Flax & Fecal Flora

Flax & Fecal Flora
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The trillions of good bacteria in our gut can be thought of as an additional organ—metabolizing, detoxifying, and activating many crucial components of our diet. The formation of lignans from phytonutrient precursors found predominantly in flax seeds is one such example.

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Flax has the highest content of “lignans” of all plant foods used for human consumption. The reason lignans is in quotes is because flax doesn’t actually contain lignans—just like broccoli doesn’t actually contain sulforaphane. Flax does contain lignan precursors, though, which the good bacteria in our gut turn into lignans, which we can then absorb. So, lignans are more of a team effort.

We used to think our colon was just some transit tube that absorbed excess water. Now we know it houses what could be considered an entirely separate organ inside the body: our gut flora, our trillions of good bacteria; the densest concentration of microbes found anywhere on Earth.

Exceeding the metabolic capacity of our liver by a factor of a hundred, our good bacteria detoxify some compounds, and activate others, boosting their bioavailability.

In fact, that may be why urinary tract infections have been associated with breast cancer risk. The rounds of antibiotics may be wiping out some of the good bacteria that are helping us take advantage of all the wonders of a plant-based diet.

I think most people only tend to think of our gut bacteria when there’s a problem. But having good gut flora is more than just avoiding diarrhea; it’s about maximizing our absorption of phytonutrients in our diet.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to deanfotos66 / flickr

Flax has the highest content of “lignans” of all plant foods used for human consumption. The reason lignans is in quotes is because flax doesn’t actually contain lignans—just like broccoli doesn’t actually contain sulforaphane. Flax does contain lignan precursors, though, which the good bacteria in our gut turn into lignans, which we can then absorb. So, lignans are more of a team effort.

We used to think our colon was just some transit tube that absorbed excess water. Now we know it houses what could be considered an entirely separate organ inside the body: our gut flora, our trillions of good bacteria; the densest concentration of microbes found anywhere on Earth.

Exceeding the metabolic capacity of our liver by a factor of a hundred, our good bacteria detoxify some compounds, and activate others, boosting their bioavailability.

In fact, that may be why urinary tract infections have been associated with breast cancer risk. The rounds of antibiotics may be wiping out some of the good bacteria that are helping us take advantage of all the wonders of a plant-based diet.

I think most people only tend to think of our gut bacteria when there’s a problem. But having good gut flora is more than just avoiding diarrhea; it’s about maximizing our absorption of phytonutrients in our diet.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to deanfotos66 / flickr

Doctor's Note

Be sure to also see Breast Cancer Survival and Lignan Intake if you missed it. For another video on what our friendly flora can do, check out Gut Flora & Obesity. The sulforaphane story I refer to in this video can be found in The Best Detox.

Note that the bladder infection study I reference is open access, and can be downloaded by clicking on the link in the Sources Cited section, above.

Please also check out my associated blog posts for some more context: Breast Cancer Survival & SoyHealth Food Store Advice: Often Worthless or WorstHow to Enhance Mineral AbsorptionBoosting Gut Flora Without ProbioticsTreating an Enlarged Prostate With DietFlax Seeds for Prostate CancerFlax & Breast Cancer PreventionTreating Breast Pain with Flax Seeds; and How Probiotics Affect Mental Health.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

29 responses to “Flax & Fecal Flora

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  1. Please also see yesterday’s video if you missed it. For another video on what our friendly flora can do, check out Gut Flora & Obesity. The sulforaphane story I refer to in this video can be found in The Best Detox. And for those craving more, there are hundreds of other videos on more than a thousand subjects. Note that the bladder infection study I reference is open access and can be downloaded by clicking on the link above in the Sources Cited section.




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  2. I’m hoping that one of the videos coming up tells us how to create/support those gut bacteria. If I remember correctly, in other posts on other videos, you didn’t seem all that impressed with “probiotics”.




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  3. thank you Dr Greger for another insightful video, i truly enjoy all of you videos on nutrition and they are so accessible too.
    Is there anything comparable like your site in regards to other lifestyle factors for prevent disease and healthy living eg anything on stress reduction or exercise etc?




