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Pregnancy Risks With Flax?

Written by Wellness Club on March 10, 2009 – 10:19 pm -

By Nurse Mark

There is no natural substance so good that it cannot be overdone!

And there is no substance, natural or otherwise that cannot have an alarming article written about it based on someone’s reading of a tangentially related research study!

We get letters… frequently they are from folks who have seen some alarming little tidbit in some article or other and they are now suddenly worried – understandably so, since they are taking the substance that is in question in the cautionary article.

Here is the note we received:

Hi there,  My daughter just sent me the link below to an article about flax seed.  I am curious as to your thoughts on what this writer expresses.  Birgitta

something to keep in mind, especially with the oil. I’m still going to make the bread and eat it, but I don’t think the
amount of ground flax in there is high enough to make me nervous.

And here is Dr. Myatt’s reply:

Hi Birgitta:

We’ve talked about flax and phytoestrogens before, but here’s the short course.

LOTS of foods have mild estrogenic properties, most of which are protective against stronger estrogens in the environment. And lots of foods have some anti-nutrients. Soy is one of the worst.

At recommended doses these are really "non issues."

Also, there are a long list of things not to do when pregnant; pregnancy is an entire different metabolic circumstance than non-pregnant. Heck, in natural medicine we often use a tablespoon or two of castor oil to stimulate contractions, but yes, any oils might start labor.

All in all, there’s nothing new in this article and nothing that contradicts the way in which I advise people to use flax.

In Health,
Dr. Myatt

Like Dr. Myatt, I reviewed the article – a nice article, but one that looks to be written by a layperson. This person has read a single study from Canada (not a country that is especially friendly toward natural solutions over pharmacology) which offers a rather alarming headline – as seen here:

Pregnant women consuming flaxseed oil have high risk of premature birth

Université de Montréal study looks at the dangers of some natural products

A study has found that the risks of a premature birth quadruple if flaxseed oil is consumed in the last two trimesters of pregnancy. The research was conducted by Professor Anick Bérard of the Université de Montréal’s Faculty of Pharmacy and the Sainte-Justine Hospital Research Center and Master’s student Krystel Moussally.

In Canada, 50 percent of pregnant women take prescription medication. Yet many of them prefer to use natural health products during the pregnancy. "We believe these products to be safe because they are natural. But in reality, they are chemical products and we don’t know many of the risks and benefits of these products contrarily to medication," says Bérard.

Bérard and Moussally set out to conduct one of the largest studies ever undertaken on by analyzing data from 3354 Quebec women. The first part of the research established that close to 10 percent of women between 1998 and 2003 used natural health products during their pregnancy. Before and after pregnancy they were respectively 15 and 14 percent to use these products. The increase means that about a third of women consuming natural health products stopped during the pregnancy.

The most consumed natural health products by pregnant women are chamomile (19 percent), green tea (17 percent), peppered mint (12 percent), and flaxseed oil (12 percent). Bérard and Moussally correlated these products to premature births and only one product had a very strong correlation: flaxseed oil.

"In the general population, the average rate of premature births is 2 to 3 percent. But for women consuming flaxseed oil in their last two trimesters that number jumps up to 12 percent," says Bérard. "It’s an enormous risk."

The correlation existed only with flaxseed oil, yet women consuming the actual seed were unaffected. Even if more studies must be undertaken to verify these results, Bérard recommends caution when it comes to consuming flaxseed oil.

If we read this article carefully we see that the researcher (who is not a doctor but rather a "professor") looks to have a bit of a bias against natural products to begin with. We then see that amounts of flax oil consumed by the subjects of this study are not given and that the risks are increased for those taking this unknown amount during the last few weeks of pregnancy. Finally, there is the somewhat grudging admission that this effect was seen in women consuming this unknown amount of flax oil – and not those using flax seed.

So, I am left to wonder if this effect is the same effect that might be seen with the consumption of any amount of any oil during the late stages of pregnancy. As Dr. Myatt mentioned in her note to Birgitta a couple of tablespoons of castor oil is a time-honored natural way of stimulating the contractions of labor – and  a dose of oil taken too early could possibly stimulate the premature labor of the researchers headline…

The bottom line?

There are two: All things in moderation. And, pregnancy changes the rules – proceed with caution and with the assistance of a good holistic / naturopathic physician to ensure a happy and healthy outcome for all!

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