Flax Seeds for Breast Pain

Flax Seeds for Breast Pain
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A tablespoon a day of ground flax seeds appears to improve ovarian function, and is considered a first-line therapy for breast pain associated with one’s period (cyclical mastalgia).

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

A study on the “Effect of Flax Seed Ingestion on the Menstrual Cycle” found a tablespoon a day of ground flax seeds lengthened the luteal phase—meaning flax can delay one’s next period by about a day—and resulted in fewer anovulatory cycles. These are the same kind of improvements in ovarian function seen in women eating plant-based diets: a longer luteal phase, and fewer anovulatory cycles—fewer failed ovulations—an indication that vegetarian women have fewer disturbances in their cycles. In fact, those eating vegan in this study never failed to ovulate at all, similar to women eating daily flax.

Since those same hormonal changes associated with eating a plant-based diet seemed to improve premenstrual and menstrual symptoms such as breast pain, maybe flax seeds would help, too. The effects of dietary flaxseed in women with breast pain associated with their cycles. “Although hormone treatments, such as tamoxifen, may be helpful, they often cause unpleasant side effects,” and there may be “risks associated with long-term use of hormonal therapy… Dietary flaxseed is, therefore, an attractive alternative for controlling [these] symptoms.”

So, 116 young women with severe cyclical mastalgia—severe menstrual breast pain—over a pre-study period of six months were randomized in a double-blind manner to either a muffin containing about three and a half tablespoons of flax seed, or, “a placebo muffin,” and followed for a few cycles. There was some placebo muffin effect, but there was a significantly greater reduction in reported breast pain, breast swelling, and breast lumpiness in the flax seed group. “It is concluded that flax seed is effective in relieving symptoms of cyclical mastalgia without significant side effects, and might be considered as an alternative treatment for cyclical mastalgia.”

But if it works, and there are only good side effects, why is it an alternative treatment, and not the primary, first line treatment? Well, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has not issued treatment guidelines. But, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada has. They first dispel the myth that caffeine is to blame, or that vitamin E supplements are helpful. Instead: “Dietary flaxseed should be considered as a first-line therapy for [menstrual] breast pain,” and only then, consider drugs if flax doesn’t work. Oh, and breast pain “should not be treated by use of mastectomy.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

A study on the “Effect of Flax Seed Ingestion on the Menstrual Cycle” found a tablespoon a day of ground flax seeds lengthened the luteal phase—meaning flax can delay one’s next period by about a day—and resulted in fewer anovulatory cycles. These are the same kind of improvements in ovarian function seen in women eating plant-based diets: a longer luteal phase, and fewer anovulatory cycles—fewer failed ovulations—an indication that vegetarian women have fewer disturbances in their cycles. In fact, those eating vegan in this study never failed to ovulate at all, similar to women eating daily flax.

Since those same hormonal changes associated with eating a plant-based diet seemed to improve premenstrual and menstrual symptoms such as breast pain, maybe flax seeds would help, too. The effects of dietary flaxseed in women with breast pain associated with their cycles. “Although hormone treatments, such as tamoxifen, may be helpful, they often cause unpleasant side effects,” and there may be “risks associated with long-term use of hormonal therapy… Dietary flaxseed is, therefore, an attractive alternative for controlling [these] symptoms.”

So, 116 young women with severe cyclical mastalgia—severe menstrual breast pain—over a pre-study period of six months were randomized in a double-blind manner to either a muffin containing about three and a half tablespoons of flax seed, or, “a placebo muffin,” and followed for a few cycles. There was some placebo muffin effect, but there was a significantly greater reduction in reported breast pain, breast swelling, and breast lumpiness in the flax seed group. “It is concluded that flax seed is effective in relieving symptoms of cyclical mastalgia without significant side effects, and might be considered as an alternative treatment for cyclical mastalgia.”

