Cod Liver Oil

COD LIVER OIL : 15 Health Benefits of Cod Liver Oil

Cod Liver Oil is a dietary supplement that is primarily composed of fish oil, vitamin A, D and Krill oil. These are blended into a single capsule or oil to be consumed orally – this combination has traditionally been used to fend off rickets and similar conditions, which may result from a deficiency in vitamin D. Overall, its uses have focused on maintaining proper health and wellness among individuals who don’t have a large dietary intake of fatty fish. This is the usual source of cod liver oil – as the name implies, it is extracted from the livers of cod, reflecting the fact that liver is the most nutrient-dense and health-beneficial meat in most animals.

We truly believe that almost everyone should supplement cod liver oil: for most people in the English-speaking world, fatty fish is uncommon in the diet. Salmons, tuna and other seafoods tend to be very high in these compounds, although they do not make up a large portion of the majority of diets. In this article, we will be discussing the major health benefits associated with supplementing cod liver oil.

Fish Oil

Cod liver oil Fish Oil

1. Omega-3 – Cod Liver Oil

The main ingredient in cod liver oil, fish oil refers more generally to the fatty acids EPA an DHA – two forms of Omega-3 acid which are uncommon in many other dietary products. Especially among plant-based diets, omega-3 intake requires huge doses of supplementary flaxseed or walnut-derived products. Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid (the body cannot produce Omega-3s from non-omega-3s and they must be consumed in the diet) and EPA/DHA are long-chain Omega-3s. Whilst it is possible to convert ALA (another form of omega-3) to these long-chain fats, this is an incredibly inefficient process, especially when we consider that the main role of ALA in the body is to be a component of long-form fatty acids (reports suggest that our conversion rate is as low as 5%) [1].

Omega 3 plays a crucial role in the development and maintenance of a healthy body – when we do not consume enough Omega-3, we risk chronic inflammatory processes occurring throughout the body at unhealthy levels. Omega-3 works against Omega-6 (another form of fatty acid that induces inflammation) and having a diet that is high in O6 but low in O3 can significantly exaggerate inflammation [2]. Cod liver generally has a ratio of 1:9.3 (9.3 times as much Omega-3 as Omega-6).

2. Triglyceride Levels

Blood triglyceride levels are associated with poor health – an increased consumption of fish oil has been reliably shown to reduce the serum levels of triglycerides anywhere between 15 and 30%, with particular effect on those who already suffer from excessively-high concentration in the blood [3]. This means that the consumption of cod liver oil – rich in EPA an DHA – will actively improve the health of the blood and the circulatory system.

3. Depression, Anxiety and Bipolar Disorder

Stress

Depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder are incredibly common mental health problems, with some estimates putting instances of clinical depression at around 25% in some age groups. Fish oil has been shown to have comparable results to pharmaceutical interventions in individuals with severe clinical depression [4]. Cinical trials also suggest that there are positive effects on the symptoms of bipolar disorder when supplemented in high enough doses [5]. Finally, symptoms of clinical anxiety have been shown to decrease in response to supplementation of EPA [6].

Overall, there are some conflicting results on the effects of fish oil on mental health concerns, but there are general reports of positive effects and it seems that the overlapping psychological and neurochemical causes and symptoms of depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder corroborate a general improvement on mental health during EPA and DHA supplementation.

4. ADHD

Aside from common behavioural-neurochemical disorders such as depression and anxiety, fish oil supplementation has been shown to have positive effects on the symptoms of ADHD [7]. Supplementary doses have been shown to assist in the treatment of symptoms, but not sufficient to replace traditional pharmaceutical treatments. However, because there are very few negatives and various other benefits, fish oil provide a great addition to the diet of those suffering from ADHD.

5. Blood Pressure

High Blood Pressure

Fish oil has been shown to reduce the blood pressure of individuals struggling with medical hypertension, as well as having some benefits noted among regular populations (although these are not statistically significant). Blood pressure is an important precursor for serious problems like stroke, heart attack and heart disease. It is important to note, however, that this is only proven in those populations who are already suffering from hypertension [8].

6. Inflammation

As mentioned above, Omega-3 has an important role in universal inflammation ratios, but it also has specific inflammatory benefits according to some clinical evidence [9]. This clinical evidence suggests that there are some anti-inflammatory effects – primarily in the cardiovascular system – due to changes in triglycerides (as mentioned above) and immune system markers.

