Flaxseed for Constipation and IBS

Bowl of flaxseed.
Photo: Bill Noll/Getty Images

Flaxseed, also known as linseed, are the tiny seeds from the flax plant. Because of their nutritional makeup flaxseed has been investigated as a way to address the symptoms of many health conditions, including constipation.

Here you will learn about flaxseed so that you can make an informed decision as to whether it would be a good thing to add to your diet to ease your symptoms of constipation of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

What Is Flaxseed?

The flaxseed plant has a long history of being used for by humans for a wide variety of uses. The leaves, stems, and seeds of the flax plant have been used for clothing, in cooking, and for medicinal purposes, as well as in the manufacture of many worldwide goods.

More specifically, flaxseeds 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 and Health Benefits of Flaxseed

    When eaten in a ground form, flaxseed offers a wealth of healthful nutrients. It's considered a good source of the following:

    Research on animals in laboratories and some preliminary studies with humans who have certain diseases have found evidence that flaxseed may improve heart health, lower cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of certain cancers (breast, colon, prostate) and ease the symptoms of menopause.

    Clearly larger studies need to be conducted before any firm conclusions can be made about the helpfulness of flaxseed for these health problems. Still, these findings are exciting, nonetheless.

    Flaxseed for IBS

    Although most studies have been done with laboratory animals, one small study on 55 humans with constipation-predominant IBS found that flaxseed may not only help to ease constipation but may also help to reduce bloating and abdominal pain.

    Some experts speculate that mechanism behind flaxseed is that it is effective in speeding up intestinal movement, resulting in an increased frequency of bowel movements.

    Animal studies suggest that flaxseed may not only ease the symptoms of constipation but may also help to ease diarrhea due to its effect on stool formation. That being said, if you have diarrhea-predominant IBS, (IBS-D) and you decide to give flaxseed a try, you may want to start with very small doses to allow your body time to adjust. 

    Although there is no research on the subject, it is possible that flaxseed might be a nice option for you if you have alternating type IBS (IBS-A) as the increase in fiber might theoretically help to stabilize the makeup of the stool.

    On the flip side, it's worthy to note that another small study of 31 people with IBS found that flaxseed did not improve stool frequency or consistency. With that, more research is needed to better understand the role of flaxseed as a way to ease IBS symptoms.

    Things to Keep in Mind When Using Flaxseed

    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 should be 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

      You have the option to buy flaxseed pre-ground or to use a small coffee grinder to grind your own. Flaxseed has a pleasant nutty taste. If you decide to introduce flaxseed into your diet, do so gradually and then work your way up to 2 tbsp. per day. Make sure to drink lots of water when consuming flaxseed. Here are some ways to incorporate it into your daily diet:

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

      A Word From Verywell

      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.

      Sources:

      Cockerell KM, Watkins AS, Reeves LB, Goddard L, Lomer MC. Effects of linseeds on the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome: a pilot randomised controlled trial. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics 2012 Oct;25(5):435-43.

      Xu J. Laxative effects of partially defatted flaxseed meal on normal and experimental constipated mice. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2012 12:14.

      University of Maryland Medical Center. (2017). Flaxseed.

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