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Flax the way I like it.

The benefits of flaxseed have been recognized throughout history. There are Greek and Roman writings from as far back as 650 BC that praise the healing properties of common flax (Linum usitatissimum L.). Charlemagne, the legendary 8th century French emperor, considered flaxseed to be so important for health that he passed a law requiring it be included in the diet of his subjects. In 1978, the World Health Organization declared ALA to be essential to the diet. (1) With so many nutritional guidelines competing for attention, consumers have overlooked the value of ALA. Now, with heart disease being the biggest killer in the UK, the importance of ALA and flax in the diet is reclaiming its rightful place in the consumer psyche.


Modern attention to a healthier lifestyle has led to a surge in the popularity of omega-3-enriched foods. Various studies have documented the role of omega-3 in supporting a number of conditions, including cardiovascular health, foetal development and psychological well-being, creating a solid foundation for consumer appeal and market success. However, the differences in health benefits between ALA and the long-chain essential fatty acids are sometimes overlooked. Recently, DHA and EPA have attracted the media spotlight, with the result that many consumers now recognize the benefits of oily fish in the diet. In the past, however, it was flaxseed and other ALA-rich foods that earned a reputation for healthy living--and this recognition is reawakening.

The Heart of the Matter

A significant body of research has demonstrated the cardioprotective effects of ALA omega-3. ALA alters the omega-3 fat content of cell membranes, making the cells more flexible, improving blood lipids, enhancing endothelial function and exerting antithrombotic effects. It improves cell functionality in the muscles of the heart, reducing the "recovery time" after each heartbeat and, as such, reduces the chance of myocardial infarction and arrhythmia. (2) Large-scale observational studies, such as the Nurse's Health Study, which followed more than 75,000 women, illustrate a significant association between a high intake of ALA and a lower chance of cardiovascular disease. (3) A 40% lower risk of heart attack was found in women who consumed 1.2 g of ALA each day. Other studies show that even for individuals with a history of heart problems, who are more susceptible to cardiovascular disease, the risk can be lowered by the regular consumption of omega-3s. (4)

Cholesterol levels can also be improved through a higher intake of ALA-rich flaxseed, with significant improvements shown within 4 weeks. In a number of studies, participants took between two and six tablespoons of flax daily, resulting in a total blood cholesterol reduction of up to 20%, including "bad" LDL cholesterol by up to 9%. These effects were found consistently across a variety of cohort groups, including healthy young adults, men and women with moderately high levels of blood cholesterol and in postmenopausal women. (5), (6), (7), (8) The anti-inflammatory properties of ALA can offer further health benefits. (1) Inflammation is a central pathological component in cardiovascular disease, as well as in other chronic conditions such as arthritis, stroke and IBS. Omega-3s are used to build eicosanoids in the body, which are anti-inflammatory, antithrombotic and increase vasodilation--signs of cardiovascular well-being. Further research in this area is expected to consolidate these findings.

Practical Solutions

More and more manufacturers are beginning to supplement their products with omega-3 to increase value for consumers and provide on-shelf differentiation. (9) Nearly 1300 new omega-3-enriched products were introduced across Europe and North America in 2008. (10) The good news is that essential fatty acids are absorbed into the body very effectively; ALA absorption rates have been demonstrated at 96% and above. One barrier that had prevented successful fortification in the past was difficulties with oxidation. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that can lead to off-flavours and aromas in foods, as well as reduced nutritional quality. Certain flaxseeds are more stable and less prone to oxidation than others, which is why Glanbia Nutritionals ensures that fewer than 5% of the more unstable "dark" seeds are ever used in their MeadowPure flax ingredients. This patented process harnesses the power of the naturally occurring antioxidants inside the seed, which protect the valuable ALA in the flax seed oil. The omega-3-rich oil in flaxseed is more stable than in fish oil and less prone to oxidation, offering manufacturers a wholegrain approach to omega-3 enrichment.