7. Cortisol Reduction

Cortisol is an incredibly complicated and interesting hormone that is released in response to stressors (both psychological and physiological, according to recent research). Whilst it plays a necessary role in the body during normal contexts, excessive cortisol can suppress the immune system’s function in quantifiable ways. It also has important roles in the regulation of metabolism and blood sugar, meaning that chronically-elevated levels can have negative effects on these processes. Fish oil has been shown to have some effects in reducing cortisol [10].

8. Post-Exercise Immune System Function

Based on the aforementioned effects of fish oil, it might not be particularly surprising to note that immune system function has been associated with fish oil intake. When we look at the times when immune system would otherwise be suppressed (such as immediately after exercise), fish oil consumption improves the markers associated with protective white blood cells [11].

9. Cognitive Function and Ageing

Ageing

Fish oil has been associated with a protective effect on the onset of degenerative brain disease such as Alzheimer’s disease. Individuals who were otherwise-healthy improve some areas of memory function by simply supplementing DHA [12]. This seems like a very low-risk way of maintaining or improving cognitive function.

10. Ketones

Ketones have received an unnecessarily trendy status in recent years with the increased popularity of low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets. The consumption of fish oil among those on a caloric surplus has been shown to relate to increased circulation of ketones in the body [13]. This was associated with an increased loss of body fat (24% over placebo), suggesting that a calorie-deficit diet rich in fish oil can improve the rate of weight lost, alongside other positive effects.

 Vitamin A

 Vitamin

11. Skin Health

Vitamin A is one of the main components of cod liver oil and has profound effects on the way that various bodily systems function. Primary among these is the role that it plays in dermatology, reducing the appearance of fine wrinkles, skin dryness, skin quality and collagen content [13].

12. General Immune System Function

Beyond these superficial effects, Vitamin A is essential for a number of internal processes such as the processing and transcription of DNA, as well as the continued health of the immune system. The protection and proper transcription of DNA reduces the possible health problems associated with cell mutation and cancerous tumours.

The combination of Vitamin A and Fish oil in cod liver oil provides a major improvement in immune system function and health. The short and long-term health of the immune system are protected and enhanced by the supplementary doses seen in cod liver oil [14]. The combination of these two ingredients and their scientifically-verified effects provide a comprehensive, albeit mild, positive outcome.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is an essential vitamin that has a wide variety of applications in the human body. It is arguably the most beneficial supplement, being almost impossible to achieve sufficient doses from sunlight alone. Whilst some foods such as dairy are fortified, the main sources are fatty fish – something that cod liver oil aims to mimic in the diet. Salmon, for example, provides over 100% of the RDA for vitamin D.

13. Bone Health and Fracture Risk

Vitamin D is essential for the mineral uptake of bone hard-tissue, meaning that it is closely tied to the health of bones, especially in advanced age. The maintenance of bone mineral density during ageing reduces the risk of osteoporosis and fall-based fractures [15]. This is essential to the uptake of calcium, particularly, which is why it is fortified in dairy. However, the relative dosage found in dairy products is low – it would be necessary to consume around half a litre of fortified milk daily in order to meet necessary minimums.

14. Parathyroid Hormone

Vitamin D has a strong, clinically-proven positive effect on the body’s thyroid function, reducing the extent to which the parathyroid hormone is secreted and, thereby, reducing the chance of developing hypothyroid disorders [16]. Clearly, Vitamin D is a multi-faceted vitamin.

15. Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer, which has been associated with red meat consumption and is the cause of the buzz surrounding the “red meat causes cancer” myth, is reduced by the consumption of vitamin D. The supplementary dosing of vitamin D has been shown to reduce the odds of developing severe colorectal cancer by 53% – a significant reduction [17].

Don’t Miss : 15 Acidic Foods to Avoid

 

