5 Things You Need to Know About Benefits of Flax Seeds for Cystic Fibrosis

1. Flax Seed Basics

Love omega-3s but can’t stand fish? Consider flaxseed oil instead. It contains the omega-3 fatty acid alpha linolenic acid (ALA). ALA is a precursor to one of the active compounds in fish oil called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These fats are powerful antioxidants that work to prevent and repair cell damage and inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids, along with the omega-6 fatty acids found in vegetable oils, are considered essential. That means our bodies can’t produce them, so we have to take them in through food or supplements. In the case of flax, it’s important to note that you can’t get the benefit from whole seeds. Make sure you grind the seeds before adding to your food or use flax oil instead.

2. Essential Fatty Acid Deficiency

Many cystic fibrosis (CF) patients are actually deficient in these essential fatty acids (EFAs). This sets them up for many of the inflammatory processes that cause the complications of the disease. Why exactly they’re deficient is unclear. In some cases, it may be linked to overall protein and calorie malnutrition or malabsorption. Interestingly, though, research suggests that the cause may actually be an error in the metabolism of EFAs. Increase intake of these fatty acids through diet and/or supplements may then help to improve some CF symptoms. More research is needed to determine the optimal intake of EFAs and the proper ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s.

3. Improved Weight Status

For many CF patients, maintaining a healthy weight isn’t as simple as a few extra calories. Our pancreas is normally a major player in metabolism, but with CF this vital organ doesn’t work efficiently. That means malabsorption, especially of dietary fats, and often suboptimal body size. When researchers provided CF patients with high-calorie nutrition supplements that were enriched with EFAs, the results were pretty remarkable. The children’s body composition and weight status’s improved, as did their overall calorie intake and even their activity levels.

4. Fat-Soluble Vitamins

Malabsorption doesn’t just lead to suboptimal size, but often inadequate vitamin and mineral absorption as well. Fat digestion and absorption is a particular problem in CF patients. Not good news for the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Because they’re fat-soluble, these vitamins need fat to be properly absorbed. That’s where EFAs come in. They can actually be a big help in aiding the absorption of these important nutrients.

5. Too Much of a Good Thing

The potential benefits of flax seed oil may have parents of CF patients buying the stuff in bulk. It is possible, though, to get too much of a good thing. An excess intake of EFAs can lead to an overproduction of cytokines. Cytokines are an important “communication cell” in our immune system. When their production goes into overdrive, they can actually have a harmful effect and increase risk of disease. It’s important to always discuss the potential risks and benefits of any supplement with your child’s doctor before you decide to use it.