Supplements: Flax Seed Oil

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Flaxseed Oil

Flaxseed oil is rich in a type of fat called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential fatty acid used as a source of energy by the body. It also serves as the parent substance to compounds that regulate blood pressure, blood clotting, heart rate, blood vessel dilation, the immune response, and the breakdown of fats. Essential fatty acids are also used to make brain and nerve tissue.

ALA is a member of a family of fats called omega-3 fatty acids. Flaxseed oil and fish oils are the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Canola oil and soybean oils also contain some omega-3 fatty acids. Corn, safflower, cottonseed, sesame, and sunflower oils are rich in fats called omega-6 fatty acids. These two families of fats have very important, but different, roles in the body. It is important to have a balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. Excessive intake of either type of fat can cause health problems.

American diets are typically high in omega-6 fatty acids and low in omega-3 fatty acids. Taking in more omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids through your diet may cause your body to produce substances that cause inflammation and negatively affect your body's response to disease. These imbalances may make you more susceptible to heart disease, inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and psoriasis, and infections, and can lower your immunity. You may gain significant health benefits by increasing the level of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. This is especially true if you take in large amounts of omega-6 fatty acids.


Here is a partial list of illnesses that may be prevented or treated with flaxseed oil.

  • Skin disorders. Flaxseed oil may reduce the itching, swelling, and redness associated with certain skin disorders such as psoriasis.
  • Hypertension. One tablespoon of flaxseed oil per day appears to be effective in lowering blood pressure.
  • Heart disease. ALA may reduce the risk of heart disease by improving the function and integrity of arteries that carry blood throughout the body and to the brain. High doses of ALA may reduce blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
  • Diabetes. Flaxseed oil may help reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels in some people with diabetes. However, some people with type 2 diabetes cannot properly metabolize ALA, so flaxseed oil may be of no benefit to them.
  • Autoimmune disorders. These disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis and ulcerative colitis, cause immune cells to attack healthy tissue in the body. Flaxseed oil is converted to a substance in the body that can inhibit this autoimmune reaction.

Dietary Sources

Flaxseed oil is found in flaxseed or flaxseed meal. Flaxseed oil is the richest source of omega-3 fatty acids, containing approximately 55 to 65 percent of the essential fatty acid ALA. It also contains the natural antioxidants beta-carotene (vitamin A) and carotenoids.

Other Forms

Flaxseed oil is available in liquid and softgel capsule form, and, like any oil, should be refrigerated to prevent it from becoming rancid. Flaxseed oil requires special packaging because it is easily destroyed by heat, light, and oxygen. The highest quality flaxseed products are manufactured using fresh pressed seeds, are bottled in dark or opaque containers, and processed at low temperatures in the absence of light, extreme heat, or oxygen.

How to Take It

Because flaxseed oil is easily damaged by heat and light, it must be added to foods after they have been cooked. Use flaxseed oil as a salad dressing, in dips, sprayed over popcorn, or add it to hot or cold cereal.

For the prevention and treatment of disease adults should take 1 to 3 tsp. per day.

As with all dietary supplements, check with a health care provider before giving flaxseed oil to a child.


Flaxseed oil will add additional calories and fat to your diet unless you reduce your intake of other fats.

Possible Interactions

Flaxseed oil may increase your need for vitamin E. Because flaxseed oil may increase bleeding time, you should check with your health care provider if you are taking a blood-thinning medication or have a bleeding disorder.

This document contains information relating to general principles of medical care that should not in any event be construed as specific instructions for individual patients. The reader is advised to check product information (including package inserts) for changes and new information regarding dosage, precautions, and contraindications before administering any drug. No claim or endorsements are made for any drug or compound currently in investigative use. No responsibility is assumed by the publisher for any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise, or from any use or operation of any methods, products, instructions, or ideas contained in any material herein.

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Previously Published in OSA Today Reproduced by permission
Updated on: 02/01/10