References

[1] Thomas, B.J. (2002): ‘Efficiency of conversion of alpha-linolenic acid into long chain n-3 fatty acids in man’. Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care, 5(2), pp.127-132
[2] Simopoulos, A.P. (2002): ‘The improtane of the ratio of Omega-6/Omega-3 essential fatty acids’. Biomedicine and pharmacotherapy, 56(8), pp.365-379
[3] Fakhrzadeh et al (2010): ‘The effects of low dose n-3 fatty acids on serum lipid profiles and insulin resistance of the elderly: a randomized controlled clinical trial’. International journal for vitamin and nutrition research, 80(2), pp.107-116
[4] Sublette et al (2011): ‘Meta-analysis of the effects of eicosapentaenoic acid in clinical trials in depression’. Journal of clinical psychiatry, 72(12), pp.1577-1584
[5] Stoll et al (1999): ‘Omega 3 fatty acids in bipolar disorder: a preliminary double-blind, placebo-controlled trial’. Archives of general psychiatry, 56(5), pp.407-412
[6] Kiecolt-Glaser et al (2011): ‘Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation and anxiety in medical students: a randomized controlled trial’. Brain, behaviour and immunity, 25(8), pp.1725-1734
[7] Bloch and Qawasami (2011): ‘Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation for the treatment of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptomatology: systematic review and meta-analysis’. Journal of the American academy of child and adolescent psychiatry¸ 50(10), pp.991-1000
[8] Campbell et al (2013): ‘A systematic review of fish-oil supplements for the prevention and treatment of hypertension’. European journal of preventative cardiology, 20(1), pp.107-120
[9] Ciubotaru et al (2003): ‘dietary fish oil decreases C-reactive protein, interleukin-6 and triacylglycerol to HDL-cholesterol ratio in postmenopausal women on HRT’. Journal of nutritional biochemistry, 14(9), pp.513-521
[10] Michaeli et al (2007): ‘Effects of fish oil on the neuro-endocrine reponses to an endotoxin challenge in healthy individuals’. Clinical nutrition, 26(1), pp.70-77
[11] Gray et al (2012): ‘Fish oil supplementation augments post-exercise immune function in young males’. Brain, behaviour and immunity, 26(8), pp.1265-1272
[12] Arguello et al (2010): ‘Beneficial effects of docosahexaenoic acid on cognition in age-related cognitive decline’. Alzheimers and dementia, 6(6), 456-464
[13] Kafi et al (2007): ‘Improvement of naturally aged skin with vitamin A (retinol)’. Archives of dermatology, 143(5), pp.606-612
[14] Mora et al (2008): ‘Vitamin effects on the immune system: vitamins A and D take centre-stage’. National review of immunology, 8(9), pp.685-698
[15] Bischoff-Ferrari et al (2009): ‘Fall prevention with supplemental and active forms of vitamin D: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials’. British Medical Journal, 339, 3692
[16] Yurko-Mauro et al (2013): ‘Supplementation with 1000 iu vitamin D/d leads to parathyroid hormone suppression, but not increased fractional calcium absorption, in 4-8-y-old children: a double-blind randomized controlled trial’. American journal of clinical nutrition, 97(1), pp.217-223
[17] Gorham et al (2007): ‘Optimal vitamin D status for colorectal cancer prevention: a qualitative meta-analysis’. American journal of preventative medicine, 32(3), pp.210-216

Muscle building guide

How to Build Muscle Naturally: The Definitive Guide

Developing muscle mass is an essential precursor to improved strength and the physique. When we look at the most aesthetically-pleasing bodies, they tend to be those with a lot of muscle and very little fat. Gaining muscle is one of the things that people want most but struggle to achieve.

The internet is full of people who discuss different ways to improve muscle mass, but there are many problems with these. Firstly, there is a huge amount of misinformation – it can be hard to know who to trust when you don’t know enough to tell if they’re telling the truth or not. Secondly, many people use the topic of gaining muscle mass to push their own products, services or agendas. Finally, there are many people selling products and services based on the achievements of those taking performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).

This article will provide a brief, but scientifically and practically-definitive approach to gaining muscle for the natural athlete. It will cover the necessities of training, diet and beyond to give you a practical and well-researched guide to gaining quality muscle mass. However, it is important to remember that this process Is slow for those of us who do not use PEDs and that, even with this guide, it will take a long time to add significant muscle.

Training

If we want to build muscle, we have to train and train correctly. If training wasn’t the main part of developing a muscular physique, then we would see a lot of lazy people with great muscles. The proper approach to training is always dependent on the individual – how long they have been training, what their background is, their sex, age, medical conditions and their existing strengths and weaknesses. Gaining large quantities of muscle mass as a natural athlete is possible, it just requires a much smarter approach.

The most important principles to remember when we approach building muscle through resistance training is that it is a slow process requiring both patience and persistence. We see a lot of people who go to the gym for a few weeks and are unsatisfied with the results: this is because they have the wrong approach. Your goals should always be months, at a minimum – you can achieve amazing changes with your body but they will not be “fast”. Training a few hours every week adds up over time and missed sessions are always worse than tired or “bad” training sessions.

