Tumor Growth Prevented or Slowed by Eating Flax

While colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the US, it’s also one of the most preventable cancers with proper diet and screening. Adding more clout to this statement is new research demonstrating that including flax in your daily diet can help prevent colorectal tumor formation.

Flax Facts

I spoke with lead researcher Chandradhar Dwivedi, PhD, who serves as a distinguished professor and head of the department of pharmaceutical sciences in the College of Pharmacy at South Dakota State University. He told me that the research, including a study published this year in the medical journal Nutrition and Cancer, suggests that by increasing the body’s levels of lignans (phytoestrogens found in plants) and omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseed may help inhibit intestinal tumor growth.

Adding just one or two tablespoons daily of flaxseed oil or freshly ground seeds to your diet can lower risk.

Seeds: It’s important to note that flaxseeds must be ground to be absorbed (whole flax provides no benefit) and also that the resulting powder should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer in an opaque container, because light facilitates spoiling. You can enjoy ground flaxseed sprinkled directly onto all sorts of cereals and salads or cooked in soups and stews.

Oil: Dr. Dwivedi cautioned against using flax oil for frying, noting that this causes oxidation and blocks the health benefits. Instead, you can take flax oil by the spoonful, whipped into a fruit smoothie or drizzled over cereal or salad.

A growing number of flax-fortified foods are available on supermarket shelves, including breakfast muffins made of flaxmeal and “omega eggs” from flax-fed chickens. Dr. Dwivedi said these are healthful options.

Not everyone can safely take flax—those who take blood-thinning agents should check with their doctor, because flax affects blood clotting. Also, because it is a high-fiber food, flaxseed can be somewhat irritating to people with colitis and hemorrhoids, but adding it in slowly increasing increments often is a good solution.