Flax seed may play a role in the health of your thyroid gland. The other day my dad asked if I could recommend a food that would help relieve a variety of symptoms he had recently been experiencing. He had high cholesterol, anxiety, depression, carpal tunnel syndrome, and headaches.
He also had a terrible memory, began experiencing hair loss, and had trouble sleeping at night, despite being exhausted. Some of his other symptoms included bruising fairly easily, dry skin and hair, sensitivity to heat and cold, tingling in his feet and hands, and dry eyes with blurry vision.
I thought about it for a minute. It sounded like he had several signs that can indicate an underactive thyroid—also called hypothyroidism. A comprehensive blood thyroid panel and saliva test would both confirm that low thyroid function was the issue.
I recommended that my dad start eating flaxseed and flaxseed oil every day. It is also known by the plant name Linum usitatissimum and is sometimes called linseed. Nutritionally, you can’t go wrong with flaxseed. These brown or yellow seeds are loaded with fiber, protein, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, folate, and vitamin B1 and B6.
Flaxseed is also by far one of the best plant-based sources of essential fatty acids you can get. These many nutritional qualities make flaxseed perhaps one of the first cultivated superfoods. Flaxseed has been cultivated for thousands of years, including in places such as India, China, and Greece. The ancient Egyptians also considered flaxseed a sign of purity.
What Is Hypothyroidism?
The health benefits of flaxseeds are seemingly endless. They are among the best natural remedies for hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism is a condition that occurs when thyroid hormone levels are low and thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels are high in the blood. The normal range for TSH is considered between 0.35 and 5.00 milli-international units per liter (mlU/L). Based on TSH blood test results, it is estimated that five percent to 10% of the adult population have hypothyroidism. Among seniors, more than 20% have the condition. It is also eight times more prevalent in women.
Dr. Broda Barnes wrote a hypothyroidism book in the 1970s called Hypothyroidism: The Unsuspected Illness. In his book, Dr. Barnes estimated that 40% of adults would be diagnosed with hypothyroidism when symptoms and basal body temperature are considered.
The first symptoms of hypothyroidism often include
A partial list for other hypothyroidism symptoms include
- Fluid retention
- Trouble concentrating
- High blood pressure
- Low blood pressure
- Loss of libido
- Menstrual abnormalities
- Chronic fatigue
- Weight gain
- Yeast infections
- Dry skin
- Multiple sclerosis
- Shortness of breath
- Impaired kidney function
- Decreased appetite
- Joint and muscle pain
- Slow movement
- Hair loss
- Heart attack
- High cholesterol
- Heat intolerances
- Nutritional imbalances
- Heart palpitations
- Diminished reflexes
What is basal body temperature?
Lowering of basal body temperature is another extremely important symptom of hypothyroidism. To take your basal body temperature is easy and it can be done in the comfort of your home. It is best to perform the procedure after a good night’s rest, since it should be taken without food, excitement, or exercise for 12 hours.
To test your basal body temperature, place the thermometer firmly under the armpit for 10 minutes while lying still for the entire time period. Normal readings are considered between 97.8 to 98.2 degrees Fahrenheit. Hypothyroidism is indicated when readings are below 97.8 degrees Fahrenheit.
The most common hypothyroidism causes are considered
- Hashimoto’s disease
- Iodine deficiency.
Other root causes of low thyroid function include
- radiation therapy on the thyroid
- thyroid surgery
- poor diet
- pituitary disorder
- congenital disease,
certain medications like
- amiodarone and lithium
- hormone imbalances, especially cortisol/dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and estrogen/progesterone
Effects of Flaxseeds on Hypothyroidism
Natural remedies to treat hypothyroidism will most definitely include flaxseed, especially since they are loaded with the essential fatty acid omega-3 called alpha-linolenic acid. Many Americans are thought to get too much omega-3 and not enough of the other essential fatty acid—omega-6 and linoleic acid. The omega-3 essential fatty acids contain anti-inflammatory properties and they also promote hormone production.
The magnesium and vitamin B6 in flaxseed are also important for normal thyroid production. In a case study published in the journal Thyroid Research in 2011, flaxseed oil helped normalize TSH levels after eight weeks from starting the supplementation. The research determined that the omega-3 fatty acids were beneficial factors in the flaxseed oil for thyroid disease.
One tablespoon of flaxseed oil or two tablespoons of grounded flaxseed daily is the general recommendation to treat hypothyroidism.
Other Benefits of Flaxseeds
Besides hypothyroidism, flaxseeds also treat and protect against other conditions—many of which are also symptoms of hypothyroidism. Flaxseed will therefore indirectly improve various symptoms of hypothyroidism. Here are a select few of the other hypothyroidism symptoms that flaxseeds can benefit:
1. Lowers high blood pressure
Hypertension affects about one in three American adults, or around 70 million people. Blood pressure should read a systolic pressure under 120 with a diastolic pressure under 80 millimeters of mercury. According to Greek researchers, flaxseed oil may help reduce high blood pressure. A 12-week study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2007 found that ALA in flaxseed oil significantly reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels. A meta-analysis from 15 randomized controlled trials published in the journal Clinical Nutrition in May showed significant reductions in blood pressure after supplementing with various flaxseed products.
