One of my friends tells me his cholesterol level is 3.4. He attributes his low cholesterol to the two teaspoons of flax seed he eats every day. He added flax seed to his diet after reading about its cholesterol lowering power in the prestigious publication called The Lancet, the magazine that labels itself as the international journal of medical science and practice.

Now the friend may have low cholesterol because of the flax seed he eats every day; on the other hand, his cholesterol level may be due to other foods he eats or even hereditary factors. My cholesterol level is also 3.4, for example, and has always been low; yet I have never taken flax seed as a food supplement.

For a long time magazines devoted to healthy eating have been telling us about that fibre lowers cholesterol. I recently read about a study which found that the fibre in kidney beans, pinto beans and psyllium reduced cholesterol dramatically. However, flax seed is said to be even better than the fibre in beans and psyllium and even better than that powerhouse cholesterol killer, oat bran.

Flax seeds are definitely high in fibre and if Lancet, the magazine of medical doctors, vouches for its effect on cholesterol, perhaps we should pay heed. The Lancet can be found on the internet, by the way, and I’m currently scanning their back issues to find the article on flax seed. In the meanwhile, I’ve found other reports about flax seeds that claim it may do more than lower cholesterol.

A recent Swedish study shows that flax is high in lighnan, “a documented anti-cancer agent.” Flax seed is also high in Omega 3, a so-called essential fatty acid that is said to play a key role in keeping our hearts healthy and regulating our immune system. In its Sept. 2, 1991 issue, Time magazine reported that “Linolenic acid (Omega 3) could also be a potential weapon against asthma, arthritis (and) psoriasis.”

The latest issue of Prevention magazine praises flax oil for its beneficial effect on rheumatoid arthritis and mentions studies that show it may “also harbour cholesterol lowering properties.” See page 154 of the December issue which is now on the news-stands.

Flax seed is available in bulk at most natural food stores. However, you may be enjoying its potential health benefits already in the food you are now eating. Many multi-grain and high fibre breads contain flax seeds; they’re those little black seeds that keep popping out on the table whenever you butter a slice of multi-grain bread.

Cereal makers have long recognised that flax seeds are high in fibre and they’re a component of several commercial brands. Is the hot cereal, Brex, still on the grocery store shelves? It is (was) high in flax seeds. Red River Cereal, which can be found in the hot cereal section, also contains flax seeds.

Flax seed may be worth investigating if you’re worried about your cholesterol or if you simply want an effective fibre that keeps you regular. Before you rush about and buy a pound of flax seeds, however, get some authoritative advice on its use. What I’ve written about flax seed here is second and third hand information. Reports on reports (which is what this column on flax seed actually is) often aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.

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