Is Flax Good or Bad for Endometriosis

flaxseed cover

So for the past several months, I’ve been using flax milk instead of coconut milk in my tea, cereal, and protein shakes.  I’d grown tired of coconut milk, and am also wanting to lose an unwanted and “sudden” 20-pound weight gain.  It really wasn’t sudden, I just hadn’t noticed it until none of my pants fit…grrrr.

I’d read the flaxseed (also known as linseed) was a phenomenal source of Omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and fiber, and people boast of it’s anti-inflammatory properties.  So I was ecstatic to try it out and actually not mind the flavor of flax milk!  It’s gotta be good for my Endo, right?

That is, until this weekend, when someone on an Endo group on Facebook responded to my flax milk post that flax is bad for Endometriosis.  Why?  She didn’t say until several posts later, but it looks like flax seed and flax oil mimic estrogen, much like soy… *grumble grumble grumble*

But never one to take anything at face value, I’ve decided to do my own research and decide for myself if it’s something I’m going to give up…

I repeat, *grumble grumble grumble*.

What the Interweb Says

Flaxseed and soy are very high in plant estrogen which may mess with your hormones. Flaxseed contains lignans (found in the seed husk and fibers), a natural plant estrogen that many post-menopausal women consume to mitigate their menopausal symptoms.  Melissa of EndoEmpowered found that after consuming flax oil for several months her pain flared up.  Ut oh…sounds familiar to me…

The fiber of flaxseed is high in lignans, which may affect estrogen levels, although some believe plant estrogen may actually block estrogen in the body, rather than heighten the levels.

Some people grind up flaxseeds and either consume them as a powder or sprinkle them into food and beverage.  Others partake of flaxseed oil in liquid or capsule form.  And others, like myself, enjoy them in ready-made products such as a milk-alternative to dairy.  Everything I’ve read says to not eat raw or unripe flaxseeds (they may be poisonous).

It is recommended that some women keep away from phytoestrogens (such as those found in flaxseed or soy), including women with:

  • a history of breast, cervical, or uterine cancer;
  • who have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene defect;
  • suffer from Endometriosis, fibroids, or PCOS;
  • women who are on birth control or hormone replacement therapy;
  • women who are pregnant or breastfeeding;
  • infants and toddlers; and,
  • teens and women under 30.

But, like all things in life, you discover the flip side.  The Center for Endometriosis Care has an article promoting the dietary use of flaxseed for women with Endometriosis.  The Center for Young Women’s Health also promotes the use of flaxseed as a valued source of Omega-3 fatty acids when dealing with Endometriosis.  Herb Wisdom says it can be beneficial for treating Endometriosis symptoms, but women with Endo should first consult with their physicians before starting it.  The Green Parent encourages Endometriosis sufferers to grind flaxseed and sprinkle it on cereal.

What Science Says

A 1997 study found that post-menopausal women who partook of a phytoestrogen-rich diet had fewer hot flashes and less complaints of vaginal dryness than the control group of the study.

A 2008 study found flaxseed to be an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which helped the body to eliminate excess estrogen.  It also referenced that the fiber found in flaxseed helped promote healthy bowel movements, which also eliminates excess estrogen.

Another 2008 study found that postmenopausal women who consumed ground flaxseed had lower levels of estradiol, estrone, and testosterone.  It concluded that dietary flaxseed may “moderately lower serum levels of sex steroid hormones…”

A 2009 study followed women who were taking flaxseed powder supplements.  It concluded that there is a possible risk between diet and a risk of breast or hormone-dependent cancers.  Hormone-dependent?  Endometriosis is not a cancer, but is hormone-dependent.

Flaxseed consumption has been found to benefit men who are being treated for prostate cancer or post-menopausal women seeking symptom relief.

There are A LOT of studies of the benefits of consuming flaxseed, especially for it’s anti-inflammatory and Omega-3 fatty acid properties.  There are also a lot of animal studies where flaxseed was given to critters prior their pregnancy, and uterine lining turned out to be a lot more fetus-friendly.  But what I haven’t been able to find are studies directly correlating to Endometriosis and flaxseeds.  And that’s frustrating.

