A new study suggests that the addition of a simple food to a man’s diet has the potential to lower cholesterol by 10 percent–curiously, it had no effect on the cholesterol level in women. The study from Iowa State University’s Nutrition and Wellness Research Center (NWRC) was led by Suzanne Hendrich, an ISU professor in food science and human nutrition. The study looked at the effects of flaxseed lignan in people with high cholesterol. The results showed that eating at least 150 milligrams of flaxseed lignans per day (about three tablespoons) lowered cholesterol in men by about 10 percent over the three months that they were given the flaxseed.
Although cholesterol-lowering drugs can decrease cholesterol by more–between 10 and 20 percent–flaxseed may be a promising option for those looking for a natural remedy. “Because there are people who can’t take something like Lipitor, this could at least give you some of that cholesterol-lowering benefit,” Hendrich said. “The other thing is, there are certainly some people who would prefer to not use a drug, but rather use foods to try to maintain their health. So this potentially would be something to consider.”
It’s the flaxseed lignans–a group of chemical compounds found in plants that are known for their protective health effects–that may help lower cholesterol, according to Hendrich. The study subjects were given the flaxseed lignans in tablet form. Hendrich notes the flaxseed lignan tablets used in this study are not currently available in the U.S., but she says flaxseed can also be sprinkled on cereal, or added in a muffin mix or bread, although whole seeds are not very digestible. Ground flaxseed meal can also provide the desired cholesterol-lowering lignans, according to Hendrich, but it will oxidize over time and may affect the flavor of the foods that it’s in. She also reports that the oxidation will also diminish the flaxseed’s omega-3 fatty acids, which can prevent heart attacks, so freshness is key in the product’s impact. But flaxseed whole, which stays fresh longer, and grind it in a spice mill when you’re ready to use it.