Ames, IA—A study completed at Iowa State University’s Nutrition and Wellness Center found that a diet supplemented with flaxseed significantly lowered high cholesterol levels in men. Those men that consumed at least 150 mg (approximately three tablespoons) per day saw their cholesterol levels drop by an average of just under 10%. The participants in the study consumed tablets containing 300 mg, 150 mg or 0 mg of flaxseed daily for a period of three months.

This same effect was not documented for the women in the study, which included 90 subjects, all of whom had high cholesterol. Flaxseed contains chemical compounds called lignans, which are converted by intestinal microbes into their bio-available form. The researchers say lignans are likely the component responsible for lowering cholesterol, but they couldn’t explain the absence of the cholesterol-lowering effect in women. They suggested it might have to do with the lignans’ interaction with the different sex hormones in men and women.

Flaxseed is not currently available in the United States in the tablet form used for this study, according to lead researcher Suzanne Hendrich. In its whole seed form however, flaxseed can be added to a diet by, for example, sprinkling it onto cereal or including it in baking mixes. The 10% cholesterol decrease the men received is less than can be expected from certain cholesterol-lowering drugs, at 10-20, but for those looking for a natural way to maintain healthy cholesterol levels, flaxseed could present a viable option.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, June 2010