How Do Muscles Grow?

During exercise, the proteins that make up our muscles are put under mechanical stress and degrade. When we rest and eat, the body repairs these proteins. However, after long enough periods of regular exercise, it will overcompensate in order to protect us against difficult exercise in future, increasing the size of the structures inside the muscles. The way we build muscle, therefore, is to subject the muscles to mechanical stress and make sure that we recover properly between sessions [1].

The two main factors that influence the growth of muscles during exercise is the absolute weight used (the more weight that we use, the more the muscles will grow) and the amount of time that we spend loading the muscles, and at what part of the movement (this is usually called “time under tension” by most fitness enthusiasts). This is why we see many bodybuilders and other physique-conscious athletes performing long sets of many reps with a focus on control, whereas strength athletes like Weightlifters and Powerlifters focus on performing repetitions with higher weights for fewer reps. The former increases the time under tension (muscular endurance), whereas the latter allows us to increase the amount of absolute weight that we might use (strength).

The best approach to building muscle is usually a mixture of these two methods: the best approach is to increase the amount of weight we can lift through long ranges of motion with good control. It is also beneficial to muscle growth to focus on a slow “eccentric” portion – this is the part of each movement where the weight is moving with gravity rather than against it. For example, in a deadlift we might increase the muscular growth of the back, glutes and hamstrings by focusing on slowly lowering the weight. During this portion of the lift, we cause the greatest amount of degradation of muscle proteins [2].

Proper Exercise Technique

Squats

There are a wide variety of different exercises available to improve the strength and size of all the muscles of the body, but it would be beyond the scope of this article to describe each of them in detail. There are some general principles that we can mention, however, that apply to all exercises. The first of these is proper control of the movement: we’ve all seen funny videos of people failing at the gym and this is usually because they want to lift more weight, instead of lifting more weight well. Control and stability through the movements – whichever movements they may be – is essential to develop the stabilising muscles, co-ordination and balance, as well as improving the ability to add weight in the long term and avoid injuries.

Proper exercise technique also involves the use of the maximal possible range of movement (ROM) in each exercise. This means that we don’t cut the movement short in favour of adding more weight – for example, performing a barbell squat requires us to achieve maximal possible depth with proper posture and control. Reducing the length of this movement would increase the chance of injury and inhibit the ability to build muscle and strength. This is equally true in all exercise: from the dumbbell curl to the deadlift, building muscle is best achieved through working proper ROM [3].

Progressive Overload

Once we have established proper technique and a focus on the way that we control our movements, the next step to developing greater muscle mass is to progressively overload our training. This simply means that training must become more difficult as we become bigger and stronger [4]: lifting the same weights for the same reps will not develop muscle mass. As we become stronger, the weights that we once lifted do not provide the appropriate stress – our muscles are now strong enough that they are no longer stressed by these weights. There are two way to progressively overload: increase the amount of weight used or the amount of repetitions/sets that we use.

Increases in weight are increases in intensity, whereas increases the amount of work done are increases in volume. These two variables are the foundation of building muscle, strength and any other athletic capability. Building quality muscle occurs when we increase our ability to perform one or both. Volume is the amount of overall work that we perform on a given exercise and is more closely tied to the development of muscle size, whereas increases in intensity are generally associated with increases in muscular strength.

There is significant overlap between the development of strength and size. Whilst it is possible to increase the strength of muscles without increasing their size, it is rare (if not impossible) to increase the size of muscles without increasing their strength to some degree.

Proper Training Plans

Muscle Building

Proper muscular development is best achieved through a well-structured training plan that aims at increasing the amount of work that we perform and the amount of weight that we are able to lift with the same control and ROM. The proper structuring of a training plan is another topic that is beyond the scope of this article but there are some basic principles that should be considered. There are two main types of exercise, which broadly overlap: compound and isolation. The former, compound movements, are those which involve a large number of muscles, whilst isolation movements aim to isolate the movements associated with a single joint or muscle. The latter is associated with the development of individual muscles.