But if it works, and there are only good side effects, why is it an alternative treatment, and not the primary, first line treatment? Well, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has not issued treatment guidelines. But, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada has. They first dispel the myth that caffeine is to blame, or that vitamin E supplements are helpful. Instead: “Dietary flaxseed should be considered as a first-line therapy for [menstrual] breast pain,” and only then, consider drugs if flax doesn’t work. Oh, and breast pain “should not be treated by use of mastectomy.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to Nutritious Food

Doctor's Note

What if your diet is packed with plants? See last week’s video, Plant-Based Diets for Breast Pain. 

I’ve previously hailed flax in videos such as:

So nice to see a professional medical association prioritize safe, natural therapies! To see the mentality here in the States, check out my video series that includes Medical Associations Oppose Bill to Mandate Nutrition Training. So, Do Doctors Make the Grade? Unfortunately, Doctors Know Less than They Think about Nutrition. This is largely due to the lack of Medical School Nutrition Education, though there is also The Tomato Effect.

Speaking of safe and natural, the subject of my next video is Does a Drink Of Water Make Children Smarter?

For further context, check out my associated blog posts: Treating Breast Pain with Diet and Treating Breast Pain with Flax Seeds.

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

51 responses to “Flax Seeds for Breast Pain

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  1. 6 months ago my endocrinologist doc strongly recommended statins because of my high cholesterol,atherosclerosis and Berkeley heart lab lipid profile. I responded that i will make lifestyle changes recommended by Dr Greger to become vegan instead. He strongly opposed my preference and dutifully noted in writing his prescription and my refusal to adhere (a CYA letter-Cover Your Ass)
    Now six months later I’m 40 lbs lighter, my triglycerides and cholesterol are now within the low end normal range, my glucose levels have normalized and the Berkeley lipid profile indicates a tremendous shift away from the bad (small ldl lipids) that build as atherosclerosis.
    Go vegan, eat your flax and chia,
    Take your d3,b12,magnesium, probiotic,coq10, eat garlic and of course…eat your broccoli!
    Thanks Dr G !!!!

    1. Thanks for sharing! The science presented by Dr G combined with anecdotal stories from “real people” are very inspiring! May I ask – did you also drop the oils? Did you go 100% plantbased or “just” 98% to get these great results?

      1. We went 100% plant based and dropped all cooking oils. Within a couple of weeks my/our palate(s) totally adjusted to the change. We now steam vegetables or sauté in a low sodium veg juice.
        Nuts, seeds and avocado are probably the biggest source of dietary oils we consume.

    2. eatyourbroccoli: That is SUCH an inspiring story!!! Thank you for taking the time to share it. That kind of story keeps us all going.

    1. With this argument doctors in the US should recommend steak instead of statins, the english doctors should recommend bacon and the german doctors should recommend sausages with sauercraut….;-) Could be that the canadian doctors just know the science

    2. David, thanks for the head’s up regarding GMO flax seeds, I purchase organic flax seeds at the local cooperative. It sounds like, based on your article and other sources that because organic flax seeds are organic, they would not be GMO. Having said that, thanks again as I’ll be sure to make sure that my friends and family purchase organic flax seeds.

  2. Ground flaxseed gives me a terrible headache. I’ve experimented to isolate the cause and I have no doubt it’s the flaxseed. I’m convinced of the health benefits of flax but at the cost of chronic headache, its not worth it to me. My question is, are there a percentage of people that experience headache when using flax, while others have no side effects? I can eat walnuts for the omega 3.

  3. Oops. I forgot to mention in my earlier post that 1-2 tablespoons of flax in our morning veg powder/veg protein smoothie very likely contributed to my wife’s lessened periodic monthly breast pain.
    Any research/comments out there regarding the pro/con effects of flax for males?

  4. (response to PlantstrongDoc) We went 100% plant based and dropped all cooking oils. Within a couple of weeks my/our palate(s) totally adjusted to the change. We now steam vegetables or sauté in a low sodium veg juice.
    Nuts, seeds and avocado are probably the biggest source of dietary oils we consume.

