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Eating a bit of flaxseed each day might help lower high blood pressure, a new study suggests but researchers say it’s too early to swap out blood pressure medication for the fiber-filled seeds just yet.
Flaxseed is well known as a plant source of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and lignans, a type of antioxidants. But so far, its effect on high blood pressure, or hypertension, has been better studied among animals than humans. The fiber in flaxseed is found primarily in the seed coat. Taken before a meal, flaxseed fiber seems to make people feel less hungry, so that they might eat less food.
“This is the first demonstration of the cardiovascular effects of dietary flaxseed in a hypertensive population,” Grant Pierce said to media. Pierce is the senior author on the study and executive director of research at St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
One in three American adults has high blood pressure, considered 140/90 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and over, according to the National Institutes of Health. Having high blood pressure increases a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke. The condition costs the U.S. billions of dollars each year, Pierce said.
“It is the number one reason for a person to visit a physician in the U.S. today,” he said. “Understanding how to reduce blood pressure has become, therefore, a critical challenge.“
His team’s results were published in the journal Hypertension.
The trial included 110 people who had been diagnosed with peripheral artery disease, in which plaque builds up in arteries in the leg. Patients with the condition often have high blood pressure. The participants were randomly assigned to either a flaxseed or comparison group.
People in the flaxseed group ate a variety of foods like bagels, muffins and pasta that contained 30 grams – about one ounce – of milled flaxseed every day for six months.
Those in the comparison group were given foods that tasted similar, but didn’t contain any flaxseed. The researchers had participants increase their dose of flaxseed gradually so they could become accustomed to the fiber load.
Flaxseed is commonly used to improve digestive health or relieve constipation. Flaxseed may also help lower total blood cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol levels, which may help reduce the risk of heart disease.