Flaxseed and its components may improve cardiovascular health because of their numerous attributes. Flaxseed contains 35% of its mass as oil, of which 55% is α-linolenic acid (ALA). Flax meal, which is devoid of oil, contains the lignan secoisolariciresinol diglucoside (SDG). Flaxseed, flaxseed with very low ALA, flaxseed oil, flax lignan complex (FLC), and SDG reduce the development of hypercholesterolemic atherosclerosis by 46%, 69%, 0%, 73%, and 34%, respectively, in the rabbit model. FLC and SDG slow the progression of atherosclerosis but have no effect in regression of atherosclerosis. Suppression of atherosclerosis by flaxseed is the result of its lignan content and not the result of ALA content. Suppression of atherosclerosis is associated with lowering of serum lipids and antioxidant activity. Effects of flaxseed on serum lipids in experimental animals are variable from no change to slight reduction. Flaxseed oil does not affect serum lipids, except for a slight reduction in serum triglycerides. Lignan in general reduces serum total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and raises serum high-density lipoprotein cholesterol. SDG and its metabolites have antioxidant activity. Flaxseed and flaxseed oil do not have antioxidant activity except they suppress oxygen radical production by white blood cells. Flaxseed oil/ALA has variable effects on inflammatory mediators/markers (interleukin [IL]-1β, IL-2, IL-4, IL-6, IL-10, tumor necrosis factor-α, interferon-gamma, C-reactive protein, and serum amyloid A). Doses of ALA less than 14 g/d do not affect inflammatory mediators/markers, but 14 g/d or greater reduce inflammatory mediators/markers. Flaxseed oil decreases soluble vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 but has no effect on soluble intracellular adhesion molecule-1, soluble E-selectin, and monocyte colony-stimulating factor. Flaxseed has variable effects on IL-6, high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, and soluble vascular cell adhesion molecule-1. FLC reduces plasma levels of C-reactive protein but has no effects on IL-6, tumor necrosis factor-α, soluble intracellular adhesion molecule-1, soluble vascular cell adhesion molecule-1, or monocyte chemoattractant protein. Flaxseed has a very small hypotensive effect, but flaxseed oil does not lower blood pressure. However, SDG is a very potent hypotensive agent. Flaxseed oil decreases platelet aggregation and increases platelet activating inhibitor-1 and bleeding time. Flaxseed and FLC have no effect on the hemopoietic system. SDG is a potent angiogenic and antiapoptotic agent that may have a role in cardioprotection in ischemic heart disease. In conclusion, flaxseed, FLC, and SDG, but not flaxseed oil, suppress atherosclerosis, and FLC and SDG slow progression of atherosclerosis but have no effect on regression. Flaxseed oil suppresses oxygen radical production by white blood cells, prolongs bleeding time, and in higher doses suppresses serum levels of inflammatory mediators and does not lower serum lipids.
From the Department of Physiology, College of Medicine, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada.
Received for publication April 7, 2009; accepted May 14, 2009.
The author acknowledges the financial support of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Saskatchewan in the preparation of this review.
The author reports no conflicts of interest.
Reprints: Kailash Prasad, MD, PhD, FRCPC, FACC, FICA, FIACS, Department of Physiology, College of Medicine, University of Saskatchewan, 107 Wiggins Road, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, S7N 5E5, Canada (e-mail: email@example.com).