Managing menopause with flaxseeds

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Oestrogen and progesterone work together to regulate menstrual cycle

Menopause is a natural age-related physiological change that every woman will experience. Normally occurs around age 50, it is the time of life when a woman’s ovaries stop producing sex hormones (oestrogen, progesterone, and testosterone). Oestrogen, together with progesterone, regulate menstruation. With the ovaries stop producing these sex hormones, the menstruation cycle comes to an end, permanently [1].

The process of natural menopause is gradual. During the time leading up to menopause, the ovaries gradually produce less oestrogen, especially 1 to 2 years before menopause when the drop of oestrogen level accelerates. This transition period is referred to as peri-menopause. A woman may start to experience menopause symptoms during this period [2]. Common menopause symptoms include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, sleep disturbances and insomnia, as well as mood changes which may lead to major depressive episodes [3].

Symptoms of menopause (raster)

Even though menopause is not a disease. Many women consulted their doctors to get medication to ease their symptoms. They are often prescribed with hormone replacement therapy which can help to reduce the menopause symptoms in short term. Unfortunately, prolonged use of hormone replacement therapy can increase the risk of breast cancer, heart disease, and stroke [4]. As such, natural non-medical alternative approach to manage menopause symptoms should be explored. Regular consumption of flaxseeds can be one such safe and effective alternative.  

Flaxseeds – a source of phytoestrogens for reducing menopause symptoms

Phytoestrogens are plant-based compounds that have similar properties to the oestrogen in the human body. Isoflavones and lignans are two major classes of phytoestrogens that can be found in soybeans (the main source of isoflavones) and flaxseeds, whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables (sources of lignans). Frequent inclusion of food rich in phytoestrogens has been shown to be effective in the reduction of certain menopause symptoms including hot flashes [5].   

Flaxseeds are rich in lignans, a type of phytoestrogens

Flaxseeds (also known as linseeds) is a promising source of phytoestrogens that may be effective in managing menopause symptoms, supported by clinical evidence. In a controlled study with 140 menopausal women, taking 5 g per day of flaxseeds for 3 months have been shown to be effective in reducing the menopause symptoms score while improving the quality of life of the participants compared to the control group which experienced worsening symptoms score and quality of life during the same period [6]. The study also found that providing training through an informative booklet about menopause together with consuming flaxseeds is as effective as hormone replacement therapy in managing menopause symptoms [6].  

An artistic depiction of hot flashes

In an earlier study, 145 women experiencing menopause symptoms were randomly assigned into two groups, a phytoestrogen-rich diet group (78 women) and a control group. The phytoestrogen-rich diet group ate soybean food and flaxseeds daily for approximately one-fourth of their caloric intake whereas the control group ate a regular (omnivorous) Israeli diet. The study found an overall greater improvement of menopause symptoms in the phytoestrogen-rich diet group compared to the control group over a 12-week period, with the reductions in hot flashes and vaginal dryness being the most significant.  

Insomnia is another common menopause symptom

Comparing flaxseed dietary supplement to hormone replacement therapy in hypercholesterolemic menopausal women, consuming 40 g/day of crushed flaxseeds in the diet daily is found to be as effective as oral estrogen-progesterone to improve mild menopausal symptoms and to lower glucose and insulin levels, but not the improvement in cholesterol profile in another study [7]. A systematic review published in 2016 concluded that there is evidence suggesting flaxseed is effective in alleviating symptoms of hot flashes and vaginal atrophy among menopausal women [8].

Other health benefits of flaxseeds

Flaxseeds are the small flat seeds of the flax plants (Linum usitatissimum) with varying colours ranging from golden yellow to reddish brown. Besides lignans, flaxseeds are also rich in alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fat which is known for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and liver protecting properties [9]. As such, flaxseed oil is also commonly sold in the health food stores. However, to manage menopause symptoms, consuming flaxseed oil alone has no effect since it contains no lignans at all.

From flax to linseed oil.

Flaxseeds are also rich in alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fat

Flaxseeds also contain phenolic compounds which have anticancer and anti-oxidative properties. 35–45 % of the contents of flaxseeds are soluble and insoluble dietary fibres. Dietary fibres increase the intestinal bulk which is useful in the treatment of bowel issues such as constipation and irritable bowel syndrome, as well as lowering cholesterol levels [9]. Hence, consuming flaxseeds regularly can also bring about many other health benefits.