Firstly, it is essential to move from more general to more specific as we become more experienced and improvements become more difficult to achieve [5]. This is the unique challenge of the natural athlete: each kg of muscle is more difficult to gain than the last and the effort required to gain it is far greater. A smart approach to training will make this easier and we should always begin by building a foundation to ensure that we make consistent progress as we proceed. This means that the first training plans that we approach for anyone should focus on developing full-body strength: this will induce large amounts of muscle growth by itself, but the crucial benefit is that it will develop the amount of mechanical work that the body can perform in future and improve our ability to perform volume-specific work. If we are too weak, we will struggle to build muscle in the long-term and will very quickly find that we are unable to handle heavy enough loads to cause further adaptation.

As we progress beyond the general stages of novice training, specificity is the most important principle. This means that our training should focus on the things that we want to be good at. If our goal is building muscle, this will mean performing a mixture of lower-repetition compound exercises, followed by a larger quantity and variety of higher-repetition isolation exercises. For example, an athlete who wants to develop bigger legs may perform barbell squats and deadlifts (classic strength movements) followed by a variety of lunges, leg presses, leg curls or other, “smaller” movements.

Diet: The Essentials

Diet for Muscle building

The proper training is an essential, but diet cannot be ignored when it comes to gaining muscle mass and performing at our best. Firstly, it is important to know what your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) is – this is an estimate of the number of calories that you use in a day and there are various tests that can be performed online to give you a general figure.

Contrary to what many people believe, it is possible to lose fat whilst gaining muscle, but the best way to reliably develop muscle mass is by training properly whilst eating at a modest caloric surplus. This means that we should be eating slightly more calories in a day than we use – 500 calories more than our TDEE is a great starting point. Developing muscle is not very easy but storing more fat is incredibly easy: eating too many calories, even whilst performing heavy training, will still add bodyfat. This is not always a problem, but excessive calories will not be used to build muscle.

Once we have established a “goal” caloric intake for each day, it is important to also look at the macronutrients that we consume. There are 3 macronutrients: Carbohydrates, Protein and Fats. Protein is the most important for those looking to build muscle as muscles are made of proteins and dietary proteins and amino acids are used to repair and develop those muscles that have been put under stress. A high-protein diet has been shown to improve muscle development, reduce body fat gain, improve the ability to burn fat and also improves recovery between training sessions [6]. A high-protein diet has very few negative effects and we should aim for around 0.85-1g of protein per lb of either your current, or target, bodyweight.

Despite recent discussion about high-fat or high-carbohydrate diets being superior, the best approach for building muscle is simple: once we have a high protein intake, the fats and carbs are determined by the kind of exercise we do. For those who perform a lot of endurance exercise or have long, intense training sessions a higher carb intake will be necessary [7]. For those who perform very little endurance exercise, the focus should be on some high-quality carbohydrates and a variety of good fats.

The Overlooked Bits: Supplementation and Micronutrients

Dieting for muscle mass should be based on dieting for health. Many athletes and physique enthusiasts overlook the importance of the essential functions of diet, in favour of just chasing muscle: diet should maintain health, reduce disease and improve performance. This means that when we are dieting for gaining muscle it is also important to ensure we get the proper intake of vitamins and minerals – not only will these improve muscle growth, but ensure proper health and performance, which also improve muscle growth indirectly.

Vitamins and minerals should come in the form of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in the diet: the main focus should be on the consumption of a diet high in quality protein (such as salmon, cod, tilapia, chicken, turkey and high-quality beef), dark leafy veg, fibrous carbohydrates and polyunsaturated fats such as olive oil. A diet that is lacking in variety will usually also be lacking in some of the essential vitamins and minerals.

Supplementation is a very popular subject for those who are concerned with developing a muscular physique: the market is full of supplements claiming to be the best way to gain muscle. However, proper supplementation should start with the basics such as vitamins, minerals, rare fats and other compounds which will actually improve performance and cover deficiencies. This may not be as exciting as pre-workout, testosterone boosters or fat burners, but its far more reliable and effective. A focus on the basics will always be the best approach to anything and this is true in nutrition and supplementation.

The Best Supplements for General Health, Performance & Muscle Building are:

Building muscle vitamin

  • Vitamin D

Vitamin D is one of the most commonly-deficient vitamins and has important roles in the metabolism of essential nutrients such as Zinc. Deficiency in this vitamin is associated with bone health problems, reduced immune system function and can contribute to the development of Crohn’s disease and colitis [8].

  • Cod liver Oil

We’ve already done an in-depth discussion of the benefits of cod liver oil, but the important things to note are the high concentrations of Omega-3 fats (absolutely essential for health in the joints, muscles and brain), as well as the vitamins A and D – both of which are considered to be at the fore-front of proper immune system function.

