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Is Flax The New Soy?

Women have been taking soy for years to help prevent breast cancer. Now, the less well known flaxseed is getting some attention for the same reasons.


Soy and flaxseed contain phytoestrogens. These plant estrogens act like the female hormone when they are included in a balanced diet.

For centuries, plant estrogens have been used to combat menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, mood swings and leg cramps.

Studies have been done with soy that suggest that the phytoestrogens help to prevent breast cancer by lowering the amount of the hormone estrogen.

Several years ago, Dr. Joanne Slavin of the University of Minnesota in St. Paul reported on a study she had led, enlisting the assistance of 28 postmenopausal nuns to see whether eating foods with phytoestrogens acted on the estrogen circulating in the body.

They used flaxseed supplements because this food contains a high level of lignan, a phytoestrogen thought to reduce estrogen production.

The research group measured the levels of estrone sulfate and estradiol. Both of these forms of estrogen have been linked to the growth of breast cancer tumors. The study found that the amounts of these estrogens were lowered in the group taking the supplements. A second group eating the same foods, without the supplement, did not have a reduction in the estrogen in their systems.

A report back in 2000 by the BBC was on a study that involved a group of women with breast cancer tumors eating flaxseed muffins. This group also showed slower tumor growth.

Other articles point to the high content of alpha-linolenic acid in flaxseed as a possible reason for the slow down of tumor growth. Alpha-linolenic acid is the plant form of omega-3 fatty acids which are thought to help prevent breast cancer.

All of the studies since warn that these results are preliminary. Women who are pregnant are warned to avoid high doses of plant estrogen. The scientists also caution women who have estrogen receptor positive (ER+) breast cancer that phytoestrogens may not be safe. It is not known whether the plant estrogens act on tumors that need estrogen to grow. If you have been diagnosed with this type of breast cancer, these supplements are not recommended.

Before adding any type of supplement to your diet, you should discuss the decision with a medical professional. "Natural" does not mean harmless.


Elsewhere on the Web:

Breast Cancer and Flaxseeds

Flax Seeds & Flax Oil



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