How to consume and store flaxseeds?

Ground flaxseeds can be added to any type of food and drinks

Flaxseeds, if consume whole, can be hard to digest by the digestive tract and get flushed out unchanged. If you buy whole flaxseeds, you can grind them as needed and add to your yogurt, oatmeal, cereal, smoothies, etc. You can also buy ground or milled flaxseeds off the shelves from any health food stores. You can use the ground flaxseeds on any dishes, from bread to desserts, drinks to soups and salads. They add a nutty flavour to the dishes [10].

A healthy breakfast sprinkle with ground flax seeds

Ground flaxseeds should be stored in air-tight containers and refrigerated to ensure maximum freshness. With the high content of unsaturated fats in flaxseeds, improper storage of ground flaxseeds under high temperature and humidity can cause the fats to go rancid due to oxidation and spoilage [11].

Conclusion

Flaxseeds can be added to any smoothie to enhance the taste

Adding flaxseeds in diet can help to reduce menopause symptoms including hot flashes and virginal dryness. The effects of flaxseeds in improving quality of life and reducing menopause symptoms have been shown in several clinical studies. Ground flaxseeds can be easily consumed, you can add them your favourite drinks and dishes, including yogurt, oatmeal, cereal, smoothies, soups and salads. Just sprinkle a spoonful of flaxseeds will do!

References

[1]        Menopause – National Library of Medicine – PubMed Health, (n.d.). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMHT0023140/ (accessed April 10, 2018).

[2]        What are Perimenopause, Menopause, and Postmenopause? | Cleveland Clinic, (n.d.). https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15224-menopause-perimenopause-and-postmenopause (accessed April 10, 2018).

[3]        N. Santoro, C.N. Epperson, S.B. Mathews, Menopausal symptoms and their management., Endocrinol. Metab. Clin. North Am. 44 (2015) 497–515. doi:10.1016/j.ecl.2015.05.001.

[4]        A.D. Hill, S.R. Hill, Counseling patients about hormone therapy and alternatives for menopausal symptoms, Am. Fam. Physician. 82 (2010) 801–807. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2010/1001/p801.html (accessed April 10, 2018).

[5]        M.-N. Chen, C.-C. Lin, C.-F. Liu, Efficacy of phytoestrogens for menopausal symptoms: a meta-analysis and systematic review., Climacteric. 18 (2015) 260–9. doi:10.3109/13697137.2014.966241.

[6]        N.E. Cetisli, A. Saruhan, B. Kivcak, The effects of flaxseed on menopausal symptoms and quality of life, Holist. Nurs. Pract. 29 (2015) 151–7. doi:10.1097/HNP.0000000000000085.

[7]        A. Lemay, S. Dodin, N. Kadri, H. Jacques, J.-C. Forest, Flaxseed dietary supplement versus hormone replacement therapy in hypercholesterolemic menopausal women., Obstet. Gynecol. 100 (2002) 495–504. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12220769 (accessed April 10, 2018).

[8]        M. Ghazanfarpour, R. Sadeghi, R. Latifnejad Roudsari, T. Khadivzadeh, I. Khorsand, M. Afiat, M. Esmaeilizadeh, Effects of flaxseed and Hypericum perforatum on hot flash, vaginal atrophy and estrogen-dependent cancers in menopausal women: a systematic review and meta-analysis., Avicenna J. Phytomedicine. 6 (2016) 273–83. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27462550 (accessed April 10, 2018).

[9]        P. Kajla, A. Sharma, D.R. Sood, Flaxseed-a potential functional food source., J. Food Sci. Technol. 52 (2015) 1857–71. doi:10.1007/s13197-014-1293-y.

[10]      S. Saxena, How to Eat Flaxseeds? Health Benefits,Tips and Recipes – NDTV Food, NDTV. (n.d.). https://food.ndtv.com/food-drinks/how-to-eat-flaxseeds-health-benefits-tips-and-recipes-1247569 (accessed April 10, 2018).

[11]      M.T. Murray, How can I store flaxseeds? | Food Storage & Health – Sharecare, (n.d.). https://www.sharecare.com/health/food-storage-health/how-can-store-flaxseeds (accessed April 10, 2018).

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