Olive oil, coconut oil, grapeseed oil, peanut oil, avocado oil, canola oil—the list of all the different types and forms of oil goes on and on and on (and on!). Admittedly, sometimes it can feel overwhelming to separate the healthy fats and oils from the unhealthy ones so that you can make the best choice for your health. With so many options in front of you, where do you even start?
Well, I have some good news: You don't have to be a world-renowned cardiologist to know healthy oils from unhealthy ones. It's all about identifying your favorite healthy oils, learning to use them the right way, and then sticking to those habits. And one healthy oil in particular, called flaxseed oil, is worth learning about in more depth because of its exciting health benefits.
Flaxseed oil: what you should know about this healthy fat.
The first thing you need to know about flaxseed oil is that it's healthy largely because of its high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids, which are a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids that are important for a number of functions in the body—including the cardiovascular, pulmonary, immune, and endocrine systems—and play a critical role in the structure of cell membranes.
If you're particularly nutrition-savvy, you know that there are different types of omega-3s. An important one to know about when it comes to flaxseed oil is ALA, also known as alpha-linolenic acid. ALA is a plant-based source of essential omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid ("essential" means they must be obtained through the diet because our bodies don't make this type of fat naturally). The body converts ALA to EPA and DHA, which are the healthy fats found in fish oil.
ALA is present in many plant-based oils, including—you guessed it!—flaxseed oil. You can safely supplement with ALAs in a variety of supplement and food sources to receive many health benefits, particularly ALAs brain-protecting properties.
As we mentioned before, omega-3s are famous for their health-promoting properties. One of the most exciting benefits is their ability to fight depression. A meta-analysis of current research suggests that consuming omega-3s reduced the risk of depression by 17 percent. That is a pretty striking number, but the brain-supporting benefits of omega-3s don’t end there. A double-blind study showed that omega-3 supplementation improved cognitive performance in young adults, and another study showed that they can improve memory function in adults with mild cognitive impairment. In other words: Omega-3s are proving to be critical for a healthy brain and mood.
Many people also swear by flaxseed oil for improving skin health. And while the research supporting using flaxseed oil this way isn't particularly strong, there are a few studies that show that flaxseed oil can improve overall skin quality. One showed that flaxseed oil decreases skin roughness, scaling, and sensitivity while improving hydration and smoothness.
Another study performed on animals showed that skin damage that occurs as a result of cigarette smoke can be improved by ALA(remember, this is the omega-3 specifically found in flaxseed oil). This is likely due to ALA's antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which are thought to help reduce oxidative stress and even stimulate collagen synthesis. So next time you're making one of your favorite collagen recipes—like iced cream and chia pudding—consider adding a little flaxseed oil for extra skin-supporting benefits.
Flaxseed oil dosing and safety.
As we already know, flaxseed oil has a lot of potential benefits for our health. But are there any safety concerns? Because of flaxseed oil's ability to decrease platelet aggregation, it could interact with anticoagulant or antiplatelet medications. It may also lower blood sugar, and, therefore, you should always talk to your doctor about taking flaxseed oil with blood pressure medication because it has the potential to cause very low blood pressure. In fact, you should always talk to your doctor before trying any new supplement.
It's also important to avoid eating unripe flaxseeds because they could potentially contain toxic cyanide compounds. Many experts also recommend avoiding flaxseed and flaxseed oil during pregnancy because they may have some mild hormonal effects. In fact, some experts recommend strategically consuming flaxseeds as part of an alternative hormone therapy called "seed cycling." Flaxseed oil and flaxseeds have the potential to cause GI distress (i.e., diarrhea or constipation), so it's important to drink plenty of water when you take them because they are very high in fiber.
If you've gotten this far, you might be wondering what the basic do's and don'ts are for incorporating flaxseed oil into your everyday routine. It's important to know that flaxseed oil, which is a golden-yellow color, is very sensitive to heat, light, and oxygen. It's typically recommended that you avoid using flaxseed oil at high temperatures, and the smoke point of this oil is around 225 degrees Fahrenheit. That said, some studies have shown that heating it up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit didn't negatively affect the quality of the oil. Flaxseed oil has a pretty neutral taste and is generally extracted by way of cold pressing. You always want to store flaxseed oil properly because it can easily become rancid; it's recommended that you keep it in a colored container in the fridge for no more than three to six months.
So there you have it! Everything you need to know about incorporating flaxseed oil into your wellness routine. Luckily, it's not difficult to take advantage of flax's many health benefits.