My friend Mara often adds flax seeds to the homemade bread she bakes on a regular basis. While flaxseed may be good for managing digestive health, a new study has found that flaxseed may not be an effective treatment to reduce the number and severity of hot flashes that result from menopause and estrogen-deprivation therapies used to treat breast cancer.
The Los Angeles Times reported on a study led by Dr. Sandhya Pruthi, who works in the Mayo Clinic's Breast Diagnostic Clinic and also is a researcher with the North Central Cancer Treatment Group (NCCTG). Dr. Pruthi and her team of researchers followed 188 women who reported having at least 28 hot flashes per week. Approximately half of these participants had menopausal symptoms while the other group had a history of breast cancer. In this study, half of each group ate a daily flaxseed bar for six weeks while the other group ate a bar that did not contain flaxseed. While approximately a third of the women in each group reported a 50% decrease in symptoms, there was no statistical difference in hot flash symptoms between the group that ate the flaxseed bar and the group that ate the bar without flaxseed. Also, women in both groups described side effects that included diarrhea, nausea and bloating.
"Hot flashes are a common symptom during the menopause transition or following breast cancer treatment," Dr. Pruthi said in an online press release. "While our preliminary data from our 2007 pilot study showed a reduction in hot flashes associated with the consumption of ground flaxseed, our new study did not result in a significant decrease in hot flashes with eating flaxseed compared to placebo."
However, flaxseed does have its place in the diet. According to Katherine Zeratsky, a registered nutritionist at the Mayo Clinic, flaxseed is high in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids and phytochemicals known as lignans. Flaxseed and flaxseed oil have been used to help reduce the levels of total blood cholesterol and the bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein). Therefore, it may help reduce the risk of heart disease (which is another risk that increases for menopausal women).
Zeratsky recommends consuming ground flaxseed since the body is better able to digest it. She noted that raw flaxseed, whether whole or ground, can be bought in bulk at grocery stores and health food stores. The adequate intake amounts for adults is between 1.1 and 1.6 grams (1 tablespoon) a day.
So what can you do about hot flashes? HealthCentral recommends starting with diet and lifestyle changes. For instance, avoid alcohol, caffeine, hot beverages and spicy foods. You also can try alternative treatments. According to Livestrong.com, other natural alternatives such as black cohosh, chasteberry, licorice, vitamin E supplements and evening primrose oil are available to ease menopause symptoms. However, scientific research is mixed as far as the effectiveness and safety of these compounds.
So based on this research, women should keep consuming flaxseed for their heart and digestive health, but try other methods to relieve hot flashes.