3

votes

Can flaxseed be harmful?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created January 02, 2013 at 9:16 PM

For the past 2-3 months I have been taking 1-2 tbsps of flaxseed daily (usually just one) so that I can get more omega 3's. I understand, however, that our bodies can't convert all the omegas from flax so I do take fish oil as well and incorporate a lot of fish in my diet. I've been eating mostly paleo for about 3 months now and I have noticed some positive changes but it's been hard as paleo has been the cause of some problems as well, namely my weight loss. I'm 5'6 and before I started I weighted 106 pounds, already underweight, but I have gone down to 98 pounds, emaciated. This change was gradual and because I had no scale, I didn't notice how much weight I lost until two weeks ago. Recently I have started incorporating more carbs and have been able to gain 2 pounds in the past two weeks. My biggest problem has been the loss of my period for 2 months now. I know that this can be(and probably is) attributed to my low weight and bodyfat percentage but I was wondering if the flax could also be a cause. I don't remember if I stopped before or after starting to take flax and I know that flax is a phytoestrogen so it can mess with hormones. I've heard of flax messing with other people's cycles but I was wondering if it can entirely stop reproductive function. It's not menopause since I'm only 18 so I was wondering if anyone had any more information on the detrimental effects of flax and if it could be harming my body.

Thanks!

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41757)

on January 03, 2013
at 01:51 PM

@Wakaanai, I'm willing to be the problem isn't physiological... given the OP's question and the dozens of other questions I've seen here on PH.

0b7c3e7fd96005f0b2dfd781e512fc2e

(1237)

on January 03, 2013
at 11:08 AM

Perhaps you just need to up your calories. Can you give us a rundown of what you eat in a typical day?

42cd0feeeda5fa2e2fe1c4fd8255073a

(1930)

on January 03, 2013
at 06:18 AM

Flax acts in a similar way to soy as a phytoestrogen. It's a plant-based compund that acts like a hormone in the body so if you have hormonal imbalances (which your lack of periods indicates), you should steer clear of it for now.

42cd0feeeda5fa2e2fe1c4fd8255073a

(1930)

on January 03, 2013
at 06:07 AM

I gained weight (on purpose) a few months back. Probably went about it a bit too ambitiously and quickly but I gained the extra few pounds I wanted. I added extra fat to all my meals and made use of calorie dense smoothies. It was surprisingly harder than I thought since I still wanted to eat 'clean'. Problem with eating lots of good fats is that you get full & eating more in general gets exhausting! Here's some other threads that might help: http://paleohacks.com/questions/150190/high-calorie-paleo-foods#axzz2GscRdM5H http://paleohacks.com/questions/7457/whats-the-best-smoothie#axzz2GscRdM5H

5bd7f43c7da83282bcb78e3aa33832e0

(266)

on January 03, 2013
at 05:02 AM

Be careful not to generalize too hastily from your own experience, Matt. Some people do have legitimate trouble gaining weight. Malabsorption issues along with other health problems could easily cause someone to be a 'hard gainer', and a severe case may lead to being significantly underweight, and e.g. lead to losing your period if female

5bd7f43c7da83282bcb78e3aa33832e0

(266)

on January 03, 2013
at 05:00 AM

Be careful not to generalize too hastily from your own experience. Some people do have legitimate trouble gaining weight. Malabsorption issues along with other health problems could easily cause someone to be a 'hard gainer', and a severe case may lead to being very underweight, and e.g. losing your period if you're female

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41757)

on January 03, 2013
at 01:23 AM

I'd suggest you get some in-person support - doctor, nutritionist, other specialist... Gaining weight isn't challenge, just eat more. Though it sounds like you have an underlying issue that you've yet to address (and it ain't the flaxseed!)

99eba94c6f9e62bff6929692b0c62a35

(15)

on January 03, 2013
at 12:56 AM

And yeah about the scale I understand that it can lead to unhealthy obsessions but I think it would be vital in my case because I really didn't know how skinny I was until I stepped on one. Seeing 98 really helped put things in perspective as I didn't think I weighed any less than 105 (which still isn't good).

99eba94c6f9e62bff6929692b0c62a35

(15)

on January 03, 2013
at 12:55 AM

Thanks, I'm going to stop the flax for the next couple weeks as I try to gain more weight. I'm just a little confused on how exactly flax affects hormone function. I thought that in general it usually promotes menstruation and regulates cycles. Not in your case of course with PCOS, but 1/4 cup wow that's a lot!!

3327924660b1e2f8f8fc4ca27fedf2b2

(2919)

on January 02, 2013
at 11:02 PM

I agree CoconutBliss, I don't own a scale. I only know my weight because of checkups at the doctor, but 5"6 and 98 is not an ideal weight.

42cd0feeeda5fa2e2fe1c4fd8255073a

(1930)

on January 02, 2013
at 10:47 PM

I actually advise against scales. This can contirbute to/manifest an unhealthy obsession with numbers. Be more conscious of what healthy looks and feels like to you and how your body is reacting. As Janknitz said, lack of menstrual cycle in your case would more than likely be due to your weight loss but drop the flax.. it definately isn't helping

99eba94c6f9e62bff6929692b0c62a35

(15)

on January 02, 2013
at 09:46 PM

Ground flaxseed!

