Flaxseeds are literally little miracle workers. They are tiny powerhouses of disease-fighting compounds, containing Omega 3 fatty acids, fiber, and lignans (among a host of other nutrients). Researchers have found flaxseeds helpful in preventing heart disease, protecting against inflammatory illnesses and decreasing cholesterol. A startling finding was recently made by Prof George Jelinek and his team of researchers. They discovered, in their study, that supplementing with flaxseed oil every day reduced relapse rate by up to two thirds (more on this later). It is highly anti-inflammatory, prevents cell degeneration and helps to nourish and protect the myelin sheath of nerves. Essential to help manage our MS symptoms.
My Journey With Flax
I was first exposed to flaxseeds and flaxseed oil around ten years ago. My sister, who is very health conscious, bought some and kept it in the refrigerator of our family home. She took it religiously and encouraged us all to take it daily. I tried it once or twice but just couldn't get used to the taste. Quite bitter! If only I had known how it would protect my body, calm inflammation and maybe even slow down the processes that caused MS to start developing. Oh the wisdom of hindsight!
I started taking it seriously again about two and a half years ago at the advise of my Cape Town nutritionist, Mary-Ann Shearer. She have me urgent and strict instructions to go out and buy organic, cold pressed flaxseed oil, not fish oil (You can read more about the difference in my post: 'Calming the Immune System With Omega 3 and 6'). This lovely golden liquid has had a dedicated place in my fridge every since. I put it in my children's porridge every morning and then down a tablespoon myself. It makes me feel great!
Let's have a look at why flaxseeds are such healing foods and help us with our MS symptoms.
Rich in Omega 3 Essential Fats
Flaxseeds contain a very high concentration of Omega 3 essential fatty acids which, we should all know by now, are one of the key pieces in the 'healing MS puzzle'. Each tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains about 1.8 grams of plant omega-3s. Our bodies don't produce these fats naturally and they are essential to our well being. Most of us are not getting enough Omega 3s.
Much research has been done into the benefits of Omega 3s for people with MS. This 'good' fat is highly anti-inflammatory which will help reduce the severity of MS symptoms. It is more beneficial to the the body than Omega 6 and 9 and it is easier to develop a deficiency in it. We get an over abundance of Omega 6 fatty acids which are present in most nuts, oils and supermarket foods. But these need to be balanced with Omega 3s for our bodies to be truly healthy. The ideal ratio of Omega 6:3 is 1:1 but it is believed that the ratio for most people is 20:1. This means that the body is not getting what it needs to keep itself in a healthy state and disease starts to slowly creep in.
If you are deficient in Omega 3 essential fats, you may experience the following symptoms that relate to MS:
- Tissue inflammation
- Tingling sensations in arms and legs
- Immune dysfunction
- Mental Deterioration
- Motor Incoordination
- Behavioural changes
If you have been experiencing any of these symptoms and know you haven't been getting enough Omega 3s, there is a good chance you will see an improvement after just a few days of taking flaxseed oil.
Abundant in Lignans
Lignans are natural antioxidants that reduce the activity of cell-damaging free radicals, slow down the ageing process, and increase overall wellness. Flax contains up to 800 times more lignans than other plant sources. Lignans are phytoestrogrens, active substances derived from plants that mimic the action of estrogen hormones in the body. Research continues to show their potential for treating menopausal symptoms without traditional drugs and reducing breast cancer. Lignans also possess powerful anti-inflammatory properties. They are only present in ground flaxseeds and not in the oil so it is important to consume both.
Full of Fibre
Flaxseeds are a great source of fibre and keep your digestive system moving like clockwork. Fibre is exceptionally important in our diets to ensure that food moves quickly through our gut and doesn't putrefy. Old, rotten food can also cause it's fair share of problems for us. It can upset the delicate ph balance in our gut and cause bloating and cramping. However, on the MS Diet, you should be getting enough fibre to have at least one extended visit to the the toilet every day.
The Study of the Century (in my opinion)
Prof George Jelinek is my MS Diet hero! He has lived with MS for fourteen years with very little disease activity. He continues to spread the word about how diet can drastically improve MS symptoms and has conducted some significant research on the subject with some very important findings. One such study involved an extensive piece of holistic research he and his team have been conducting over the past 2 years.
The researchers found significant evidence that flaxseed oil could be superior to fish oil in keeping MS relapses and symptoms at bay. People in his study who were taking regular flaxseed supplements had a 66% reduction in relapses (over a period of a year) whereas those who take regular fish oil supplements were 44% less likely. It seems there is real proof that the benefits of flaxseed oil are far reaching and can actually be more effective than the disease modifying drugs on offer.
How To Enjoy It
Ground/Cold Milled Flaxseeds
While whole and ground flax have the same nutritional content, your body gets far more benefit from ground flax. This is because the goodness in flax is wrapped up in a hard, shiny seed coat that is hard to crack, even with careful chewing. Grinding flax breaks this seed coat, making all the nutrients easy to digest. Flaxseeds are easy to grind at home using a coffee grinder, food processor or blender. You can also buy ground or "milled" flaxseeds in most health stores.
I have two tablespoons of cold milled flaxseeds with my BarleyLife every morning. It sinks to the bottom of the liquid and becomes almost like a green porridge. Doesn't sound great tasting but when you know you are getting the amazing benefits, you down that glass! Add a few spoonfuls to your gluten free porridge or toss them over your salad. This versatile ingredient can be used in almost any meal or recipe. Be creative!
Organic Cold Pressed Oil
As I have already mentioned, I take a tablespoon of flaxseed oil every morning. I take it 'neat' because I am used to the taste and don't mind it too much any more. However, you can put it in your smoothie or add it to your porridge. You can also drizzle it over your salad and steamed/roasted vegetables instead of using olive oil. The most important thing to remember, though, is that flaxseed oil must never be heated. It needs to be kept cold for maximum nutrient retention.
I have been trying to spread the word about flaxseed oil and have posted numerous comments on Facebook, twitter and the MS Diet for Women Community about the benefits. Everyone with MS needs to be taking flaxseed oil every day in order to slow down the progression of the illness. Please help to spread the word about flaxseeds and their remarkable ability to heal. If you haven't got any in your fridge at the moment, make it your number one priority to go out to your local health shop and pick some up!
Let me know if you have any other creative ways of using flaxseeds.