Flaxseeds: Your Midlife Superfood
You’ve probably heard a lot about the health benefits of eating flaxseeds in recent years. Did you know that flaxseeds may have specific benefits for women in midlife, including relieving menopause symptoms? Here’s what the research has to say.
Flaxseeds are tiny, brown or golden seeds that are known to be high in fiber. Flaxseeds are the best source of alpha linolenic acid (ALA), a healthy omega 3 fat. Flaxseeds are also rich in compounds called phytoestrogens. Specifically, flaxseeds are high in phytoestrogens called lignans.
Lignans are naturally occurring in plant foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and other seeds. However, the lignan content of flaxseeds is almost 100 times higher than any other food. This is part of what makes flaxseeds so intriguing when it comes to women’s health.
During menopause, your estrogen and progesterone levels decline. These lower hormone levels increase a woman’s risk for various chronic diseases and can impair several physiological functions in a woman’s body.
In a time when many women are seeking alternatives to traditional hormonal therapies to combat this, the potential healing properties of plants like flaxseed are being studied more. Lignans may have structural or functional similarities to the estrogens in humans, and flaxseeds may have anti-estrogenic effects on the body.
Five Benefits of Flaxseeds for Midlife Women
Here are a few ways that flaxseeds may be especially beneficial for women in midlife:
They may have a protective effect against breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Breast cancer risk increases after age 55 for women. Studies have shown that the use of flaxseeds alongside tamoxifen can increase the effectiveness of the drug on inhibiting cancer cell growth.
They may reduce your risk for postmenopausal osteoporosis, or the weakening of your bones. Osteoporosis is common during this time because the lack of estrogen alters bone metabolism, and the ability of your body to maintain bone strength is challenged.
Though research shows only a very slight effect, phytoestrogens may also positively impact vaginal atrophy and boost sex hormones for some women.
Flaxseeds may help alleviate hot flashes for some women, a very common menopause symptom. Some studies have shown the ability of phytoestrogens to reduce the frequency of hot flashes for some menopausal women.
Incorporating Flaxseeds Into Your Diet
Flaxseeds are easy to sprinkle on salads, oatmeal, or yogurt, to blend into smoothies, or to use in stir-fries. You can substitute ground flaxseed meal for regular flour and even sneak it into casseroles, soups, dips, and sauces. Research shows that the nutrients in ground flaxseeds, especially ALA, are more bioavailable than whole flaxseeds. Freshly grinding the flaxseeds in a coffee or spice grinder or buying already ground flaxseed meal makes it more likely you’ll get all the healthful components. You can also use ground flaxseed mixed with water as an egg replacer for baking. Flaxseeds create a viscous liquid that mimics an egg, so if you’re out of eggs, mix together 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseeds and 3 tablespoons of water; let the mixture rest while you gather your recipe ingredients. Many supermarkets now carry whole and ground flaxseeds in the flour and grain aisles. The best place to store ground flaxseeds is in the freezer to preserve its nutritional value.
Though promising, the beneficial of flaxseeds during menopause can vary significantly. More research needs to be done to determine how flaxseeds can best be used to benefit menopausal women. Until then, they likely work best in conjunction with other therapies for specific menopausal effects.
Whether flaxseeds work for you, they’re a healthy addition to most any diet. Just a couple of tablespoons per day could have a positive impact on your overall health, including your midlife journey. Try this yummy recipe for gluten-free banana blueberry flaxseed muffins to get you started!
For more information about nutrition for midlife and alternative therapies for managing menopause, join us at Lisa Health.
Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD, is a registered dietitian, freelance writer, and speaker who helps families transition to plant-based lifestyles. She can be found at laurenpanoff.com or on Instagram @chronicplanet.