What Are You Gonna Do?

There’s a lot of back and forth.  It’s harmful. It’s helpful. Take it.  Don’t take it.  *augh*

It appears flax does alter some hormone levels.  That alone encourages me (me, myself, and I) to cut it out of my supplements and diet because I am taking low-dose birth control pills  specifically to maintain low-level hormones within my body.  Why would I tamper with that?  But that may not be your decision…and that’s okay.

Today I’ve written the people at Good Karma who make the flax milk that I’d been drinking.  I read on their page that they use cold-pressed flax oil, but it doesn’t state whether it is filtered or not  I’ve popped the question…And they wrote me back!!!  You can read their response here.

flaxseed ground
Ground flaxseed with husks

I’ve read that some flaxseed oil does not contain any lignans since the ground flaxseed husks and fibers (which contain the lignans) are filtered out.  But be careful!  Not all flaxseed oils are filtered.  Some pump up the amount of lignans in the oil.  And some companies that filter their oil then reintroduce ground flaxseed back into the product to improve the taste and supposed benefits, but still call it filtered.  Many healthy lifestyle webpages encourage you to purchase cold-pressed oil, as opposed to hot processed oils to preserve the beneficial properties.  Do your own research and read the labels.

flaxseed labels

But back to you.  What are you going to do?  It really is going to boil down to YOUR personal choice.  Do your research.  Talk to your physician.  Follow your gut-instinct and listen to your body.

Still want some great Omega-3 fatty acids, but want to stray from flaxseed?  Try fish oil (oh man, do those pills reek…and make you burp reeky fish taste) or krill oil (krill are plankton and these don’t make me burp).  I’m presently taking a krill and fish oil combo…stinky, but no burpies.

 

 

Resources:

Biology of Reproduction – (Abstract; Aug. 2012) Effects of the Omega-6/Omega-3 Fatty Acic Ratios and of Enterolactone on Dairy Cow Endometrial Cells

Brainy Weight Loss – (Blog) Flaxseed Oil Side Effects You Should Be Aware of, Especially When You Use Flaxseed Oil with Ground Flaxseed Inside

Center for Endometriosis CareNutrition for Endometriosis

Center for Young Women’s HealthEndometriosis: Nutrition and Exercise

EndoEmpowered – (Blog; May 2014) Why I Don’t Think Women with Endometriosis Should Eat Flaxseeds 

Herb Wisdom – (Blog) Flaxseed Oil (Linum Usitatissimum)

Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal – (Abstract; Oct./Nov. 2008) An Integrative Approach to Fibroids, Endometriosis, and Breast Cancer Prevention

International Journal of Cancer Research and Treatment – (Abstract; May 2010) Effects of Phytoestrogen Extracts Isolated from Flax on Estradiol Production and ER/PR Expression in MCF7 Breast Cancer Cells

International Journal of Cancer Research and Treatment – (Abstract; May 2005) Flax-seed Extracts with Phytoestrogenic Effects on a Hormone Receptor-positive Tumour Cell Line

Kansas State University – (Abstract; 2005) Fatty Acid Composition of the Porcine Conceptus in Response to Maternal Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation

Krill Facts

Lignans.net – (Product description) Lignans Health Benefits

Livestrong – (Article; Jan. 2014) Bad Side Effects of Flaxseed

Livestrong – (Article; Jan. 2016) Filtered vs. Unfiltered Flaxseed Oil

Molecular Nutrition and Food Research – (Abstract; July 2009) Dietary  Sources of Lignans and Isoflavones Modulate Responses of Estradiol in Estrogen Reporter Mice

Molecular Nutrition and Food Research – (Article; July 2009) Dietary Sources of Lignans and Isoflavones Modulate Responses of Estradiol in Estrogen Reporter Mice

Natural Fertility & Wellness – (Blog; Aug. 2013) 3 Foods to Avoid for Endometriosis (and 3 to Eat!)

