Was It the Flax Seeds, Fat Restriction, or Both?

Was It the Flax Seeds, Fat Restriction, or Both?
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Researchers set out to find out what it was about a flax seed-supplemented, lower-fat diet that so effectively appeared to decrease prostate cancer growth.

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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.

Preliminary, but impressive results. A flax seed-supplemented, lower-fat diet appeared to decrease cellular proliferation rates in men with precancerous changes in their prostates. “However, given the composite nature of the intervention [both a lower-fat diet and flax seeds], it is unknown whether the effects can be attributed to flaxseed supplementation, a fat-restricted diet, or both factors [working together].”  

To figure that out, you’d have to design some study where you split men into four groups: a control group; a flaxseed-only group; a lower-fat-only group; and then, a flaxseed-and-lower-fat group. And, so, that’s exactly what they did.

161 prostate cancer patients, at least 21 days before their prostate removal surgery, were randomly assigned to one of those four arms. And, as the title describes, it was apparently the flax seeds, but not dietary fat restriction alone, that reduced prostate cancer proliferation rates in men pre-surgery.

Here are the numbers. Whether they were eating their usual or lower-fat diet, it was the men eating the flax that saw their tumor proliferation rates significantly drop. Though, if you look at what they actually ate, the “low-fat” diet groups never got down to the target 20% calories from fat. They did drop their fat intake, but you could hardly call a 25-28% calories from fat a low-fat diet.  Still, the lower-fat groups were the only ones who saw a significant drop in cholesterol and body weight, so there are certainly benefits. 

Bottom-line, further studies are needed before we can definitively support flax seed supplementation as a proven complementary therapy for prostate cancer. To date, however, the evidence suggests that flax seed is a good, low-cost source of nutrition, and it’s well-accepted and safe to use. So, why not give it a try?

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.

Preliminary, but impressive results. A flax seed-supplemented, lower-fat diet appeared to decrease cellular proliferation rates in men with precancerous changes in their prostates. “However, given the composite nature of the intervention [both a lower-fat diet and flax seeds], it is unknown whether the effects can be attributed to flaxseed supplementation, a fat-restricted diet, or both factors [working together].”  

To figure that out, you’d have to design some study where you split men into four groups: a control group; a flaxseed-only group; a lower-fat-only group; and then, a flaxseed-and-lower-fat group. And, so, that’s exactly what they did.

161 prostate cancer patients, at least 21 days before their prostate removal surgery, were randomly assigned to one of those four arms. And, as the title describes, it was apparently the flax seeds, but not dietary fat restriction alone, that reduced prostate cancer proliferation rates in men pre-surgery.

Here are the numbers. Whether they were eating their usual or lower-fat diet, it was the men eating the flax that saw their tumor proliferation rates significantly drop. Though, if you look at what they actually ate, the “low-fat” diet groups never got down to the target 20% calories from fat. They did drop their fat intake, but you could hardly call a 25-28% calories from fat a low-fat diet.  Still, the lower-fat groups were the only ones who saw a significant drop in cholesterol and body weight, so there are certainly benefits. 

Bottom-line, further studies are needed before we can definitively support flax seed supplementation as a proven complementary therapy for prostate cancer. To date, however, the evidence suggests that flax seed is a good, low-cost source of nutrition, and it’s well-accepted and safe to use. So, why not give it a try?

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to HealthAliciousNess via flickr

Doctor's Note

If the title of this video made no sense to you, be sure to see the first half of Flax Seeds vs. Prostate Cancer.

This reminds me of the experiment described in Is It the Diet, the Exercise, or Both?, in which researchers try to tease out the individual effects of a similar composite treatment—a plant-based diet and walking—on the growth of prostate cancer cells in vitro.

The difference between what researchers say they’re testing, and what actually gets tested (like the “low-fat” diet here) comes up over and over again (for example, see my video about the EPIC Study). The new Mediterranean diet study is another good example.

In my next video, Flax Seeds vs. Diabetes, we’ll see what hope our seventh leading killer has against the humble flax seed.

For further context, check out my blog post: Flax Seeds for Prostate Cancer.

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

29 responses to “Was It the Flax Seeds, Fat Restriction, or Both?

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    1. @GENBL ^ 5-10% according to Doug Graham Author of The 80/10/10 Diet (80% carbs, 10% proteins, 10% fats/lipids). His rationale is that’s the ratio by calories that our closest primate consume. And that’s fats found in fruits and plants that you’ll get if you are consuming a high enough calorie diet to be getting the fuel your body needs to stay away from ketosis. I know plenty of peak athletes pro and amateur supervised by Dr Graham target 5-10% by calorie.




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      1. Thanks! I’m eating more a 17-20% fat diet. I’ll have to stop eating nuts because they’re my only high fat food (no oil or prepared meal).




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        1. As Dr Greger has observed while nuts are mainly made of lipids, they don’t seem to result in body fat increases the way other oils/fats do. I think the good Dr discusses in in one of his videos.