UltraGrad flax from Glanbia Nutritionals offers all three forms of omega-3 in a dry powder format, benefiting from a naturally long shelf-life of 12 months, without the need for refrigeration or special handling. The toasted, nutty flavour profile has proven popular in consumer taste tests, with none of the "fishy" notes often associated with omega-3-enriched products. The benefits of Glanbia Nutritionals' flax ingredients reach beyond enhanced nutritional value. The newly-launched OptiSol 5000 flax-based ingredient can be used as a formulation enhancer, improving moisture in breads, replacing fats and allergens such as eggs and improving shelf-life and texture. In comparison with other micronutrients, the body of research supporting ALA is still growing, but early research is promising and is driving further investigation and awakening consumer interest. Through Glanbia's collaborative approach to product supplementation, addressing both formula properties and health benefits, manufacturers can move quickly to offer researched health benefits with an experienced product development partner.


(1.) A.H. Stark, et al., "Update on Alpha-Linolenic Acid," Nutr. Rev. 66(6), 326-332 (2008).

(2.) B.C. Davis and P.M. Kris-Etherton, "Achieving Optimal Essential Fatty Acid Status in Vegetarians: Current Knowledge and Practical Implications," Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 78(Suppl.), 640S-660S (2003).

(3.) Various, including: R.N. Lemaitre, et al., "n-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids, Fatal Ischemic Heart Disease and Nonfatal Myocardial Infarction in Older Adults: The Cardiovascular Health Study," Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 77, 319-325 (2003), and F.B. Hu, et al., "Dietary Saturated Fats and Their Food Sources in Relation to the Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in Women," Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 70, 1001-1008 (1999) and C.M. Albert, et al., "Dietary Alpha-Linolenic Acid Intake and Risk of Sudden Cardiac Death and Coronary Heart Disease," Circulation 112, 3232-3238 (2005).

(4.) H.C. Bucher, et al., "n-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Coronary Heart Disease: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials," Am. J. Med. 112(4), 298-304 (2002).

(5.) ADA Reports, "Position of the American Dietetic Association: Health implications of Dietary Fiber," J. Am. Diet Assoc. 102(7), 993-1000 (2002).

(6.) J.W. Anderson and C.A. Bryant, "Dietary Fiber: Diabetes and Obesity," Am. J. Gastroenterol. 81, 898-906 (1986).

(7.) G.C. Burdge and P.C. Calder, "Conversion of [alpha]-Linolenic Acid to Longer-Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Human Adults," Reprod. Nutr. Dev. 45, 581-597 (2005).

(8.) G.C. Burdge, et al., "Eicosapentaenoic and Docosapentaenoic Acids are the Principal Products of [alpha]-Linolenic Acid Metabolism in Young Men," Br. J. Nutr. 88, 355-363 (2002).

(9.) G.C. Burdge, "Metabolism of Alpha-Linolenic Acid in Humans," Prostaglandins Leukot. Essent. Fatty Acids 75, 161-168 (2006).

(10.) Packaged Facts, Omega Fatty Acids: Trends in the Worldwide Food and Beverage Markets (Second Edition, 2010,


Short chain fatty acids can be considered to be the "true" essential fatty acids, as they cannot be synthesized in the body and must be included in the diet. The omega-3 short chain fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is found primarily in flaxseed, as well as in rapeseed, soy and walnuts. Once consumed, ALA is converted by the body into docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA); once converted, however, the long chains cannot be broken down again. For this reason, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recommended a daily ALA intake of 1300 mg. Adequate levels of ALA can be achieved by adding one to two tablespoons of milled flax to the daily diet. Two tablespoons provides 3.6 g of ALA, which the body can convert to between 180 and 300 mg of EPA, providing the benefits of both omega-3 acids.

For more information

Marilyn Stieve

Business Development Manager--Flax

Glanbia Nutritionals
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Title Annotation:health management
Publication:Nutraceutical Business & Technology
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2010
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