Summary Points

• Flax is a self-pollinating diploid plant with a karyotype of 2n = 30.

• Cultivated flax has two varieties, one grown for oil and the other for fiber, and is the sixth largest oilseed crop in the world.

• Flax seed is the most abundant plant source of omega-3 fatty acids, specifically a-linolenic acid.

• Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for growth and development, and have been associated with health and the prevention and treatment of heart disease, arthritis, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, and cancer.

• Dietary ALA in the form of flax seed oil and milled seed has been shown to raise serum n-3 PUFAs, to increase plasma ALA levels, and reduce the n-6 to n-3 PUFA ratio.

• Epidemiologic studies have shown that populations that consume high amounts of oils containing omega-3 fatty acids have lower rates of various types of cancers, including lung, breast, prostate, and colon.

• Few allergic reactions to flax have been documented, and anaphylactic reactions are rare. Byssonosis has been described following exposure to flax dust during harvesting and processing of flax, and there have been reports of asthma, pneumonia and bronchitis.

• Flax seed contains various antinutrients, including phytic acid, linatine, trypsin inhibitors, oxalates, and cyanogenic glycosides.

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