  • B12

B12 is another vitamin which is commonly deficient in the diet, primarily due to difficulties with absorption and the fact that it is only bioavailable in high-quality animal proteins. Vegetarians, vegans and those who eat very little meat should supplement where possible – either orally or as an injection.

  • Creatine and Beta-Alanine

Creatine and beta-alanine have similar, important effects: they improve the body’s response to long-term exercise. Creatine is associated with the reactions that create ATP in muscles – the fuel that muscles use to perform short, explosive movements. Beta-alanine has a similar effect on mid-long term exercise by reducing fatigue and improving aerobic performance [9].

  • Leucine and isoleucine

Leucine and Isoleucine are amino acids. Leucine is an essential amino acid that is involved with a variety of roles in the body, but primarily the development and recovery of muscle tissue. Iso-leucine is also an essential nutrient involved with the development of proteins associated with the general recovery of bodily tissues and the muscles in particular [10].

Recovery and Beyond

Proper training and diet account for at least 80% of building muscle, but the final 20% is associated with other variables that are often ignored. These are the out-of-training variables that top-level athletes use to ensure that they perform to their best. Using these recovery techniques, we can improve the body’s ability to build more muscle and improve our performance in training.

Firstly, sleep is an incredibly important factor and can have profound effects on the way that the body regulates and re-builds itself. During sleep, muscle protein synthesis peaks and the hormonal profile is favourable for developing muscle tissue. Natural anabolic hormones (testosterone, insulin, IGF-1, somatotropin) are released and are essential in building muscle. Sleeping less than 8 hours is associated with reduction of these essential hormones and can stunt growth in a serious way [11]. The best sleep is at least 8 hours in a dark, cool room with proper food and water in the body.

Hydration is the next variable we need to consider. Dehydration is a huge problem that many people don’t take very seriously. Proper hydration is not only necessary for the maintenance of brain function, joint health and muscle performance, but it is essential to create an environment in which optimal muscle development can occur. Consuming 2-3 litres of water a day is essential for basic hydration, depending on your height, weight, lean mass and how much exercise you perform. Keeping hydrated is usually as simple as keeping water at-hand.

Managing the development of your muscles is more than just using them – when we perform exercise and damage the muscles, it is important to provide an equal amount of care and active recovery. This usually involves the improvement of muscle health, removal of waste products and reducing muscle tone (the resting activity of the muscle). This generally involves a combination of recovery techniques such as massage, foam rolling, stretching (both static and dynamic), compression and heat (hot, cold and contrast) therapy. Reducing excessive inflammation and waste products, increasing circulation and pliability will all improve the way that the muscle recovers.

These variables, being the last 20% of the factors affecting muscle development, are important for those who are serious about developing their muscles and maximising performance. An intelligent and optimal approach to training includes a similar commitment to an effective diet, supplementation routine, hydration, sleep routine and active recovery/mobility work. These are far less glamorous than lifting heavy weights in the gym but they are an essential accompaniment to these processes.

 

References

[1] Kraemer et al (1994): ‘Skeletal muscle adaptations during early phase of heavy-resistance training in men and women’. Journal of applied physiology, 76(3), pp.1247-1255
[2] Farthing and Chilibeck (2003): ‘the effects of eccentric and concentric training at different velocities on muscle hypertrophy’. European journal of applied physiology, 89(6), pp.578-586
[3] McMahon et al (2014): ‘Impact of range of motion during ecologically valid resistance training protocols on muscle size, subcutaneous fat, and strength’. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 28(1), pp.245-255
[4] Kraemer et al (2002): ‘Resistance training for health and performance’. Current sports medicine report, 1(3), pp.165-171
[5] Willoughby, D.S. (1993): ‘The effects of mesocycle-length weight training programs involving periodization and partially equated volumes on upper and lower body strength’. Journal of strength and conditioning research.
[6] Phillips, S.M. (2006): ‘Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to metabolic advantage’. Applied physiology, nutrition and metabolism, 31(6), pp.647-654
[7] Currell and Jeukendrup (2008): ‘Superior endurance performance with ingestion of multiple transportable carbohydrates’. Medicine and science in sport and exercise, 40(2) , pp.275-281
[8] Mora et al (2008): ‘Vitamin effects on the immune system: vitamins A and D take centre-stage’. National review of immunology, 8(9), pp.685-698
[9] Hobson et al (2012): ‘Effects of beta-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: a meta-analysis’. Amino acids, 43(1), pp.25-37
[10] Schwenk et al (1987): ‘Effects of leucine, isoleucine or threonine infusion on leucine metabolism in humans’. American journal of physiology – endocrinology and metabolism, 253(4), pp.428-434
[11] Leproult and Van Cauter (2011): ‘Effect of 1 week of sleep restriction on testosterone levels in young healthy men’. Journal of the American medical association, 305(21), pp.2173-2174

