A new study shows flaxseed positively impacts age-associated changes in inflammation, adding to an already extensive list of beneficial health effects linked to its consumption.
A new study published in Experimental Gerontology indicates that consuming about an ounce a day of flaxseed (30 grams) may profoundly benefit elderly subjects, possibly neutralizing age-associated increases in inflammation, by modulating levels of a class of fat derived biomolecules known as oxylipins.
Titled, “Elevated levels of pro-inflammatory oxylipins in older subjects are normalized by flaxseed consumption,” Canadian researchers looked at the effects that flaxseed have on oxylipins, a category of physiologically bioactive molecules produced in the body from the oxidation of polyunsaturated fatty acids (also known as eicosanoids).
Oxylipin derivatives are believed to play a critical role in chronic disease progression as well as the aging process by modulating both inflammatory and anti-inflammatory pathways in the body, making dietary sources and/or deficiencies of their substrates particularly relevant. For instance, oxylipins derived from long chain omega 3 fatty acids (e.g. resolvins, protectins) can down-regulate inflammatory processes by preventing the activation of certain immune cells (e.g. polymorphonuclear neutrophils). On the other hand, those derived from omega 6 fatty acids like linoleic acid or its derivative arachadonic acid have been linked to the promotion of inflammation. Since the typical Western diet contains a ratio of omega 3 to 6 fatty acids unprecedented in its overemphasis on omega 6 fats, and since flaxseed contains a uniquely high ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 (4 times more omega 3), it is logical to assume it would contribute to bringing our dietary and therefore physiological ratios back into greater balance.
In the new study, researchers tested the hypothesis that flaxseed may positively modulate oxylipin concentrations. They also sought to determine whether or not oxylipin levels differ with age, as has been previously observed for other fats in the plasma of human subjects of differing ages.
The study design compared younger (19-28 year old) and older subjects (45-64 year old), 10 in each group. Both groups ingested a muffin containing 30 grams of milled flaxseed daily for a period of 4 weeks. This equated to 6,000 mg of the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid per serving.
At baseline the older group had 13 different oxylipins showing a 2-fold or higher levels in concentrations compared to the younger group. More specifically:
“[P]ro-inflammatory oxylipins 5-hydroxdyeicosatetraenoic acid, 9,10,13-trihydroxyoctadecenoic acid, and 9,12,13-trihydroxyoctadecenoic acid were significantly greater in the older (1.1±0.23nM, 5.6±0.84nM, and 4.5±0.58nM, respectively) versus the younger group (0.34±0.12nM, 3.5±0.33nM, and 3.0±0.24nM, respectively) (p<0.05).
After the 4-week flaxseed intervention the number of oxylipins that were ≥2-fold higher in the older versus the younger group was reduced from 13 to 3. More specifically:
“5-Hydroxyeicosatetraenoic acid, 9,10,13-trihydroxyoctadecenoic acid, and 9,12,13-trihydroxyoctadecenoic acid decreased in the older group to concentrations equivalent to the younger group after flaxseed consumption.”
The results lead the authors to conclude:
In conclusion, this is the first study to report differences in plasma oxylipin profiles based upon age and gender. The consumption of milled flaxseed resulted in potentially beneficial alterations in the plasma oxylipin profiles of both the younger and older individuals by reducing oxylipins that induce neutrophil chemotaxis and inflammation. The older groups’ plasma oxylipin profile became similar to that of their younger counterparts as a function of the dietary flaxseed. The findings of this study, therefore, have implications for understanding the biochemical changes associated with aging, the potential mechanisms of action responsible for the beneficial physiological effects of dietary flaxseed, and therapeutic strategies for disturbing inflammatory-related conditions and diseases.”
This is actually not the first time we have reported on a clinical study using flaxseed to modulate oxylipin levels resulting in beneficial health effects. Last year, in an article titled “Flaxseed Reduces Blood Pressure and Decreases Oxylipin Levels“, our naturopath contributor Case Adams reported:
“Research from Canada’s St Boniface Hospital Research Center and the University of Manitoba has found that taking flaxseed as a supplement can significantly reduce and lower blood pressure – especially among patients with peripheral artery disease, hypertension, and high blood pressure.”
The positive outcome were produced after 110 peripheral artery disease patients were given 30 grams of ground flaxseed daily for six months:
After the six months, the flaxseed group had marked and significantly lower levels of oxylipins. Oxylipins are known to be linked with artery damage, thrombosis, hypertension and cardiovascular disease in general. Recent research from Philadelphia’s Thomas Jefferson University has linked high oxylipin levels with diabetes as well.”
Flaxseed An Easy, Safe, Affordable Alternative To Drugs
We live in an incredible time. Science now regularly confirms age-old aphorisms like “food is medicine,” with flaxseed increasingly attracting the attention of medical researchers. Every month or so, a new study appears revealing this humble food’s incredible healing power. Not only does it have a multitude of diverse culinary applications and beneficial health effects (we have indexed 70 benefits here), flaxseed has been found surprisingly capable of profoundly reducing the risk of lethal diseases such as cancer. Recently, for instance, we reported on its amazing ability to reduce breast cancer mortality by up to 70% — a feat that we do not know any drug has yet been demonstrated capable of performing. The implications here are profound. As we have discussed extensively in the past with turmeric, the science-based validation of foods as not only therapeutic but superior to drugs in the prevention and treatment of disease has revolutionary implications for the future of medicine.
Learn more about the author’s unique philosophy of nutrition in “Food as Medicine Rebooted.”
 Lundstrom, S.L., Yang, J., Kallberg, H.J., Thunberg, S., Gafvelin, G., Haeggstrom, J.Z., Gronneberg, R., Grunewald, J., van Hage, M., Hammock, B.D., Eklund, A., Wheelock, A.M., Wheelock, C.E., 2012. Allergic Asthmatics Show Divergent Lipid Mediator Profiles from Healthy Controls Both at Baseline and following Birch Pollen Provocation
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