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Eating flaxseed can help prevent breast cancer

A recent scientific investigation has unveiled a potential link between flaxseed, the human gut microbiome, and breast health, emphasizing the impact of dietary and lifestyle choices on overall wellbeing. 

Focus of the study

The study, focusing on the influence of flaxseed components known as lignans on gut microorganisms, revealed their significant role in modulating the expression of microRNAs (miRNAs) in the mammary gland. 

These miRNAs are crucial in regulating genes associated with breast cancer, particularly those governing cell growth and movement. This research has been published in the journal Microbiology Spectrum.

Gastrointestinal microbiota

Jennifer Auchtung, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Food Science and Technology Department at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln and the editor overseeing the paper’s review, highlighted the crucial role of gastrointestinal microbiota. 

“The gastrointestinal microbiota plays an important role in modifying many components of our diet to impact human health,” she explained.

“In this study, we found correlations between diets enriched in flaxseed, cecal microbiota composition and miRNA profiles in the mammary gland that regulate many pathways, including those involved in cancer development.”

“This preliminary study supports further research into the role that the microbiota plays in dietary approaches to reduce risk factors associated with disease.”

Flaxseed lignans

The research team delved into how flaxseed lignans, found abundantly in flaxseed and associated with lower breast cancer mortality among postmenopausal women, affect the gut microbiota in young female mice. 

The experts discovered that these lignan components induce specific miRNA responses in the mammary gland, with miRNAs being short, noncoding RNAs that control gene expression by targeting specific mRNA regions.

Critical insights 

The study aimed to explore whether manipulating the interaction between microbiota and mammary gland miRNAs could diminish breast cancer risks. 

For this, female mice were fed flaxseed lignan components to examine the connection between gut cecal microbiota profiles and miRNA expression in the mammary gland. The cecum, a crucial part of the digestive system, is thought to be involved in short-chain fatty acid production and may act as a hub for anaerobic bacteria.

The experiments revealed that a particular flaxseed oil lignan, upon microbial processing, releases bioactive metabolites with potential antitumor effects.

This finding indicates a relationship between the microbiota and mammary gland miRNA, with flaxseed lignans altering this interaction to reduce cancer risk.

Study implications 

Elena M. Comelli, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto and the paper’s senior author, reflected on the implications of these findings. 

“If these findings are confirmed, the microbiota becomes a new target to prevent breast cancer through dietary intervention.” Thus, this study paves the way for further exploration into how dietary modifications can potentially serve as preventive measures against breast cancer.

More about flaxseed

As discussed above, flaxseed, a remarkable superfood, has been gaining popularity due to its extensive health benefits and versatility in culinary applications.

Originating from the flax plant (Linum usitatissimum), this tiny seed boasts a rich history, dating back to ancient civilizations where it was highly valued for both its nutritional and medicinal properties.

Nutritional profile

Flaxseed is a nutritional powerhouse, densely packed with a variety of essential nutrients. It is exceptionally high in omega-3 fatty acids, specifically alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which plays a crucial role in maintaining heart health and reducing inflammation. Additionally, flaxseed is a rich source of lignans, a type of phytoestrogen that may have anti-cancer properties. This seed is also loaded with dietary fiber, both soluble and insoluble, aiding in digestion and promoting a healthy gut.

Flaxseed health benefits

  1. Cardiovascular Health: The omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseed contribute significantly to heart health by reducing blood pressure, lowering cholesterol levels, and decreasing the risk of heart diseases.
  2. Cancer Prevention: Studies suggest that the lignans in flaxseed may help in reducing the risk of certain cancers, particularly breast and prostate cancer.
  3. Digestive Health: The high fiber content in flaxseed aids in regular bowel movements, preventing constipation and promoting a healthy digestive system.
  4. Blood Sugar Control: Flaxseed can help stabilize blood sugar levels, making it beneficial for individuals with diabetes.
  5. Weight Management: The fiber in flaxseed increases the feeling of fullness, which can help in controlling appetite and aiding in weight loss.

Culinary uses of flaxseed

Flaxseed’s versatility in the kitchen is remarkable. It can be consumed in various forms – whole, ground, or as flaxseed oil. Ground flaxseed is more easily digested, allowing the body to access its nutrients more efficiently. It can be added to smoothies, yogurt, oatmeal, or used as a baking ingredient. Flaxseed oil is another way to incorporate this nutrient-rich seed into your diet, perfect for salad dressings or drizzling over cooked dishes.

Side effects and considerations

While flaxseed is generally safe for most people, it is essential to consume it in moderation. Excessive consumption can lead to gastrointestinal issues like bloating and gas. It’s also important to drink plenty of water when increasing fiber intake. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should consult a healthcare provider before adding flaxseed to their diet due to its phytoestrogen content.

Environmental and sustainability aspects

Flaxseed is not only beneficial for health but also for the environment. Flax plants require less water and fewer pesticides compared to many other crops, making them a more sustainable and eco-friendly option.

In summary, incorporating flaxseed into your diet can be a simple yet effective way to enhance your overall health. Its rich nutritional profile, health benefits, and culinary versatility make it a valuable addition to a balanced diet. As always, moderation is key, and it’s advisable to consult with a healthcare provider for personalized dietary advice.


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