 

Flax Seed Health Benefits

Flax Seed: 12 Health Benefits, Nutrition Facts and Risk

Flax seed is exactly that: the seed of the domesticated forms of the pale flax plant. Flaxseed has been popular in recent years for many reasons, primarily related to its ability to provide individuals on a plant-based diet with a relatively large quantity of Omega-3 fatty acids. Flax seed is also incorporated into a wide variety of foods and food-stuffs due to the perceived health benefits and the versatility of both the seed and the oil to be included in other forms of carbohydrate products. It is also a form of chicken feed and is associated with high-quality chicken and eggs, meaning that there is clearly some importance in the quality of nutrients that flax contains.

In this article, we will discuss the health benefits and interesting nutritional facts that surround flax seed, discussing the current popular myths and hype surrounding the product. We will be using the USDA’s official statistics on flax seed [1].

Health Benefits of Flax Seed

Flax Seeds

1. Fiber

Flax seed is incredibly high in both soluble and insoluble fiber – an essential human nutrient and incredibly important for digestive, blood sugar and metabolic health regulation [2]. Fiber reduces the absorption of sugars into the blood stream, regulating blood sugar and the associated insulin-response, making flax seed an excellent food to be used as part of a responsible, low-carbohydrate diet for those who are struggling with Type-2 diabetes. Flax can also be ground into flaxmeal and used as a lower-GI (glycaemic index – a measure of the absorption rate of a food) alternative to traditional wheat and corn flours.

2. Cardiovascular Health

The consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids has been associated with the improvement of heart health through a variety of methods. Firstly, the reduction in LDL (“bad”) cholesterols and the improvement of HDL levels (“good” cholesterol) is associated with reductions in the risk of cardiovascular disease – the phytosterols found in flax seeds compound this effect [3]. In addition to this, there are some signs that Omega-3 consumption also lowers the levels of triglycerides in the bloodstream and improves heart health further.

It is important to note, however, that the consumption of Flax seed only provides ALA – a form of Omega-3 that is less beneficial than long-chain oils found in fish and other animal products. When we look at the uses of flax seed and its constituent nutrients, it is important to remember that this form can only be converted into longer-chain Omega-3 acids at around 5-15%. This means that, whist flax seed are a great source of ALA Omega-3 acids, they should not be the only source.

3. Reduced Cancer Risks

The Lignans found in Flax seeds are incredibly helpful in the reduction of breast, uteral and prostate cancers. The reason for this is that Lignans are phytoestrogens: plant compounds that are effective at mimicking oestrogen in the body or having a role in its production/replacement. The increased oestrogen associated with consuming these Lignans has positive effects on bone health, but its main use is the reduction of cancers associated with a reduced oestrogen count – meaning it has a protective effect on many cancers that affect females disproportionately such as breast cancer and cancer of the uterus.

4. Arterial Health

Aside from the general improvement of the blood lipid profile, the Lignans in flax have been shown to reduce the development of plaque and arterial wall hardening to an incredible degree. Whilst it is not sufficient to consume flax seed alone – a complete dietary and medical intervention is generally a wiser decision – it can be an incredible accompaniment to ensure the prevention and amelioration of arterial health problems.

5. Blood Health

Flax seed is high in manganese – an essential mineral for bone and blood health. Flax contains over 100% of the daily recommended amount of manganese and can be used to drastically increase the quality of blood health and bone health, fighting problems such as anaemia and osteoporosis [4].

6. Benefits for Menopausal/Post-Menopausal Women

The phytoestrogens found in flax also have benefits to the health of women who are currently going through the menopause or have already completed this process. The loss of the ovaries has a fundamentally-negative effect on the body’s production of oestrogen and this is associated with “hot flashes” which can be incredibly uncomfortable. The consumption of phytoestrogens has been shown to reduce the severity and regularity of these events.