Oilypedia – (Article) Types of Flaxseed Oil: Choose the Best for You

Phytochemistry Reviews – (Abstract; Oct. 2003) Flax Seed Lignan in Disease Prevention and Health Promotion

Taylor & Francis Online – (Abstract; Sept. 2008) Effect of Dietary Flaxseed on Serum Levels of Estrogens and Androgens in Postmenopausal Women

Taylor & Francis Online – (Abstract; Nov. 2009) Effect of Flaxseed Consumption on Urinary Estrogen Metabolites in Postmenopausal Women

The Budwig Diet & Protocol – (Article) Linseed Oil: To Filter or Not to Filter?

The Green Parent – (Blog; Feb. 2014) Heal Endometriosis

The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism – (Abstract; Jan. 2009) Effect of Flax Seed Ingestion on the Menstrual Cycle

The North American Menopause Society – (Abstract; 1997) Short-Term Effects of Phytoestrogen-rich Diet on Postmenopausal Women

The World’s Healthiest Foods – (Blog) What Are Your Recommendations About Flaxseed Oil?

University Health News Daily – (Article; June 2016) Should You Be Concerned About Flaxseed?

~ Again, I am a layman.  I do not hold any college degrees, nor mastery of knowledge.  Please take what I say with a grain of salt.  If curious, do your own research 😉 Validate my writings.  Or challenge them.  And ALWAYS feel free to consult with your physician. Always.  Yours ~ Lisa

 

9 thoughts on “Is Flax Good or Bad for Endometriosis

  1. Ugh, don’t you hate how complicated this all is?! I too was taking flaxseed oil supplements in place of fish oil for quite some time, only to learn about the whole phytoestrogen issue. I then stopped taking the flaxseed, although I hadn’t done nearly as much research into the topic as you have. It seems for every one good, there is a bad. Honestly, I’m confused on what to believe—like you said, some say flax is good, others say not so much. I’m pretty torn on the matter. My gut reaction is to avoid flax when possible, but not go completely crazy about it. We still have to live, and that alone is dangerous in and of itself.

    Sometimes I think that if I were to avoid every food that *might* be bad for endo, I’d end up on an air-only diet!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ha! An air-only diet!!! That’s priceless!!! Yep, it’s why I don’t freak out if there’s “oh no” dairy in my dinner or baked goods. But I think I’ll avoid flaxseed like I avoid soy (but…I still use soy sauce haaahaha…). I’m a big oxymoron. 😀 I’m with you : not going completely crazy.

      Like

      1. I switched to Bragg’s Liquid Amino Acids in place of soy sauce last year. It tastes virtually the same (yay!), though it costs a few more bucks (boo!). Unlike soy sauce, Bragg’s is “healthy” since it has amino acids (duh…) and it uses non-GMO soy and has not artificial colors/preservative. The stuff from the Chinese restaurants is ridic bad for you. Like, evil. Just thought I’d mention that. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi…I just wanted to add a little info here. I had adenomyosis for 17 years, and of all the things I tried during that time, flaxseed is the ONLY thing that helped my symptoms. I found this article interesting as I didn’t realize there were concerns with flaxseed, but from my own personal experience, I found tremendous relief. There are studies on endometriosis and omega-3 fatty acids that I discuss in my adenomyosis book (see adenofighters.com) that show a correlation between low levels of omega-3s and higher endometriosis risk (Parazzini et al., Missmer et al., Khanaki et al.). Also, the fiber (lignans) in flaxseed help with proper elimination and has been shown to help eliminate estrogen from the body. According to my research, I would advise some form of omega-3 in the diet…that’s just my opinion. I know all this info is confusing but I hope this information helps 🙂

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    1. I’m SO glad it helped with your symptoms! And I’m right there with you : a high fiber diet and lots of Omega-3s are super important! I “enjoy” a fiber drink in the morning…mmm…as well as good veggies throughout the day. And for my Omega-3s, I was taking flaxseed oil, but now take krill oil, another source of Omega-3s.

      It is confusing. And all over the place. And such an individual thing to find what works best for you and I and her and them. 🙂 Thank you SO much for sharing this with us today! It’s a damned good opinion.

      Like

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