What really works to prevent urinary tract infections, night sweats, irregular periods, migraines, cancer, heart disease, and more.
Lorie A. Parch
5 of 9 | FLAXSEED (Linum usitatissimum)
BEST FOR: Heart health. Nearly twice as many American women die of heart disease and stroke as from all forms of cancer, including breast cancer, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). One reason: high cholesterol. In fact, women tend to have higher cholesterol levels than men from age 45 on, according to the AHA. Flaxseed, which is rich in the omega-3 fat alpha-linoleic acid, may help lower it. An Italian study of 40 patients with cholesterol levels greater than 240 mg/dL found that consuming ground flaxseed (20 grams, or about 0.7 ounces, daily) could significantly lower levels of total and LDL cholesterol (the artery-clogging kind), while also improving the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL. (Low levels of HDL may be a greater risk factor for women, according to the AHA.) In a Harvard study of 76,763 women participating in the Nurses' Health Study, researchers also noted that women consuming a diet rich in alpha-linoleic acid seem to have a lower risk of dying from heart disease and stroke, compared to women whose diets were lacking this fat. Although more research, including randomized, controlled clinical trials, is called for, the AHA recommends consuming foods rich in alpha-linoleic acid and other omega-3 fatty acids for heart health; a tablespoon of flaxseed contains eight grams. "Flaxseed also provides fiber," says Wilson. Two tablespoons of ground flaxseed have four grams of fiber—almost 20 percent of the 25 grams recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Lignans, which are a particular type of fiber found in flaxseed, may also be beneficial for preventing breast and prostate cancer, according to preliminary studies. "Lignans are not present in flaxseed oil, however," notes Low Dog. HOW TO TAKE IT: Low Dog recommends adding one to five tablespoons of ground flaxseed to your diet several days a week; sprinkle it on cereal or yogurt, or stir it into protein shakes. Flaxseed oil—which must be kept refrigerated to prevent rancidity—should be added to salads and not used for cooking. SAFETY ISSUES: Flaxseed and its oil are safe if consumed in normal amounts, although they can produce a laxative effect. "If you eat huge amounts of flaxseed meal, you could develop cyanide toxicity, but this hasn't, to my knowledge, ever occurred in humans," says Low Dog.