Flaxseed no help for kids with high cholesterol

Despite some evidence it might be beneficial for adults, eating flaxseed every day didn’t help children with High cholesterol get their numbers down, in a small new study.

Researchers asked kids to eat muffins and bread with extra flaxseed and found there was no change in their LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, compared to those who ate baked goods made without flaxseed. And their HDL, or “good” cholesterol, went down on the flaxseed diet.

“It didn’t have any convincing benefit, and in fact there’s some suggestion that it may have actually made (things) worse,” said Dr. Brian McCrindle, who worked on the study at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada.

There’s disagreement about whether drugs such as statins should be prescribed to children with High cholesterol, so doctors and parents often look for alternatives.

McCrindle said he and his colleagues have been asked about flaxseed by families who were aware of the cholesterol-lowering claims made about the food supplement - and based on their new findings, they won’t be recommending it.

Flaxseed can be bought over the counter for about $10 for a month’s supply. Some research suggests flaxseed - which is high in fiber and omega-3 fatty-acids - may help lower cholesterol in adults, although the data is mixed.

Flaxseed no help for kids with <a class=High cholesterol" class="border" /> The seeds themselves can be sprinkled on or baked into food. Flaxseed oil can also be taken in capsule form.

For the new study, researchers split 32 youth between age eight and 18 with High cholesterol into two groups. The children in one group ate two muffins and one slice of bread fortified with 30 grams of flaxseed each day. Kids in the comparison group were given the same baked goods made with whole wheat flour instead of flaxseed.

Is flaxseed the new wonder food? Preliminary studies show that it may help fight heart disease, diabetes and breast cancer.
Some call it one of the most powerful plant foods on the planet. There’s some evidence it may help reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes. That’s quite a tall order for a tiny seed that’s been around for centuries.

Flaxseed was cultivated in Babylon as early as 3000 BC. In the 8th century, King Charlemagne believed so strongly in the health benefits of flaxseed that he passed laws requiring his subjects to consume it.  Now, thirteen centuries later, some experts say we have preliminary research to back up what Charlemagne suspected.

Flaxseed is found in all kinds of today’s foods from crackers to frozen waffles to oatmeal. The Flax Council estimates close to 300 new flax-based products were launched in the U.S. and Canada in 2010 alone. Not only has consumer demand for flaxseed grown, agricultural use has also increased.  Flaxseed is what’s used to feed all those chickens that are laying eggs with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

Although flaxseed contains all sorts of healthy components, it owes its primary healthy reputation to three of them:

  Omega-3 essential fatty acids, “good” fats that have been shown to have heart-healthy effects. Each tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains about 1.8 grams of plant omega-3s.
  Lignans, which have both plant estrogen and antioxidant qualities. Flaxseed contains 75 to 800 times more lignans than other plant foods.
  Fiber. Flaxseed contains both the soluble and insoluble types.

LDL levels of 130 milligrams per deciliter and above are considered high for children under 20. Kids in the new study started off with a LDL of 135 to 193 milligrams per deciliter. Each also had a parent or sibling with High cholesterol.

After four weeks on the diets, there was no change in LDL or total cholesterol levels among kids eating flaxseed-rich snacks compared to the whole wheat group. However, the flaxseed group did see an average drop in HDL cholesterol of about 7 milligrams per deciliter, from a starting point of 53 milligrams per deciliter.

Young people in both groups gained weight during the study, the researchers reported Monday in JAMA Pediatrics.

“What they were supposed to do was use (the muffins and bread) to replace other foods in their diet, and I think all they did was add it,” McCrindle told Reuters Health.


Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, head of nutrition sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said recent research suggests that whether flaxseed is beneficial - for cholesterol-lowering or anything else - may in part depend on a person’s genes.

Flax Seed is Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids are a key force against inflammation in our bodies. Mounting evidence shows that inflammation plays a part in many chronic diseases including heart disease, arthritis, asthma, diabetes, and even some cancers. This inflammation is enhanced by having too little Omega-3 intake (such as in fish, flax, and walnuts), especially in relation to Omega-6 fatty acid intake (in oils such as soy and corn oil). In the quest to equalize the ratio of these two kinds of oils, flax seed can be a real help.

Most of the oil in flax seeds is alpha linolenic acid (ALA). ALA is an Omega-3 that is a precursor to the fatty acids found in salmon and other fatty cold-water fish (called EPA and DHA). Because not everyone is able to easily convert ALA into EPA and (especially) DHA, it is best not to rely solely on flax for your Omega-3 intake. However, ALA also has good effects of its own, and definitely helps in the Omega 3/6 balance.

“There may be some people that are able to metabolize the fatty acids that are in flaxseed a lot better than others,” she told Reuters Health. But so far, doctors can’t test for those flaxseed-metabolizing genes.

Flaxseed no help for kids with <a class=High cholesterol" class="border" /> For now, she said taking flaxseed probably won’t do kids much harm, but it’s unclear whether it will help either.

“Flaxseed is a great source of B vitamins and fiber and that sort of thing, so as far as food value goes, it’s certainly a heck of a lot better than eating a popsicle or Twinkie,” said Demark-Wahnefried, who wasn’t involved in the new research.

“I wouldn’t be concerned if (children with High cholesterol) ate it or concerned if they didn’t eat it,” she said. “The most important thing is to make sure that their weight status is within normal range, and reduce their TV time and their computer time and get them out there and exercising.”

Tips for Using Flax Seed

  Drink plenty of water. There is so much soluble fiber in flax that it is important to drink plenty of water when eating flax products, otherwise constipation may result.

  Remember to start slowly if you aren’t used to a high-fiber diet.

  If you purchase the whole seeds, you need to grind them up to get the benefit.

  Flax is often used as an egg substitute in baked goods for people who can’t or choose not to eat eggs. This is because of the soluble fiber, which adds structure to the food.

  About 2/3 to 3/4 cup of flax seed yields 1 cup of flax meal. With my grinder, it’s 3/4 cup, and my recipes reflect this.

SOURCE: JAMA Pediatrics, online June 3, 2013

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