Surprisingly, one of the most powerful regulators of cortisol production is flaxseed powder. In a study done by Spence and Thornton (2003), volunteers were fed diets containing flaxseed supplementation with differing concentrations of lignans and alpha linolenic acid. They were then given a stressful and frustrating task to perform, after which the researchers measured their levels of plasma cortisol, fibrinogen, and peripheral resistance (a marker for the elasticity of arteries). The flaxseed highest in lignans had the most significant effect in reducing plasma cortisol.
How flaxseed reduces cortisol (and other health risks)
Flaxseed has been called nature’s perfect food, because it contains soluble fiber, omega-3 essential fatty acids, and lignans, a potent phytohormone. The omega-3 essential fatty acid is anti-inflammatory, decreasing the need for cortisol and reducing the risk for heart disease and diabetes. Lignans in flaxseeds are phytoestrogens (plant- based substances that attach to estrogen receptors, reducing stimulation from circulating hormones) and have been shown to reduce the incidence of breast and prostate cancer. In postmenopausal women with breast cancer, Canadian researchers (Thompson and Chen et al. 2005) found that dietary flaxseed increased cancer-cell apoptosis (cell death) and reduced tumor growth rate.
In a study by Prasad (2005), lignans from flaxseed reduced atherosclerosis plaques in rabbits fed a high-fat diet. The protective mechanisms of the flaxseeds included decreased oxidative stress, lower total cholesterol and LDL, and higher HDL. Lignans from flaxseeds also improved glucose control and reduced both insulin levels and insulin resistance in human volunteers.
Additional benefits of flaxseed powder
Based on these studies (and years of prescribing cortisol-taming foods at the Moss Center for Integrative Medicine), flaxseed powder should be a staple of the daily diet. In addition to the benefits listed above, consumption of flaxseed powder has also been known to:
· Regulate and reduce blood pressure
· Promote gut health
· Regulate weight
· Help with digestive problems like constipation and diarrhea
· Boost immune system
· Prevent inflammation
· Healthy hair and skin
· Improve vision
I recommend two tablespoons of ground organic flaxseed daily, sprinkled on salads, cereals, or other foods. Because flax seeds are very small and hard, it’s unlikely that any significant amount of lignans or alpha-linolenic acid will be absorbed when consuming a fully intact seed.It is best to grind the seeds in a coffee grinder and use them right away to prevent rancidity. If you are not able to grind your own, purchase organic flaxseed powder that has vitamin E in it to prevent rancidity. Flaxseed oil capsules generally do not have the same effect unless they have added lignans.
Next-steps: How YOU can reduce stress with your diet
In my practice I’ve found that many people who are seeking to reduce their cortisol levels can feel powerless after trying numerous medications and exercises – only to find that they still struggle with stress on a regular basis.
So if you feel like you’ve tried everything to lower your stress levels, and “nothing works” for you, you’re not alone. By improving your adaptation and making simple changes to your diet, you can have greater control over your cortisol levels – and your overall health as well.
If you’d like to learn more about cortisol-reducing foods (or The Adaptation Diet, in general), please call us and set up an appointment. Whether you’re interested in living a healthier lifestyle or you’re trying to overcome a chronic condition, we can help you get to your goals.