Maybe the question should be “What’s right with it?” It actually would be easier to answer. Nothing.
I have just been discussing flaxseed oil with a friend of mine. He, like almost everyone I know is taking it as a supplement believing in the benefits touted by the industry. I have never been convinced about it, and have pointed out the dangers of taking it. I thought it a good idea to share it with others.
Firstly, flax seeds contain a small amount of cyanide. There’s always a chance that cyanide can be released into the oil during the extraction process. I’m sure noone would like to put it in the body.
Second, flaxseed oil is very new to our diets. Our ancestors have used flax fibers to make linen and rope. The seeds were given to animals to eat, they did not eat the seeds themselves. With the onset of agriculture, people thought there might be some commercial value from cracking open the seeds and extracting the oil. And it is excellent as a wood varnish! You may already know it as linseed oil. It’s one and the same. It is only very recently that people have started eating it. What I’m trying to say here is that our bodies have not adapted to this and may not be able to extract any goodness out of it.
In fact, flax seed contains a lot of omega-3 fatty acids, but of the wrong type. The body needs EPA and DHA forms of omega-3 but they are non-existent in flax seed. The alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) from flax seed needs to be converted by the body into EPA and DHA (more complex forms of omega-3). According to many studies, our bodies are very inefficient at doing this.
There is also research published the Journal of The American College of Nutrition which indicates that ALA can be a risk factor in eye disease such as cataracts. This is because ALA causes changes in density in the lens of the eyes.
Next, is the cancer risk. That’s right, while many people actually think flaxseed oil will protect them from cancer, there is considerable research done stating otherwise. This applies especially to men and prostate cancer. Flax seed contains lignans which are phytoestrogens, or chemicals that mimic estrogen. While some women may need extra estrogen, men certainly do not. The side effects for men may include developing breasts, reduced sex drive and increased risk of prostate cancer.
Last thing I’ll mention is that flaxseed oil, because it is not saturated, oxidises very easily. This means it goes rancid. Rancid oil can be very toxic and is full of free radicals. The heating during detoxification process (removing cyanide) is largely contributing to this problem, and flaxseed oil can go rancid even before it hits the shelves of your local store. If it is in capsules, then you’ll never even know about it.
Personally, I have never taken this stuff. My favorite alternatives are (in no particular order):
– olive oil
– hemp seed oil
– fish (whole fish as opposed to fish oil)
– eggs (free range eggs actually contain more omega-3 than eggs from grain fed chickens)