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Heart Disease overview > Heart Health Q&A >

does flaxseed lower cholesterol?

Q: What can you tell me about the benefits of flaxseed? I have high cholesterol and have tried several medications but stopped taking them because of the side effects, including joint and muscle pain. I'm overweight, but have lost 25 pounds and plan to lose 70 more. I see a dietitian, walk on the treadmill
20 minutes a day, and walk a lot in my job. Will flaxseed lower my cholesterol?

A: Flaxseed contains phytoestrogens (plant chemicals) and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids can help lower triglycerides, a type of blood fat, but are not associated with decreasing LDL ("bad") cholesterol, which clogs your arteries.

The easiest way to get omega-3 fatty acids is to eat fish-preferably a fatty fish, such as salmon-twice a week. Another option is to enjoy foods containing phytoestrogens, including soybeans, tofu, canola oil, and walnuts. However, eating more foods with omega-3 fatty acids is not enough to lower your cholesterol or your risk of heart disease.

You are doing a great job of losing weight and becoming more physically active, which can help lower your cholesterol, but talk to your doctor before stopping prescribed medications. Describe the unpleasant side effects you are experiencing. There may be other medications that will work for you.

Jennifer H. Mieres, M.D., is director of nuclear cardiology and associate professor of clinical medicine at New York University. She’s also a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association.

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