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The gut health benefits of flaxseeds, and how they could reduce breast cancer risk

Smoothie mix with flaxseeds. (Getty Images)
New research has suggested flaxseeds my help lower breast cancer risk. (Getty Images)

We've been sprinkling them on our porridge in the hope of reaping the gut health benefits of flaxseeds, but new research has suggested they could potentially reduce the risk of developing breast cancer.

The study, on female mice, published in the journal, Microbiology Spectrum, found that when the rodents were given a solution of flaxseed oil, which contains lignans, a compound found in fibre-rich foods, it had an influence on the relationship between the gut microbiome and mammary gland microRNAs.

A subset of these miRNAs regulates the genes involved in breast cancer, including genes that control cell proliferation and migration.

Researchers found the mice given the flaxseed oil were less likely to develop breast cancer.

While further research, particularly via clinical trials in humans, is needed, scientists hope the findings could lead to new dietary recommendations for helping to prevent breast cancer.

"If these findings are confirmed, the microbiota becomes a new target to prevent breast cancer through dietary intervention," study author Elena M. Comelli, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto in Canada, said in a news release.

Previous research has shown that lignans have anti-inflammatory properties and cause the body to produce less oestrogen, which could potentially lead to a lower risk of breast cancer.

"This preliminary study supports further research into the role that the microbiota plays in dietary approaches to reduce risk factors associated with disease," adds Jennifer Auchtung, Assistant Professor in the Food Science and Technology Department at the University of Nebraska.

Gut health benefits of flaxseeds

Flaxseeds may be small, but they certainly pack a punch in terms of gut health benefits.

"Adding these little nutrient powerhouses into your diet every day can provide a myriad of advantages for your overall wellbeing," explains women’s health nutritional therapist Cara Shaw, who has been working with Linwoods Health Foods.

"From improving digestion to supporting cardiovascular health, let’s delve into why it’s beneficial to consume flaxseeds every day and how they can positively impact you."

Adding flaxseeds to a smoothie. (Getty Images)
Adding flaxseeds to meals has many gut health benefits. (Getty Images)

1. Boosts energy

Flaxseeds are a natural energy booster and excellent source of plant-based protein (a huge 5g protein per serving).

"Protein is vital for muscle function, energy production, hormones, digestive function, and immunity," Shaw explains.

"Adding flaxseed to your breakfast daily is an easy and convenient way to increase your protein intake, particularly if you are primarily plant-based or following a vegan diet."

Flaxseeds can also help sustain energy levels.

"Two dessertspoons provide 76mg Magnesium, which plays a crucial role in energy production," Shaw explains. "Magnesium also has a big role to play in managing blood sugar. When blood sugar is dysregulated, you can see energy crashes and typical afternoon slumps."

2. Source of Omega-3 fatty acids

According to Shaw flaxseeds are a great source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is a type of omega-3 fatty acid that our bodies cannot produce on their own, and is therefore, essential to have in our diet.

"Omega-3s play a vital role in heart health," Shaw explains. "Omega-3 fatty acids, especially ALA, have been shown to help reduce levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which in excess can lead to plaque build-up in the arteries and increase the risk of heart disease."

Omega-3 fatty acids also have potent anti-inflammatory properties.

"Chronic inflammation is linked to cardiovascular problems and the anti-inflammatory effects of flaxseeds can help protect blood vessels and therefore, reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems," Shaw adds.

So sprinkling flaxseeds into your acai bowls or smoothies can help support healthy cholesterol levels and cardiovascular wellbeing.

Adding flaxseeds to a breakfast bowl. (Getty Images)
Flaxseeds have many benefits for our gut health. (Getty Images)

3. Supports healthy digestion

Flaxseeds contain both soluble and insoluble fibre, which both contribute to a healthy gut and healthy microbiome.

"Insoluble fibre adds bulk to the stool, promoting regular bowel movements and helps to prevent constipation," Shaw explains. "Soluble fibre forms a gel-like substance which helps to slow down the absorption of glucose, thus supporting blood sugar."

The high fibre content of flaxseed also provides pre-biotics to the gut, helping to feed good gut bacteria and create a thriving microbiome.

"Two dessertspoons a day provide you with a whopping 5g fibre, getting you well on your way to the recommended daily amount of 30g per day," Shaw adds.


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