rancid and should be used within a few weeks.

        It is also important to bear in mind that flaxseed oil lacks fiber and some of the other major-nutritional benefits of flaxseed in its seed form.

          How To Use Flaxseed

          Flaxseed has a pleasant nutty taste. Introduce it gradually into your diet, then work your way up to 2 Tbsp. per day. Make sure to drink lots of water!

          • Sprinkle it on cereal or yogurt
          • Add to baked goods
          • Add to smoothies
          • Fold into your favorite meatloaf and sauce recipes

          Essential Reading from Dr. Bolen:


          Cunnane, S.; Hamadeh, M.; Liede, A.; Thompson, L.; Wolever, T.; and Jenkins, D. Nutritional attributes of traditional flaxseed in healthy young adults American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1995 61:62-68.

          Reinhardt-Martin, J. Flax Your Way to Better Health TSA Press: 2001.

          Tarpila, S.; Tarpila, A.; Gr..hn, T.; Silvennonoinen, T.; and Lindberg, L. Efficacy of ground flaxseed on constipation in patients with irritable bowel syndrome Current Topics in Nutraceutical Research 2004 2:119-125.

          Continue Reading