      1. Hi Vegangela,

        Another oil-free vegan here. I dropped oils after already being vegan for some time. One day I decided to try the water saute method out of curiosity, and thought, that was easy! Sauteing and other just random additions of oil while cooking was probably the biggest source of oil in our diets and has been quite easy to do without. I don’t think about it or notice it.

        I still eat avocado when we have mexican, and I do eat nuts but just not as a main meal component (such as a cashew alfredo sauce) and do not snack on them. I use them in an accent or garnish fashion.

        I ended up losing 15 extra lbs I didn’t even realize I had in about a month and a half or so. fatfreevegan and happy herbivore are both good sources if you want to try it out.

  5. I started taking flax for the other benefits, having no clue it would help with my insane daily breast pain. I did not know the connection of not being in pain anymore until I saw this video. This Vegan thanks you so much!

    1. I haven’t come across studies linking caffeine to breast pain. I have not had any patients who have noticed a connection. Through the years caffeine has been linked to many disorders due to other activities associated with folks who drink caffeine. That said if you personally notice a connection it might be a factor for you.

  6. What about the effect of the phytoestrogens of flax on pregnant women? Is it safe to eat 2-3 spoons of flax a day while pregnant? What about small children?

    Another question is regarding the phytic acid. Is it true that flax is reach in phytic acid that makes it harder for the body to absorb nutrients? Should flax seeds be sprouted?

  7. I haven’t been able to find a good answer to this – which is better, brown or golden flax seeds? (Assuming both are organic and I buy whole and grind myself.)

  8. Thank you so much for this amazing website! Q: Can one eat too much flaxseed? I drink 3/4 cup fresh ground a day, mixed water, cinnamon and honey. I am vegan and drink a lot of water. I feel great at 56 and all my vitals are within healthy range. Thank you.

    1. Wow! That’s a lot of flax! In my opinion that seems like alot, as 600 calories each day is contributed solely to flaxseed. Dr. Greger typically recommends 2 tablespoons for the benefits. I do not know of specific studies showing ill effects from consuming too much flax.

  9. Come to think of it, all my PMS symptoms went away around the time I started eating 2 tablespoons of ground flax every day. Now I have nothing at all that makes me think my period is about to arrive, which is crazy because I’ve always had physical pre-mentrual symptoms. I thought it might have to do with the flax, because I’d read that people use flax in “seed cycling,” which naturapaths use to help women get on a regular menstrual cycle, but this video confirms it.

  10. Hello Dr. Greger, I have a tasty pancake recipe that replaces eggs with ground flax seed. Is heating ground flax seed safe and healthy?

    1. Alex: Dr. Greger has several videos on this website showing the wonderful health benefits of ground flaxseed. In fact, Dr. Greger recommends that the average person eat about 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed every day.

      Here are some videos to check out:
      http://nutritionfacts.org/index.php?s=flax

      I’ve made pancake recipes like the one that you are mentioning and they came out great. Also, I have a recipe book for vegan waffles that I use to make pancakes instead of waffles and the recipes are delicious!
      http://www.amazon.com/Global-Vegan-Waffle-Cookbook-gluten-free/dp/0981776434/ref=sr_1_1_title_0_main?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1402935440&sr=1-1&keywords=vegan+waffles

      You might also want to check out this vegan brunch cookbook:
      http://www.amazon.com/Vegan-Brunch-Homestyle—-Asparagus/dp/0738212725/ref=sr_1_2_title_0_main?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1402935492&sr=1-2&keywords=vegan+pancakes

      I hope your pancakes come out good.

      1. Alex: I just read your post more carefully and noticed that you said “heating” not “eating”. I don’t have the exact video at the tip of my fingertips, but I do remember a NutritionFacts video where we learned that heating the flaxseed did not destroy it’s benefits. The main issues with flaxseed was to keep it in an airtight container. That’s my memory anyway.

