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Flax seed

The healing properties of flax, also known as common flax or linseed (Linum usitatissimum), have been known for more than a thousand years. Flax seeds are super rich in omega-3 oils, those essential fatty acids that are all-important for our health, including the health of our hair and skin.

The flax seed plant is an erect flowering annual with slender stems reaching up to 48 inches (120 cm) in height. The leaves are a glaucous green. The flowers are pale blue, with five petals. The fruit is a round dry capsule approximately 5–9 mm in diameter, containing a few glossy brown seeds shaped like apple pips. Flax is grown both for its fiber and seeds. Throughout history the flax plant has been used to make dyes, paints, paper, fabrics, fishing nets and soaps. The seeds produce an oil known as flaxseed oil or linseed oil.

The health benefits of the flax seed are largely due to the presence of gelatinous, or mucus-like substances and linamarin (a cyanogenic glucoside found in the leaves and roots of many plants). Linamarin positively affects the stomach and intestines with protective substances that have coating, anti-inflammatory, and laxative properties. This is why flax seed is very effective in treating inflammatory diseases of internal organs such as the stomach, intestines, kidneys, bladder, and uterus.

Flax seed contains generous amounts of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is a plant-derived omega-3 essential fatty acid, the mother molecule of the omega-3 family, including those found in fish oils. Flax seed also contains lignans, which have phytoestrogenic and antioxidant properties in the body, and which also provide fiber. Lignans are known to help the heart and to possess anti-cancer properties.

Known benefits of flax seed

  • Lessens the severity of diabetes by stabilizing blood-sugar levels
  • Benefits the heart by helping to maintain healthy cholesterol and blood pressure
  • Helps to prevent plaque formation in the arteries
  • Possesses anti-cancer properties
  • Reduces growth of tumors in mice, similar to tumors found in human post-menopausal breast cancer


Flax seed seems to promote the healing of the inner lining of intestines. However, the laxative effects of flax seed (not  flaxseed oil) may cause diarrhea, increased number of bowel movements, or abdominal discomfort.

Severe allergic reactions have been reported in rare cases for flaxseed and flaxseed oil and other members of the Linaceae plant family or Linum genus.

People with narrowing of the esophagus or intestine, ileus, or bowel obstruction should avoid flax seed.

Synonyms: Photograph of flax seedAlashi, alpha-linolenic acid, Barlean’s Flax Oil, Barlean’s Vita-Flax, brazen, common flax, eicosapentaenoic acid, flachssamen, flax, gamma-linolenic acid, graine de lin, leinsamen, hu-ma-esze, Linaceae, linen flax, lini semen, lino, lino usuale, linseed, linseed oil, lint bells, Linum, Linum catharticum, Linum humile seeds, keten, omega-3 fatty acid, phytoestrogen, sufulsi, tesi-mosina, Type I flaxseed/flaxseed (51-55% alpha-linolenic acid), Type II flaxseed/CDC-flaxseed (2-3% alpha-linolenic acid), winterlien.

References: [Russian].

Tsang, G. 2004. Benefits of Flax seed in Heart Disease and Cholesterol Lowering. URL: (accessed 06/27/2007).

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Principal Author: M. Ofiyeva
Date of Initial Publication: 06/27/2007
Article Last Updated: 03/10/2011