Plant Lignans and Hormonal Health
Lignans are plant compounds reputed for their considerable antioxidant properties. Belonging to the polyphenol family, they are most commonly found in high-fibre plant foods like flax seeds, sesame seeds, soy beans and berries. Although associated with a number of potential health benefits, plant lignans have perhaps most regularly been linked with hormonal health. Firstly, though, let’s take a look at what else they’re good for.
Stay Lean with Plant Lignans
In a 2009 university study of postmenopausal women, a higher dietary intake of lignans was shown to correlate with less body fat and lower blood sugar levels. The Canadian study analysed data from 115 women and found that those with the highest blood levels of enterolactone – a lignan metabolite – had a BMI 4kg/m2 less than their counterparts with the lowest average blood levels.
Amazingly, respondents with the highest levels of enterolactone held, on average, 8.5kg less body fat when compared to those with the lowest levels. What’s more, women who scored highly for lignans were shown to have better glucose disposal rates and considerably lower blood glucose levels.
Further Benefits of Plant Lignans
Studies into lignans and their benefits are ongoing, but in 2017 there is enough evidence to be confident in recommending high-lignan foods as part of a healthy and balanced diet. Most of the trials assessing the efficacy of lignans have centred on flax seed intake – no surprise given that flax is nature’s richest source of lignans.
In one 2013 study, conducted over a period of six weeks, a group of 37 adults consumed nutrition bars with near-identical macronutrient content. Indeed, the chief difference in the bars was in their fatty acid and lignan content. The results proved fascinating, with the high-lignan bars decreasing total cholesterol by 12% and LDL – so-called bad cholesterol – by a whopping 25%.
Given that LDL is among the highest independent risk factors for cardiovascular disease, it would seem that plant lignans could be of massive benefit if you wish to keep your ticker in good health.
Of course, there are many more studies which highlight the benefits of plant lignans. Lignans are often credited as being among the most cardioprotective nutrients in existence, although it’s somewhat difficult to say whether lignans alone are responsible for the benefits associated with foods like flax seeds, which are additionally high in omega-3 fatty acids and fibre.
Could Lignans in Flax Seeds Alleviate Symptoms of PCOS?
PCOS – polycystic ovarian syndrome – is a condition that affects women’s hormonal balance. Characterised by weight gain, agonising periods and an irregular menstrual cycle, it is often reported by females who have higher levels of androgens (or male hormones).
Since there is some evidence that lignans in flax seeds can help reduce androgen levels in men suffering from prostate cancer (lignans are often referred to as ‘phytoestrogens’ or plant estrogens), they could well help stabilise the androgen levels in females to control the more painful aspects of PCOS. What’s more, flax seeds do not entail the same negative side effects as common anti-androgens, insulin-lowering agents and HRT. Common side effects include gastrointestinal complaints and menstrual disruptions.
To quote from the 2007 study: “Findings suggest that flax seed may have a profound impact on testosterone levels, and may also diminish symptoms associated with hyperandrogenism, such as hirsutism.”
As a natural means of buffering hormonal fluctuations, it would seem that lignans certainly warrant further investigation. One hopes that their effects on digestive, cardiovascular and hormonal health continue to be underscored.