Can Including Flaxseeds in Your Diet Lower Your Lipids?

Flaxseed and flaxseed oil
Elenathewise, istockphoto

Flax (Linum usitatissimum) is an annual plant that can be found in various parts of the world, including the United States. Also known as linseeds, whole flaxseeds from the plant can be made into a variety of different food sources, including:

  • Flaxseed oil (or linseed oil)
  • Flax meal
  • Flax flour

These flax products can be consumed alone or can be found in a variety of commercially prepared foods, including crackers, breads, and cereals.

The health benefits of flaxseeds have been known for many years. The use of flaxseeds has been investigated in treating certain medical conditions, such as certain gastrointestinal ailments, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Some studies have even investigated the effect of consuming flaxseeds on lipid levels.

Flaxseeds and Your Lipids

The studies looking at flaxseeds’ ability to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels in both animals and humans lasted anywhere between 2 weeks and 1 year. Additionally, several forms of flaxseeds were examined, including:

  • Whole or ground flaxseeds - 20 to 50 grams daily, consumed alone or in other foods, such as muffins and cereals.
  • Flaxseed oil – containing up to 38 grams of the omega-3 fat, alpha linolenic acid (ALA).
  • Lignans derived from flaxseeds – a supplement capsule containing anywhere between 200 and 600 grams of flaxseed lignans taken daily. 

Studies showed that flaxseeds or the lignan extracted from flaxseeds was able to lower total cholesterol levels by up to 22%.

LDL cholesterol was also decreased by anywhere between 4% and 24%. Some studies, however, did not note a significant drop in these lipid levels. HDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels varied widely in studies. Whereas triglyceride levels were not greatly affected in some studies, other studies noted up to a 36% drop in triglycerides.

HDL levels were also decreased by anywhere between 5% and 16% in some studies. One study noted a 14% reduction in lipoprotein(a) levels. The lipid-lowering effect of flaxseeds were more notable in women than men in a couple of studies.

Although there were no comparison studies looking at the effects of ground flaxseed, whole flaxseed, and extracts from the seeds, a few studies concluded that flaxseed oil did not have a significant impact on lipid levels.

How Do Flaxseeds Affect Your Lipids?

Flaxseeds contain many heart-healthy ingredients that can help keep your cholesterol and triglycerides healthy, including:

  • Soluble fiber, which can slightly lower your LDL cholesterol levels.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids, a type of  unsaturated fat that can help reduce your triglyceride levels.
  • Lignans, which are polyphenol-like chemicals that possess antioxidant properties. It is thought that lignans may also reduce inflammation associated with atherosclerotic plaque formation.

Animal studies have suggested that all three of these components may play a role in the lipid-lowering effect noted in some of these studies.

It is thought that the reason that flaxseed oil did not have as much of a significant impact on lipid levels is due to the fact that it is missing the soluble fiber component that aids in lowering LDL.

Should I Use Flaxseed to Lower Lipids?

More studies are needed to measure the exact effectiveness of flaxseeds on cholesterol and triglyceride levels, but some of these studies show that consuming flaxseeds may have a positive effect on your lipids - especially your LDL levels.  

Flaxseeds -  whether you select the brown or golden type - are chock-full of healthy nutrients. Not only do flaxseeds contain the heart-healthy nutrients stated above, they are also high in vitamin B, magnesium, protein and zinc. Flaxseeds are available as whole seeds, ground, or as an oil - giving you a little variety when deciding how to add it to your lipid-lowering meal plan. Some ways to include flaxseeds in your healthy diet include:

  • Sprinkling flaxseeds on your favorite cereal, sides, or yogurt
  • Mixing flaxseeds into your morning smoothie
  • Including flaxseed oil in your cooking
  • Incorporating ground flaxseeds when making your favorite breads and muffins

Although flaxseeds are high in healthy unsaturated fats, they are also high in calories – so you should make sure to keep track of how much you add to your meals.


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Prasad K. Flaxseed and cardiovascular health. J Cardiovasc Pharmacol 2009;54:369-377

Pan A, Yu D, Demark-Wahnefried W, et al. Meta-analysis of the effects of flaxseed interventions on blood lipids. Am J Clin Nutr 2009;90:288-297.

Zhang W, Wang X, Liu Y et al. Dietary flaxseed lignan extract lowers plasma cholesterol and glucose concentrations in hypercholesterolemic subjects. Br J Nutr 2008;99:1301-1309.

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