7. Anti-oxidant

As with many healthy plant-based foods, Flax are incredibly high in anti-oxidant agents. The Lignans are anti-oxidant themselves but a variety of other compounds in flax seed have similar effects, making them a great food for the maintenance of health and general cancer protection – especially among those who perform intense, prolonged exercise such as long-distance running [5].

8. Anti-inflammatory

The phytochemicals, Lignan and Omega-3 found in flax seeds are all considered to be anti-inflammatory in some way. Omega-3 has been associated with universal anti-inflammatory processes, Lignan’s phytoestrogen status has a mild effect on the reduction of inflammatory process and the chemicals contained in flax are naturally effective at reducing inflammation and promoting proper recovery across a variety of tissues. This brings with it a wide variety of benefits, but generally means that a proper diet will be aided with the addition of flax seed, or flax seed oil.

9. Diabetes Control

Whilst the science is early, there are some indications that the consumption of flax seed may be beneficial for those who struggle with Type-2 diabetes, beyond the simple effects of Omega-3 and dietary fiber on these processes. The Lignans themselves reduce the quantity of both glucose and lipids in the blood, reducing the risk of both diabetic/pre-diabetic blood sugar problems and the risk of hyperlipidemia.

10. Phosphorous

Phosphorous is another mineral contained in huge quantities in flax seed. Phosphorous is essential for the maintenance of bone density and dental health. This mineral is also found in the vast majority of cells and consumption is necessary for proper overall cellular health. The combination of Phosphorous and the other compounds in Lignans make flax an excellent choice for the health of bones and teeth, especially in women and post-menopausal women.

Other Health Considerations

Flax Seed

11. Thyroid concerns

Despite the health benefits associated with consuming a lot of flax seed or oil, there are also some negative effects associated with consuming too much. For example, when eaten in large quantities the content of Cyanogenic glycosides – compounds which are metabolised in the body in a way that reduces the effectiveness of thyroid function, tied to the proper function of the metabolism. We may want to avoid consuming too many flax seeds, or focus more on the consumption of the oil which has a smaller risk of such problems.

12. Anti-Nutrients

There are some reports of Phytic acid, a compound found in flax seeds, reducing the short-term absorption of certain important minerals such as Iron (a mineral that many people are already deficient in). This means that the consumption of flax seed, whilst still healthy, should be distributed between different meals or consumed as snacks without other, iron-rich foods. This means that the way that we eat flax should be structured carefully for maximum health benefits and as few risks as possible.

Health Risk/Concerns

There are also, finally, some concerns for some populations regarding the otherwise-healthy effects of flax consumption. For example, eating a large quantity of Omega-3 (beyond recommended doses) can have negative impacts on those who struggle with thin blood: the reduction of glucose and blood lipids is good for most people but for those with excessively low blood pressure, this is not necessarily advisable. The phytoestrogens are similar in this regard: whilst they are profoundly effective for women (especially post-menopause), they may have some negative side effects in men or pregnant women – the excessive consumption and conversion of Lignans and phytoestrogens can affect the hormonal balance in a major way. Caution is advised when consuming large quantities and those who are concerned about the health effects should always consult their physician!

Bottomline

Flax seed or oil should be consumed in the diet of many individuals, especially those consuming a plant-based diet and in need of an increased Omega-3 intake. However, it does not benefit everyone equally due to the presence of phytoestrogens, and is preferentially-effective among females and particularly those who are currently experiencing menopause or are post-menopausal. The list of benefits are long but they are also conditional and should be taken seriously and structured to gain the maximum benefit: flax seeds should be consumed in relatively small portions, throughout the day and they should be carefully considered by those with hypotension or thin blood, pregnant women and those on a plant-based diet who are deficient in iron (especially hebe iron).

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Reference

[1] USDA branded food products database [URL = https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/115031]
[2] Anderson et al (2009): ‘Health benefits of dietary fiber’. Nutrition reviews, 67(4), pp.188-205
[3] Abumweiss et al (2008): ‘Plant sterols/stanols as cholesterol lowering agents: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials’. Food and nutrition research, 52.
[4] Elwassef et al (2009): ‘Impact of feeding flaxseed oil on delaying the development of osteoporosis in ovariectomised diabetic rats’. International journal of food safety, nutrition and public health, 2(2), pp.189-201
[5] Packer, L (1995): ‘Oxidative stress, antioxidants, aging and disease’. Oxidative stress and ageing, pp.1-14