  11. I was just Diogenes with stomach cancer signet ring cell carcinoma, waiting for scan to see how bad or stage. I heard that Cannabis Oil can help with killing the cells simillar to the flax seed which I starting drinking along with apple seeds. At this point I will try any herbal or natural substance.

  12. Hi,

    The Swedish National Food Agency (Livsmedelsverket) recommends citizens to avoid ground flax seeds, and eat only one or two table spoons of whole flax seeds in a day. This is apparantly due to the risk of the ground flax seed creating Hydrogen cyanide in our bodies. Their page on the matter seems to be quite well sourced, and though it’s written in Swedish, most of the sources are not. I’ll link the page below.

    So the questions I have: Is this risk real? Would ground flax seed really risk creating hydrogen cyanide? If not, should the Swedish NFA change their recommendation? If yes, should you change yours, or does the benefit so greatly outweigh the risk?

    Thanks a lot in advance for your answer.

    Link to Livsmedelsverket’s page on hydrogen cyanide:
    https://www.livsmedelsverket.se/livsmedel-och-innehall/oonskade-amnen/vaxtgifter/cyanogena-glykosider-och-vatecyanid

    1. Hi. I am a volunteer NF moderator and will be happy to pass on your questions to Dr Greger and he can address them. Some unripe or raw flaxseed do contain certain toxins but toasting and using the flaxseed in cooked or baked foods kills these toxins. In the meantime, here are two interesting articles I found on PubMed: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jsfa.1412/pdf and https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00204-015-1479-8.

  13. I just realized why my chronic extreme breast pain went away. I started adding more flax after reading How Not to Die and haven’t had a problem with breast pain since. Thank you for all the great work you do!

  14. I read that something in black tea causes breast pain but coffee does not. So I think it’s whatever is in black tea. Mine went away when I cut out black tea during the second half of my cycle.

  15. Also, I want to incorporate flax into my diet but was turned off when I baked flax crackers at 400 degrees and they tasted fishy. I just used the same batch of whole flax (that i ground) in my oatmeal and there was no bad taste. So maybe it was the baking at high heat?

  16. Have you seen this video: https://nutritionfacts.org/video/plant-based-diets-for-breast-pain/. If not please check it out as there may be some answers there for you. Also this article https://familydoctor.org/condition/breast-pain-in-women/?adfree=true/ mentions three approaches which have been tried with some success in clinical studies (although the article does not cite the specific studies); avoiding cafeine; using less salt in the diet and taking Vit E and Vit B. I hope this is helpful, Maddie.

  17. Dear all,

    In his book “How Not To Die”, Dr. Greger wrote: “flaxseeds can extend a woman’s menstrual cycle by about a day. This means she will have fewer periods of the course of lifetime and, therefore, presumably last estrogen exposure and reduce breast cancer risks”

    On the other hand, a low estrogen level leads to bone demineralization, thus increasing the risk of osteoporosis. In this case, flaxseeds wil fix it. Ok. But, another effect of estrogen depletion is the change in skin appearance, thinning of the vaginal mucosa and urinary tract. I think that, because of these things doctors try to delay the installation of menopause as much as possible in women. This is a paradox.

    Can you guys explain me why the suggestion of “fewer periods of the course of lifetime and an earlier installation of menopause ” is better for women, instead of this paradox?

    1. alin.harabagiu,
      Good question! The reason phytoestrogens as found in flaxseeds and soybeans can provide some of the health benefits of estrogen and still protect against harmful effects of excess estrogen is because we have two types of estrogen receptors in our bodies, alpha and beta. Phytoestrogens bind to beta receptors in breast tissue, therefore, protecting against excess estradiol in breast tissue. They also bind to beta receptors in the bone that help protect our bones. See the following videos to explain this process further.
      https://nutritionfacts.org/video/who-shouldnt-eat-soy/
      https://nutritionfacts.org/video/is-soy-healthy-for-breast-cancer-survivors/

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