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    1. Hi! I think a great resource might be Dr. Dean Ornish’s program “The Ornish Spectrum”. There is a lot of very useful information. Once on the home page, if you scroll over the “proven program” section you’ll see a link for stress management. I hope you find this useful! Here is the link: http://www.ornishspectrum.com/




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  4. so is flaxseed a good thing to add to my vegan low fat diet(mcdougall plan) to prevent colon polyps and other bowel diseases?there is a history of colon cancer in my family-my cousin,uncle,grndmother died of it but they were all carnivores eating meat ,dairy. i have been vegan for 20 years(i am 44) and very conscientious of my vegan diet-no sugar,flour at all. just vegetables,beans,fruit ,brown rice,air popped popcorn and plain unsalted brown rice cakes.2Tablespoons of ground flaxseed




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    1. Yes ground flax seeds daily will help you they make the enditheliums including the inside lining of the gi tract more slippery and flexible. They improve bowel movements and supply a vegetable source of Omega3. Read the associated blog posts for encouragement. Everyone needs 2 tablespoons ground flax seeds daily or 1 tablespoon ground flax seeds twice a day.




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  5. I was diagnosed with dysbiosis (specifically Klebsiella and low beneficial bacteria) and colitis, so would a probiotic be beneficial or not? If so, what are good ones to use and for how long?

    Also what is the consensus on Digestive enzymes?  I was diagnosed with pancreatic/gallbladder insufficiency (basically, I dont make adequate enzymes), so would a digestive enzyme help or hurt?  If it is recommended, which type is best (animal-based, plant-based, fungal-based…and what brand? Fungal kind of gives me the heebie-jeebies, lol)

    How do i fix these issues naturally?  It seems like all doctors (even holistic ones) want to do is dole out loads of supplements!




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    1.  Sorry to hear about the loss of part of your colon. Although it will effect your ability to handle some fiber most of the nutrition absorption comes before the large intestine in the small intestine which we have evolved to be much larger then our closest relatives the great apes. It is estimated that we get only 10% of our caloric needs from bacteriologic breakdown of fiber in our large intestine. You fortunately didn’t lose all your colon. It would be nice to have good studies on populations that have had GI surgery but few exist and none relative to your situation. I would follow the best diets to avoid further loss of body parts not only in the gastrointestinal tract but other organ systems as well. Best wishes.




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  6. I am 6 weeks pregnant and take a spoonful of flaxseeds everyday to help with bowel movements. Now I just read somewhere that they can be harmful for pregnant women. Is that true?




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    1. Flaxseeds are not harmful. Flax seeds will improve labor, make it easier, less painful and faster. I don’t have any clinical studies, (but now Michael will.) One tablespoon provides about 2000mg Omega3 and everyone needs at least two tablespoons daily to survive this world. More than two tablespoons ground flax seeds twice daily may help someone birth sooner rather than later.




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  7. Out of interest, do we actually break down many of the flax seeds we eat or do they simply pass through into our stool? Or are the lignan precursors able to move out of the seeds themselves?




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    1. You need to consume ground flax as the whole seeds will pass straight through. Best is to buy whole (golden) flax seeds and grind them yourself (this ensuring the delicate fats don’t go rancid).

      I make mine in a high powered blender but I’ve read that coffee grinders work to. A pestle and mortar also works well but you’ll arm will get tired ;-)

      Best to make in a large batch and store in a opaque container in the fridge or freezer and consume 1-2 tablespoons a day.




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  8. With the fecal stream constantly moving
    down, at what to microscopic bacteria must seem a breakneck pace, how
    do at least some of our little friends manage o avoid being swept
    completely out of our bodies?




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  9. I am allergic to flax. All these great videos on the power of flax and the app with guidance to take it daily… my question is there an alternative to flax that is its equal? Would ground hulled black sesame seeds be as powerful?




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    1. Hi tRobin! My name is Megan and I am a volunteer for NutritionFacts and also a nutrition student. I was super excited to see your comment because I was actually learning about different types of fiber in one of my classes only yesterday and what different foods contain lignin in flaxseeds that are so good for our gut flora. A good alternative for you would be chia seeds. Flax seeds are healthier, but chia seeds are also very healthy and would be better for you (http://nutritionfacts.org/video/flaxseeds-vs-chia-seeds/). The shell of chia seeds contain lignin as well. You will want to grind it up in order to reap the benefits of eating them. I use them a lot in baking and in oatmeal. A few Tbsp. of ground up chia seeds mixed with warm water can be used as an egg substitute in baking, and adding them to oatmeal just packs an extra nutrient punch! I hope this helps you :)




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