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    1. From the Flax Council of Canada – “Ground flax seed provides more nutritional benefits than does whole seed. That’s because flax seeds are very hard, making them difficult to crack, even with careful chewing. Grinding flax seeds breaks them up, making them easier to digest when eaten. Then the body can profit from all that flax goodness.

      If whole flax seeds remain unbroken, they may pass undigested through the body, reducing the nutritional advantage of eating flax seed in the first place.”




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  1. If you are grinding up flaxseed (removing the naturally protective shell’s integrity) , then you may as well add some ground sesame seed also as both contain valuable lignans. As the polyunsaturated oil in the ground seed is now vulnerable to light, heat and oxygen, you should store it in the freezer, or it will go rancid quickly producing harmful trans fats.




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    1. Trans fats are unintentional byproducts of the partial hydrogenation process. The oxidation process that causes rancidity will not cause the formation of trans fats.




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  2. These videos about inhibiting growth of prostate cancer are important, because regarding prostate cancer the most important issue could very well be to inhibit growth, because it seems that the easiest way to get prostate cancer, is just to be screened for it !! Or could it be intirely preventable through a low fat vegan diet (with flaxseeds) ?




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    1. I really like your point and think it applies to any cancer for any gender. Modern humans are exposed to so many carcinogens, we can’t truly live a clean life. Our cells are going to mutate. The only question (in my opinion) is, “Are we going to do what we can so that our bodies can fight the cancer?”

      It seems clear that a plant-based diet goes a long way to meeting this goal. I find it very empowering that there is something I can do to help myself. I am not helpless in the face of cancer.




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      1. Thea, good point. You can`t do anything about your genetic makeup (early cancer, heartdisease or diabetes in the family), single handedly it is difficult to do anything about the pollution of our invironment, BUT that doesnt leave you powerless – eat mostly low in the foodchain, remember that fish is not a healthfood (unless you think mercury, dioxin, PCB og Prozac will do you good :-) ). The foodchain is now so polluted that flame retardants have been found in milk !! So in my opinion the best you can do, is to base your diet mostly on plants – that said, I don`t think that an occasional (rarely) pice of chesse, an egg, a fish or a piece of meat will kill you. Hence I prefere the term plant strong (plant based) instead of vegan – but thats a detail.




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  3. How much fat in the food is required for the fat soluble vitamins to be absorbed? Will enough vitamin K from for example kale be absorbed when only eating lentils or other practically fat free food?




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  4. Hi,

    I have been including ground flaxseed to my diet for quite a while now and never had any problem with it. My mother started taking a few teaspoons a day and soon experienced mouth ulcers (aphthae) and breathlessness over the following weeks. I researched flax-related allergies and found out that breathlessness could be a symptom not to be overlooked. But what was even more confusing is that some sources would recommend soaking grains (especially flaxseed) overnight or at least 8 hours before using them because the shell contains “enzyme inhibitors” that can interfere with proper digestion and even decrease mineral and vitamin absorption.

    Do you think that soaking is necessary when it comes to flaxseed and seeds or grains in general? Do you think that soaking (or in this case, not soaking) may have anything to do with a potential flaxseed allergy?

    Thank you for your time and advice!




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    1. Nadya: It is my understanding that if there is a food, you can find someone, somewhere who is allergic to it. So, I’m not surprised that there are people allergic to flaxseeds. If so, then those people should definitely stay away from them.
      .
      But in terms of soaking, that’s an old myth. You don ot need




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  5. I ran into an interesting paper today while looking at chelating agent.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3654245/
    It seemed like a legitimate source.

    One item which might be of interest to this group is that flax seeds can increase the absorption of cadmium.

    “(i) Dietary fibres from various food products, including bran from
    grains as well as fruit, have been evaluated as an alternative or
    adjunct to chelation therapy with the aim to interrupt enterohepatic
    recirculation [34–36] and to modulate intestinal flora [37],
    with findings of reduced levels of mercury in the brain and blood.
    Caution is merited regarding soluble fibre; in contrast to protection
    offered by insoluble fibre, flax seed resulted in increased intestinal
    absorption of cadmium [38].”




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  6. I use fresh ground flax seed daily. How about a video about hemp seed. I have read it has the optimal balance of omega-3 and omega-6. seems like help seeds would as good for you as flax seed.




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  7. how bad would it be to limit fat completely or near completely? I eat well but struggle with acne and came accross a nutritionist that says to eliminate fat even from nuts and seeds in order to fight acne. i believe it would work but not sure if its healthy otherwise




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  8. Thanks for your question.

    There is currently no evidence that nuts contribute to acne. Dairy foods and high glycemic foods (eg. products with lots of added sugar) appear to be the strongest nutritional determinants of acne and hence should be avoided. High intake of omega-3s through walnuts, chia and flaxseed or algae oil has a potential benefit to reduce acne but further research is required (see here).

    Hope this answer helps.




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