Flax Seed: The Magical Omega-3

My little sister is off traveling Europe for the summer – London, Italy and France! She sent me an email asking for more information on flax seed. I’m sure many of you have heard of flax seed, It’s been in the news quite a bit in the past. Historically, flax seed has been used as a laxative. It expands when consumed (or even placed in water) and adds bulk to the stool, helping it to move easily through the colon.

You’re probably more familiar with the modern news on flax seed, which is that it contains alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which is an essential fatty acid that has been labeled as beneficial for heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, and a variety of other health problems. ALA is an Omega-3, and if you keep up with health news, you’re probably well aware of how much publicity Omega-3’s receive. What you might not know is that Omega-3’s work best in your body when they are balanced with Omega-6’s. A proper balance between the two is required for optimal health; and this isn’t achieved by simply increasing your intake of one or the other.

A healthy balance involves 2 to 4 times more Omega-6 fatty acids to Omega-3 fatty acids. Unfortunately, the standard American diet contains such highly processed foods that our balance is quite off. In fact, the typical American diet tends to contain 14 to 30 times more Omega-6 fatty acids to Omega-3 fatty acids! Although we might be increasing our intake of Omega-3’s, we are failing to address where the excess Omega-6 fatty acids are coming from.

Let me help you with that!

Omega-6 fatty acids are found in meat and vegetable oils (soy bean, sunflower and cotton seed oil); and if you tend towards quick snacks and pre-prepared meals, it is likely that you receive more than enough of your required Omega-6’s. The biggest issue scientists are seeing with these highly elevated levels of Omega-6 fatty acids is the inflammatory effects it is having on our bodies. Many researchers believe this imbalance is a significant factor in the rising rate of inflammatory disorders in the United States, including heart disease, cancer, and arthritis.

Don’t let this post change your opinions on Omega-6’s, they are equally important to your well being. Coupled with Omega-3’s, they play a critical role in brain function and normal growth; they stimulate skin and hair growth, maintain bone health, regulate metabolism, and maintain the reproductive system.

If this interests you, stay tuned for my follow up post on the Anti-Inflammatory Diet and how the Mediterranean Diet maintains a healthy Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio.

References
University of Maryland, Flax Seed
University of Maryland, Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Everyday Health, Flaxseed

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