8634d4988ced45a68e2a79e69cc01835

(1617)

on January 02, 2013
at 09:38 PM

Is it flax oil, whole seeds, or ground?

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7 Answers

2
3491e51730101b18724dc57c86601173

(8395)

on January 02, 2013
at 10:18 PM

I have PCOS which causes irregular periods to begin with. When I started low carb I thought I would have a daily flaxseed "muffin in a minute" to replace the bread I was no longer eating. Each muffin contained about 1/4 cup of ground flax. A few weeks after starting, I began spotting. Spotting turned into bleeding which got heavier and heavier and continued for EIGHT weeks. My doctor attributed it to menopause, but I knew that wasn't it. I was also anemic at that point.

I started doing my own research and found that heavy bleeding can be attributed to flax. I stopped the flax and within two days, the bleeding stopped. Perhaps it was coincidence, but I don't think so.

I do believe the phytoestrogens in flax are potent enough to have an effect. In me it was bleeding, but for you it may be interruption of your normal cycle. I would suggest stopping the flax (particularly since you are getting fish oil) and see what happens.

I still use flax but in true moderation, only in small amounts and not regularly.

NOW for something else: Getting down to 98 pounds is dangerous--as you seem to realize--in an of itself, and it is as likely responsible for the cessation of cycles as the flax--more so in fact. Your body is not going to let you reproduce when you are fighting for your life! In some circles, you would be hospitalized if you showed up at that weight. I hope you are at least under a doctor's care to rule out any other serious medical condition. You need to buy a scale and keep a close eye on your weight so that this does NOT happen again. You have your whole future in front of you, and you could cause serious and lifelong damage if you continue to lose weight. I suspect you know that, and I wish you the best in restoring your health by gaining and maintaining a healthy weight.

42cd0feeeda5fa2e2fe1c4fd8255073a

(1930)

on January 03, 2013
at 06:18 AM

Flax acts in a similar way to soy as a phytoestrogen. It's a plant-based compund that acts like a hormone in the body so if you have hormonal imbalances (which your lack of periods indicates), you should steer clear of it for now.

99eba94c6f9e62bff6929692b0c62a35

(15)

on January 03, 2013
at 12:55 AM

Thanks, I'm going to stop the flax for the next couple weeks as I try to gain more weight. I'm just a little confused on how exactly flax affects hormone function. I thought that in general it usually promotes menstruation and regulates cycles. Not in your case of course with PCOS, but 1/4 cup wow that's a lot!!

42cd0feeeda5fa2e2fe1c4fd8255073a

(1930)

on January 02, 2013
at 10:47 PM

I actually advise against scales. This can contirbute to/manifest an unhealthy obsession with numbers. Be more conscious of what healthy looks and feels like to you and how your body is reacting. As Janknitz said, lack of menstrual cycle in your case would more than likely be due to your weight loss but drop the flax.. it definately isn't helping

99eba94c6f9e62bff6929692b0c62a35

(15)

on January 03, 2013
at 12:56 AM

And yeah about the scale I understand that it can lead to unhealthy obsessions but I think it would be vital in my case because I really didn't know how skinny I was until I stepped on one. Seeing 98 really helped put things in perspective as I didn't think I weighed any less than 105 (which still isn't good).

3327924660b1e2f8f8fc4ca27fedf2b2

(2919)

on January 02, 2013
at 11:02 PM

I agree CoconutBliss, I don't own a scale. I only know my weight because of checkups at the doctor, but 5"6 and 98 is not an ideal weight.

0
16ad3703f431448d7e0d487aa7278ad2

(0)

on March 17, 2014
at 06:20 PM

Yes: flax is a potent enough source of plant estrogen to disrupt your normal cycles and cause other side effects associated with fluctuating estrogen levels (i.e. acne, bloating, emotional disturbances, etc.). If you have any disorders that are hormone sensitive, use flax seed sparingly and with a good deal of caution. It can make conditions like poly-cystic ovarian syndrome and fibroids much worse.

Not all people react to flax similarly. The ability to metabolize the flax and use the estrogen varies from person to person. Some people simply don't have the intestinal flora or innate enzymes to efficiently break down the plant estrogen very well and those folks simply urinate/defecate out much of the phytoestrogen unused. Others have bodies that are masters at breaking down and absorbing plant estrogen and must be very cautious about flax consumption. Just as brown eyes aren't superior to blue, neither body type is better - we're all simply different.

I (unknowingly) fell into the latter group and happen to metabolize phytoestrogen from flax very well. I was eating 1 to 2 tablespoons of ground flax per day with my oatmeal in the mornings. I did this for about eight weeks, with no apparent side effects outside of a mysterious case of acne (I'm 37 and hadn't struggled with acne before). On week nine I went out of town for a three week vacation and left my flax at home. I'd finished my last normal (5 day) menstrual cycle just a few days prior to departure. In spite of that, I started bleeding 7 days after being off flax. The bleeding continued for two weeks. During that span of time I saw an internist, an OB/GYN, and had 3 pelvic exams and an ultrasound to rule out infections, endometriosis, fibroids, cancer, pregnancy, etc. The bleeding then ceased - only to pick up again 11 days later and continue for another 2 weeks. Long story short: the culprit was flax. It took me almost 3 months to stabilize.

