Lignans are one of those things that we might have heard of at some point, but very few of us are able to describe accurately. Basically, lignans are a type of plant fiber that is usually found in the cell matrix of the seed. Recently, lignans have gained a lot of attention due to their amazing health benefits—specifically their proven anticancer effects.
While many types of plants contain lignans, flaxseeds contain way more than average—in fact, they are the world’s most abundant source of these phytochemicals. Interestingly, flaxseeds are also the planet’s richest source of the essential fatty acid called omega-3, which is why many nutritionists agree that taking flaxseed oil with lignans is one of the best things we can do for our health.
In order to understand why lignans act the way they do against cancer, we must first look at what happens to lignans when we consume them. Inside our bodies, bacteria in our colons change regular lignans to something called “mammalian lignans.” This new form of lignan binds with our estrogen receptors, and also help increase production something called “sex hormone binding globulin” (SHBG), a compound that helps remove extra estrogen from our bodies. Because researchers believe that excessive estrogen plays a huge role in the development of breast and colon cancer, it makes sense that getting rid of the extra sex hormone would go a long way in reducing these forms of cancer.
A variety of studies involving both humans and animals have shown that lignans truly possess an amazing ability to fight or prevent cancer. For example, in animal experiments, animals that were fed flaxseed and flaxseed oil with lignans showed a significant reduction (or over 50 percent) in both tumor size and numbers after only one to two months. And in human-based studies, women who excrete high amounts of lignans in their urine typically have much lower levels of breast cancer.
If your flaxseed oil is a beautiful golden yellow color and clear, chances are the lignans have been removed. On the other hand, flaxseed oil with lignans is usually much darker, thicker and frankly, not quite as attractive to look at. While either form is an excellent choice for good health and both are incredibly high in omega-3 EFAs, if you would like to gain the additional health benefits of lignans, you might want to switch to that form of the oil.
Murray, Michael T., Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements, 1996, pages 266-267