When I was in my Gastroenterology practice I witnessed so much disease and illness that it was staggering. As a society we are eating processed, chemically infested foods and beverages that make our gut unhealthy and our brain unhealthy. We are a toxic society and this in turn manifests into many common disease states-especially weight gain and metabolic challenges like Type 2 diabetes, elevated blood lipids, high blood pressure, heart disease, fatty liver, autoimmune disorders, inflammatory conditions and a weakened immune system. Toxins have become part of our food chain and because of my medical specialty I understand that“you are what you eat” is the most accurate statement ever made.
For the purposes of this blog I am going to focus on two GI challenges facing millions of people-Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and dIverticulosis. I will also discuss the importance of flaxseed as well as other healthy seeds in promoting your intestinal microbiome and how flaxseed helps IBS and diverticular disease.
Let's start with IBS. In my professional opinion everyone has suffered at one time or another from an irritable intestine. But IBS can become a chronic life-altering issue if your gut microbiome is unhealthy, you are not eating enough fiber, eating unhealthy foods and are not staying hydrated with water. IBS can be diarrhea predominant or constipation predominant but often will include irregular bowel movements that can make your life miserable. IBS often includes gas, bloat, visible distention and frequent abdominal discomfort. IBS is basically a diagnosis of exclusion. If your GI doctor is concerned about other possible etiologies he or she may recommend a colonoscopy, upper endoscopy, blood work-up, breath test and/or various x-rays. This is to exclude malabsorptive issues (gluten intolerance/sensitivity or celiac sprue), inflammatory bowel disease, malignancy, peptic ulcers, diverticular disease, microscopic colitis, infectious related bowel disease or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.
IBS is mainly a disorder of your large intestine (colon). Although the exact cause of IBS is unclear, it can be brought on by multiple factors. IBS is mainly a “motility” disorder of your gut. Motility means movement and these contractions of the intestines are called peristalsis. Proper contraction of the gut is important for adequate digestion, absorption and elimination. When the large intestine has abnormal motility this can lead to significant IBS symptoms. Not enough daily dietary fiber and adverse microbiome conditions can also lead to IBS. The pain with IBS can be from “visceral hypersensitivity” of the gut-meaning that your gut nerve endings are super sensitive and can signal discomfort when you have abnormal peristalsis that leads to gas, bloat or distention. There are triggers associated with IBS-the most common being stress, certain foods and dehydration. It is a great idea to keep a food log to see which items trigger your IBS symptoms.
I love flaxseed because it is nutrient dense and a true superfood. I call it the great equalizer because it is a great source of fiber that is great for balancing the gut whether you are suffering from loose stools or constipation. Loaded with nutrients, flaxseed is also a good sourceof protein,omega-3 fatty acids, along with several important vitamins and minerals. Flaxseed supports the gut brain axis, and can assist with lowering cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar. Flaxseeds make you feel full and satiated and contain both soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber helps to absorb extra water that helps with loose stools and insoluble fiber will draw more water into the colon-helping with constipation. Fiber acts as a prebiotic and acts like a fertilizer to help create more positive/healthy bacteria in the gut. This in turn increases the production of healthy brain chemicals. Flaxseed is high in lignans which is natural plant derived estrogen that has the ability to balance estrogen levels in our body. Lignans have the ability to remove toxic estrogens (xenoestrogens found in plastic bottles, food containers, insecticides, pesticides, food colorings, cosmetics, sunscreens-to name a few) from our body through intestinal elimination. Because flax and other important seeds are high in minerals and vitamins our liver performs better-thus supporting cellular detoxification of bad estrogens that sit in fat cells. I have seen seed and plant based diets help with significant weight loss in women who could not lose stubborn weight due to high estrogen levels.
Now, let me address another common intestinal problem-diverticulosis. DIverticulosis is the weakening of the intestinal wall that results in “pockets” called diverticula. This occurs most commonly on the left side of your large intestine called the sigmoid colon. Diverticulosis can occur with age but not enough fiber appears to be the root of the problem. In meta-analysis studies the modern western diet does not provide enough fiber which in turn can cause abnormal contractions of the colon and weakening of the colon wall. For example, an autopsy study reported a prevalence of 1% among Japanese in Japan, but a prevalence of 50% among Japanese in the US. Further meta-analysis studies strongly suggest that a high fiber intake may reduce the risk of diverticular disease and individuals consuming 30-35 g of fiber per day have a 41% reduction in risk compared to persons with a low fiber intake.(1)
Most people do not know they have diverticulosis because if there is no inflammation or infection then there should be no symptoms. IBS can exist with diverticulosis (and can cause annoying symptoms) but remember-the“osis” in diverticulosis is associated with just the pockets but“itis” in diverticulitis comes with discomfort associated with inflammation/infection. If you have an active infection then your doctor will most likely recommend a trial of antibiotics and some temporary dietary changes. If there is no infection then flax and other healthy seeds along with other high fiber foods are great to prevent further diverticulums and can act like a broom to sweep out any stool or potential pathogens that can hide in the pockets. An old wives tale is to avoid nuts, seeds, popcorn etc because they can get lodged in the diverticulums and cause problems-this has no merit and has never been proven. Start early in life with your fiber intake so you can hopefully avoid diverticula formation as well as an irritable bowel.
I prefer flaxseeds over flaxseed oil because the oil does not have any fiber. The oil has other great nutrients but the fiber content is important for your intestinal tract, your microbiome, brain health, cardiovascular health, immunity and hormonal stability. Enjoy flax seed when you eat our organic, gluten-free Joule meal replacement bars and here are other additional ways to enjoy organic flaxseed in your daily routine:
- Add pieces of our organic Joule bars to your smoothie/protein shakes, yogurt or hot/cold cereals.
- Add organic ground flaxseed to your salad dressings and your pasta sauces.
- Sprinkle organic ground flaxseed over your steamed veggies.
- Mix organic ground flaxseed with oatmeal, veggie dips and cottage cheese.
- Incorporate organic flaxseed into meat or veggie patties next time you fire up the grill.
- Combine flaxseed with a bit of water for a simpleegg substitute. If you are making one flax egg just combine one tablespoon of flaxseed powder with 3 tablespoons of water and let sit for about 5 minutes. You can add this ingredient to your any recipe just as you would an egg-great for baking.
(1)-Eur J Nutr. 2020; 59(2): 421–432.
Published online 2019 Apr 29. doi:10.1007/s00394-019-01967-w
“Dietary fiber intake and the risk of diverticular disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies.”