Flaxseed oil or flax oil is obtained from flaxseed, which is also called linseed. The plant Linum usitatissimum is an annual, that is also grown for ornamental purposes. The seeds as well as the oil (extracted from the seeds) are used for human consumption. Flax oil, which is mainly used as a supplement, is available in liquid form or as capsules. Flaxseed has numerous health benefits as it is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and lignans (a type of phytonutrient). However, there are some side effects of consuming flaxseed oil. It is important to note that although flaxseed has a high fiber content, flaxseed oil does not contain any fiber. So, some side effects like flatulence and bloating that is seen with the consumption of flaxseed, is unlikely to occur with the consumption of flaxseed oil (since it does not contain fiber).
Adverse Effects of Flaxseed Oil
Though flaxseed oil is said to have various health benefits, it is also contended that the nutritional value of this oil is much less as compared to the whole seeds or ground seeds. Here is a compilation of some of the possible side effects of this oil.
- A common side effect of consuming flaxseed oil is loose stools that may sometimes lead to diarrhea. This side effect is often associated with slightly higher doses. In high doses, flaxseed oil can also cause stomach ache.
- Some people might develop allergic reaction after consuming flax oil. Individual who have a known allergy to flaxseed or to the plant familyLinaceae, should avoid having flaxseed oil. Signs of allergic reaction include rashes, hives, itching, swelling, breathing problems and wheezing.
- Flaxseed supplements can interact with painkillers, NSAIDs and medications for regulating high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes.
- Studies on the effect of flaxseed with regards to prostate cancer has conflicting results. Some studies have shown that consumption of flaxseed decreases the risk of prostate cancer and reduces the levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA). However, some studies have shown that excess of alpha-linolenic acid in the body may increase the risk of prostate cancer.
- Flaxseed oil contain phytoestrogens that may mimic the hormone estrogen in the body. Phytoestrogens can affect your hormones. So, flaxseed oil should not be consumed by pregnant and breastfeeding women as well as women who suffer from hormonal imbalance.
- People who take anticoagulants (blood thinning medications), must avoid using this supplement, as it can slow blood clotting. Consumption of flax oil might increase the risk of bleeding in people who have bleeding disorder. It can also increase the risk of bleeding during surgery. So people who are scheduled to undergo surgery should avoid taking flax oil.
- Although there is insufficient research regarding the safety of consumption of flax oil by pregnant women, some studies have recommended avoiding the use of flaxseed oil during pregnancy. Studies have also reported that the consumption of flaxseed oil during the second and the third trimester of pregnancy can increase the risk of premature birth.
- Although the intake of omega-3 fatty acids decreases the risk of macular degeneration, some studies have shown that alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) increases the risk of macular degeneration. Consequently, whether flaxseed oil increases or decreases the risk of macular degeneration, remains controversial.
- Although alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is healthy, in some cases, it does not get converted into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is more readily absorbed by the body. This is mostly observed in people with medical conditions like diabetes. It is said that in normal cases too, only 1% of the total omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (in flaxseed oil) gets converted into EPA during metabolism.
- Flaxseed oil turns rancid (due to oxidization), once it is exposed to light or air. Such rancid oil is not healthy as it can cause raised cholesterol levels and cellular damage. Exposure to light or air is almost unavoidable, as the seeds undergo crushing and grinding, for oil extraction. It is also not advisable to heat flax oil, as the ALA may transform to cancer-causing benzenes.
- Flaxseed is a rich source of lignans (estrogen-like chemicals that also act as antioxidants), which is believed to prevent breast cancer. However, lignans are not present in flaxseed oil.
- Intake of ground flaxseed might reduce the body's ability to absorb certain medication. It can also reduce the absorption of vitamins, minerals and other supplements. This holds true for flaxseed but not flaxseed oil.
Disclaimer: This HolisticZine article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.