My physician recommended that if I were determined to eat flax, that I do it sparingly and infrequently. I'm abiding by that guideline and have returned to my happy healthy self. Best of luck to everyone out there trying to figure out what's best for their own body. Hope this information benefits someone else!

0
E35e3d76547b18096a59c90029e7e107

(15613)

on January 09, 2013
at 10:09 PM

Basically, yes. They're a pretty weird foodstuff, the like of which our paleo ancestors wouldn't have had access to significant quantities of, since nuts/seeds are seasonal and flax seeds require a lot of processing in order to eat a significant quantity of them. This would be a good reason to not eat many of them, prima facie.

You don't need to get large amounts of omega 3. Really, you want a sufficient amount for basic functions as an essential fatty acid and then very little more, to balance out omega 6. You want low levels of PUFA in general, since they're easily oxidised. I would say you want no more than a couple of grams per day. On a 2000kcal diet, 2g o3 will place you on the Japanese line of this graph. http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_zULJExxrW54/ShrxAXIU4XI/AAAAAAAAAgw/t-gGvhBo_uI/s1600-h/Lands+HUFA.jpg

Since as you've noted ALA from flaxseed can't be converted in significant quantities, it would definitely be better to just limit yourself to EPA/DHA.

0
E83c76f22a8344e885861ebf04d22202

on January 09, 2013
at 09:25 PM

Like you Natasha I also lost weight following the Paleo diet, and it has been hard to put it back on.

What has worked for me is eating more eggs and re-introducing whole meal pasta/bread/swet potatoe back into my diet.

Sure it's not strictly Paleo, but when you're working out 3-4 times a week I think your body is able to process complex carbs much more efficiently.

The weight is slowly coming back on now.

0
8bb3b54661ffc6850c21614a8bac8abe

on January 03, 2013
at 12:49 PM

Ground flax seeds and flax seed powder are both fine--making a flax seed slurry is an excellent substitute for eggs in baking. It's flax oil you aren't supposed to heat.

http://www.stopsweat.com

0
5bd7f43c7da83282bcb78e3aa33832e0

on January 03, 2013
at 04:58 AM

Check out my recent post here. If simply eating more healthy, substantial food (fish, eggs, beef, olive oil, etc) doesn't help you gain weight and get your period back, then you may have some sort of malabsorption issue. Perhaps look into probiotics, fermented food, GAPS protocol, etc.

Good luck!

0
99eba94c6f9e62bff6929692b0c62a35

on January 03, 2013
at 12:57 AM

On a side note, can anyone give me pointers on what the best, most healthy, way to gain a few pounds is on paleo.

0b7c3e7fd96005f0b2dfd781e512fc2e

(1237)

on January 03, 2013
at 11:08 AM

Perhaps you just need to up your calories. Can you give us a rundown of what you eat in a typical day?

5bd7f43c7da83282bcb78e3aa33832e0

(266)

on January 03, 2013
at 05:00 AM

Be careful not to generalize too hastily from your own experience. Some people do have legitimate trouble gaining weight. Malabsorption issues along with other health problems could easily cause someone to be a 'hard gainer', and a severe case may lead to being very underweight, and e.g. losing your period if you're female

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41757)

on January 03, 2013
at 01:51 PM

@Wakaanai, I'm willing to be the problem isn't physiological... given the OP's question and the dozens of other questions I've seen here on PH.

5bd7f43c7da83282bcb78e3aa33832e0

(266)

on January 03, 2013
at 05:02 AM

Be careful not to generalize too hastily from your own experience, Matt. Some people do have legitimate trouble gaining weight. Malabsorption issues along with other health problems could easily cause someone to be a 'hard gainer', and a severe case may lead to being significantly underweight, and e.g. lead to losing your period if female

42cd0feeeda5fa2e2fe1c4fd8255073a

(1930)

on January 03, 2013
at 06:07 AM

I gained weight (on purpose) a few months back. Probably went about it a bit too ambitiously and quickly but I gained the extra few pounds I wanted. I added extra fat to all my meals and made use of calorie dense smoothies. It was surprisingly harder than I thought since I still wanted to eat 'clean'. Problem with eating lots of good fats is that you get full & eating more in general gets exhausting! Here's some other threads that might help: http://paleohacks.com/questions/150190/high-calorie-paleo-foods#axzz2GscRdM5H http://paleohacks.com/questions/7457/whats-the-best-smoothie#axzz2GscRdM5H

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41757)

on January 03, 2013
at 01:23 AM

I'd suggest you get some in-person support - doctor, nutritionist, other specialist... Gaining weight isn't challenge, just eat more. Though it sounds like you have an underlying issue that you've yet to address (and it ain't the flaxseed!)

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