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What is Flaxseed Oil?

By Max Johnson
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Flaxseed is an ancient grain that has been part of the human diet for thousands of years. Babylonian burial chambers from 3000 B.C. contain scenes of flax cultivation and depict various ways in which flax was used. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, wrote of using flax for the relief of stomach pains in 650 B.C., and the Greek philosopher, Theophrastus, recommended the use of flax mucilage as a cough remedy.

In the 8th Century A.D. Charlemagne considered flax so important for the health of his subjects that he passed laws and regulations requiring its consumption. Flaxseed oil was also commonly used to prepare balms for inflamed skin and healing drinks for constipation. Today, nutritionists and scientists are rediscovering the tremendous health benefits of flax.

Cultivated flax (L. usitatissimum) is of two types. One is grown for the seed, and the other is used for fiber production. Flax fibers are one of the earliest plant fibers used by humans and may well be the first widely cultivated plant for the purpose of cloth production. It is known that ancient Egyptians first used the fibers to produce linen nearly 10,000 years ago. In the Northern Hemisphere, it is the oilseed varieties that are primarily produced.

Flaxseed oil (also known as linseed oil) is extracted from flax seeds. It has a delicate, nutty flavor and is an excellent source of protein, potassium, and beta-carotene. It also contains a beneficial fat, alpha-linoleic acid, which is a heart-healthy Omega-3 fat. There is some scientific data that indicates that this oil combats constipation and IBS, and preliminary studies suggest that it also guards against high cholesterol and hypertension.

Hollywood actress Hillary Swank was introduced to flaxseed by her trainer in Million Dollar Baby. She used it to gain ten pounds of muscle for her Oscar-winning role. In addition to its therapeutic properties, flaxseed oil also has many industrial uses. For example, it is an important ingredient in paints, varnishes, and linoleum.

Flaxseed oil is thick and rich and has a nutty taste. Because heat causes it to lose its beneficial properties, it is not recommended for cooking. It makes a delicious salad dressing when combined with vinegar or lemon juice. It can also be used in baking to replace less beneficial oils.

It is available at health food stores, and it comes in both liquid and soft gel forms. Flaxseed oil is kept in a refrigerated section of the store because it spoils quickly. The oil is very susceptible to damage by light, heat and oxygen, so it is generally sold in opaque or dark bottles to extend its life.

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Discussion Comments

By ddljohn — On Dec 03, 2012

My wife has ulcerative colitis and she has gotten great benefits from flaxseed oil. We didn't even know about it until her doctor recommended it to her. We purchased it immediately and started adding it to most of the foods we ate.

Within a couple of weeks, there was improvement in my wife's symptoms and we are certainly attributing this to the flaxseed oil. It's a phenomenal oil, probably the most beneficial out there along with olive oil.

By fBoyle — On Dec 02, 2012

@golf07-- I would recommend that you either use flaxseed oil or buy whole flaxseed and grind it in small amounts enough for consumption.

Doctors say that grinding flaxseed improves its benefits and activates the nutrients. But it has to be consumed very quickly otherwise the nutrients are lost.

So I don't think you will get as much benefit from the powder. Flaxseed oil is different because it comes from compressed flaxseeds that is packaged immediately to retain the nutrients. So the oil and whole flaxseed are better options.

By bluedolphin — On Dec 01, 2012

Since heat causes flaxseed oil to lose its beneficial properties, isn't it a bad idea to bake with it?

By golf07 — On Aug 30, 2012

Is there a health benefit in taking flaxseed oil tablets over the flaxseed powder. I have been looking for more ways to add flaxseed to my diet, and the powder is cheaper and wouldn't spoil as quickly.

I add ground flaxseed powder to my oatmeal in the morning, and also include it in my smoothies. I have found the powder doesn't really change the taste of the food when I add it like this.

If I used flaxseed oil instead of the powder would it blend in with the rest of the smoothie, or would the nutty taste be too strong?

By julies — On Aug 29, 2012

I have a hard time understanding how something that is supposed to be so good for you is also used in toxic products like paint and varnishes. I would be very interested in knowing which properties of flaxseed oil make it useful in these types of products.

I have never used flaxseed oil though I have heard about the benefits of it. Like most products, I assume you get a much higher quality product if you buy organic flaxseed oil.

By bagley79 — On Aug 29, 2012

I find it much more convenient to take flaxseed oil tablets than in the oil form. I could never quite get used to the taste of the oil.

If the liquid was the only way of taking it, I probably would not even bother. I tried making my own salad dressing with it, but could never get the right balance of taste. I usually like nutty flavoring, but this was too bold for me.

By honeybees — On Aug 28, 2012

I started getting interested in flaxseed oil benefits when my dad said his doctor recommended it to him. He has a history of heart disease and his doctor said he might want to give it a try along with his other medication.

I thought if someone in the medical community was recommending this, it would be worth looking at. Flaxseed oil has good fats in the form of Omega-3 fatty acid which our bodies need.

It seems like for many years people looked at any kind of fat as bad for you, but it sounds like the possible benefits of taking something like flaxseed oil might be worth it.

By EarlyForest — On Jul 27, 2010

@Planch -- Well, as with any so-called miracle cure, you should take it with a grain of salt.

However, flax seed oil supplements really do have a lot of documented benefits.

Benefits do vary from person to person, but I would say that many of the claims made about the benefits of flax seed oil are at least to some degree true.

By Planch — On Jul 27, 2010

It seems that a lot of people are talking about a lot of flax seed oil benefits; everything from improved vision to stronger fingernails -- does flax seed oil really have all those benefits, or is it a lot of hype?

By LittleMan — On Jul 27, 2010

Flaxseed oil is making a huge splash in the natural supplements world too.

Both flax seed oil liquids and flax seed oil capsules are extremely popular with those looking to lower their cholesterol or reduce their risk of heart disease.

Flax seed oil capsules are generally considered healthy and beneficial to most people.

However, it is important to only take it according to the directions, and to consult a doctor before taking them for an extended period of time, since they can interact with some medicines.

By somerset — On Oct 12, 2008

Flaxseed oil has much more omega 3 fatty acids than other oils do. It is best used in salads and similar uses, but not so much in cooking, since high heat is not kind to the healthy fats.

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