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Treating Breast Pain with Flax Seeds

A tablespoon a day of ground flax seeds appears to improve ovarian function and is considered a first-line therapy for breast pain associated with one’s period (cyclical mastalgia).

A study on the effect of flax seed ingestion on the menstrual cycle found a tablespoon a day lengthened the luteal phase (latter half of the cycle), effectively delaying one’s next period by about a day. Flax seeds also resulted in fewer anovulatory cycles (months in which you fail to ovulate). These are the same kind of improvements in ovarian function that have been found in women eating plant-based diets. In fact, women eating vegan never failed to ovulate in a study comparing meateaters, vegetarians, and vegans, which is similar to what was found in women eating flax daily.

Since the same hormonal changes associated with eating more plant-based diets seemed to improve premenstrual and menstrual symptoms such as breast pain (see my video Plant-Based Diets For Breast Pain), researchers decided to test whether flax seeds would help as well. Although hormone treatments can be helpful, they often cause unpleasant side effects and there may be risks associated with long-term hormonal therapy.  Dietary flaxseed is therefore an attractive alternative for controlling these symptoms.

So, 116 young women with severe menstrual breast pain were randomized in a double-blind study and given either a muffin containing about 3 and a half tablespoons of flax seed or a placebo muffin with no flax, and then followed for a few cycles. There was some placebo muffin effect, but there was a significantly greater reduction in reported breast pain, breast swelling, and breast lumpiness in the flax seed group. The study concluded that “flax seed is effective in relieving symptoms of cyclical mastalgia without significant side effects and might be considered as an alternative treatment for cyclical mastalgia.”

But if flaxseed works, and there are only good side effects, why is it an alternative treatment? Why isn’t it the primary, first-line therapy? Well, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has not issued treatment guidelines, but the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada has. In their official guidelines they dispel the myth that caffeine is to blame or that vitamin E supplements are helpful. Instead, they prescribe dietary flaxseed “as a first-line therapy for cyclical breast pain.” Drugs are to be considered only if the flax doesn’t work.

So nice to see a professional medical association prioritize safe, natural therapies! See my video series that includes Medical Associations Oppose Bill to Mandate Nutrition Training to see the mentality here in the States.

Do Doctors Make the Grade? Unfortunately, Doctors Know Less Than They Think About Nutrition. This is largely due to the lack of Medical School Nutrition Education, though there also may be The Tomato Effect.

I’ve previously hailed flax in videos such as:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos here and watch my full 2012-2013 year-in-review presentation Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death.

Related:
Flaxseeds & Breast Cancer Survival
Flaxseeds for Breast Cancer Prevention
Flaxseeds for Sensitive Skin

Read more: Health, Alternative Therapies, Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, Gynecology, Sexual Health, Videos, , , ,

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Dr. Michael Greger

A founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. Currently Dr. Greger serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States. Hundreds of his nutrition videos are freely available at NutritionFacts.org.

38 comments

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4:00PM PST on Feb 1, 2014

good to know

1:55PM PDT on Aug 23, 2013

Cool thanks for sharing this info!! :)

2:41PM PDT on Jul 6, 2013

ok, glad I have been eating more flax seeds lately.

10:20AM PDT on Jul 5, 2013

Thank you Dr. Michael Greger, for Sharing this!

11:22AM PDT on Jun 27, 2013

Hmmm i'll be eating a few more flax seeds! Thanks 4 the great info

5:55PM PDT on Jun 17, 2013

Oh, you are sooooo wrong here Dr. Greger. Before I went into menopause, I had terrible breast pain every month, starting about 2 weeks before B-day(bleed).

The absolute best remedy I have found, and worked like a miracle for me was Chasteberry-Vitex extract. It actually corrects the monthly hormonal balance.

No more breast pain. I mean it. It was the only "home" remedy that DID work completely and consistently.

5:44PM PDT on Jun 17, 2013

Thank you

10:39AM PDT on Jun 17, 2013

noted but remember to crush your flax seeds as your body can't break down the outer shell.

9:32PM PDT on Jun 16, 2013

Thanks.

6:50AM PDT on Jun 16, 2013

Thanks for the info....I will pass it on

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