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Lignans are a type of hormone that are found in plants. Scientifically called phytoestrogens, lignans are especially abundant in the seeds of flax plants. Flaxseed and lignans are widely considered to have great health benefits in humans, because when flaxseed is digested, the lignans act similarly to the natural human hormone estrogen. The connection between flaxseed and lignans may have significant effects on cancer prevention in humans.
The flax plant, which produces flaxseed is often processed into a nutritional supplement, which is available in several different forms. Whole and ground flaxseeds are largely available in health or natural food stores, and can be added to meals to boost their nutritional value. Flaxseed oil is associated with many health benefits, but unlike the whole and ground versions of flax, does not contain any lignans.
The health connection between flaxseed and lignans stems from the potential cancer-fighting properties that lignans display in humans. Research has suggested that plant-hormone lignans, which are found in very large amounts in flaxseed, imitate the actions of human hormones. Results from these hormone actions might include reduced risk for the development of certain cancers, including colon cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and skin cancer. Additionally, some research indicates that flaxseed and lignans might be able to prevent the growth and spreading of cancerous cells from existing malignant tumors.
Other natural foods also contain lignans, although flaxseed and lignans are most closely associated because flax has exceptionally large amounts of lignans compared to other sources. Other seeds, such as sesame and sunflower, and some nuts contain lignans. Vegetables such as broccoli and kale, and fruits such as apricots and strawberries contain moderate doses of lignans. Just a small amount of flaxseed, however, contains significantly more lignans than any of these foods combined.
There are many ways to take advantage of the healthy connection between flaxseed and lignans by incorporating flax products into daily nutrition. Whole or ground flaxseed can be baked into muffins, breads, or mixed into granola. Flax products generally have a mild, somewhat nutty flavor that usually does not distract too much from the tastes of other foods. Since flaxseed contains such high amounts of lignans, it is not necessary to eat large amounts at a time. A couple of spoonfuls of flaxseed stirred into cereal or yogurt with breakfast is an easy way to start the day with a healthy dose of lignans.