2. Helps with weight loss
Flaxseed consumption can also complement an effective weight loss plan, since it is full of fiber and healthy fats with ALA that help to lower inflammation. In a 12-week study published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2010, researchers found that flaxseed and walnut supplementation may support weight loss and improve obesity.
3. Reduces cholesterol
Untreated high cholesterol can lead to a stroke or heart attack. Fortunately, the soluble fiber in flaxseeds can help treat high cholesterol. In a 2012 study published in the journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, researchers found that flaxseed could reduce total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
4. Useful for depression
Research has also found that flaxseed can help reduce depression symptoms. Studies have found that depression sufferers have reduced levels of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA are omega-3 essential fatty acids found in flaxseeds. In other words, flaxseed consumption can help correct EPA and DHA imbalances.
5. Decreases risk of cancer
Flaxseeds can also fight and reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, including skin, prostate, colon, ovarian, and endometrial cancer. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Cancer Research also found that flaxseed consumption may lower breast cancer risk. It is thought that the lignans in flaxseed may reduce the risk of breast cancer by converting intestinal bacteria into the natural hormone balancers enterodiol and enterolactone.
Other flaxseed health benefits
The lignans in flaxseed can also prevent and treat other health issues, including treating liver disease, improving digestion, helping to eliminate candida and yeast in the body, supporting healthy bacteria in the gut, and reducing the severity of colds and flus.
Lignans contain estrogenic properties and have been found to benefit postmenopausal women. Flaxseed and flaxseed oil can also improve symptoms of skin conditions, such as eczema, rosacea, and acne.
Precautions to Take While Using Flaxseed for Hypothyroidism
Flaxseeds are considered safe on the thyroid; however, they may lead to digestion-related side effects such as nausea, constipation, abdominal pain, excessive gas, bloating, and diarrhea. It is also important to note that flaxseed contains glycosides known as cyanogen. They are safe in small amounts, but consumption of over two tablespoons may prevent the thyroid from obtaining the proper iodine intake.
Luckily, you can inactivate the cyanogen in flaxseed by cooking with it. Flaxseed also contains goitrogens that are thought to suppress thyroid function, but many individuals with hypothyroidism can tolerate foods containing it without harm.
How to Implement Flaxseed in Your Diet
How do you implement flaxseed in your diet? It can be an easy addition to your green smoothie or yogurt. To prepare your flaxseed, it is best to first grind them with a coffee grinder. Freshly ground flaxseed is actually better digested than whole flaxseed. It also retains more nutrition and contains greater amounts of omega-3 and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). Pre-ground flaxseed can become rancid from longer exposure to heat and oxygen. (It tastes rancid as well).
Flaxseed oil is a great addition to salad dressings. A healthy salad dressing you can make yourself would include two parts extra virgin olive oil, one part flaxseed oil, and one part sesame oil or sunflower oil. Half of the dressing would also contain an acid such as lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. Feel free to add an assortment of your favorite herbs and spices. Make sure you keep your flaxseed oil refrigerated for ultimate freshness.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Murray, M., et al., The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine: Third Edition (New York: First Atria Paperback, 2012), 716-723.
Balch, J., et al., Prescription for Natural Cures: A Self-Care Guide for Treating Health Problems with Natural Remedies Including Diet, Nutrition, Supplements, and Other Holistic Methods (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004), 340-346.
Breese McCoy, S.J., “Coincidence of remission of postpartum Graves’ disease and use of omega-3 fatty acid supplements,” Thyroid Research, 2011; 4: 16, doi: 10.1186/1756-6614-4-16.
Paschos, G.K., et al., “Dietary supplementation with flaxseed oil lowers blood pressure in dyslipidemic patients,” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2007; 61, 1201-2106.
Ursoniu, S., et al., “Effects of flaxseed supplements on blood pressure: A systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled clinical trial,” Clinical Nutrition, 2015, pil: S0261-5614(15)00144-2.
Hongyu, W., et al., “Lifestyle Counseling and Supplementation with Flaxseed or Walnuts Influence the Management of Metabolic Syndrome,” The Journal of Nutrition, 2010; 140(11); 1937-1942.
Kristensen, M., et al., “Flaxseed dietary fibers lower cholesterol and increase fecal fat excretion, but magnitude of effect depend on food type,” Nutrition & Metabolism, 2012, 9: 8, doi: 10.1186/1743-7075-9-8.
Thompson, L., et al., “Dietary Flaxseed Alters Tumor Biological Markers in Postmenopausal Breast Cancer,” Journal of Clinical Cancer Research, 2005, 11; 3828, doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-04-2326.
Lay, G., “The Effect of Flaxseed on Hypothyroidism,” eHow web site; http://www.ehow.com/about_6676493_effect-flaxseed-hypothyroidism.html, last accessed September 24, 2015.