How to Treat Constipation With Flaxseed

Two scoopers filled with crushed and whole flaxseeds.
Two scoopers filled with crushed and whole flaxseeds. (Image: Magone/iStock/Getty Images)

Constipation is a common problem in the United States, affecting nearly 42 million people, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. While you're probably familiar with the laxative effects of prunes when dealing with constipation, you may be less familiar with how flaxseeds and flaxseed oil can also help improve bowel regularity. Consult your doctor if suffering from chronic constipation.

What's in Flaxseed

Flaxseeds are rich in a number of nutrients that are good for your health, including essential omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, iron and a number of the B vitamins. Flaxseeds are also a good source of fiber, containing 2 grams of fiber per tablespoon in the ground seed and 3 grams per tablespoon of the whole.

But it's not just the fiber in flaxseeds that helps alleviate constipation. The seed also contains a gummy substance called mucilage that expands in water, adding bulk to your stool to ease its passage through your digestive tract.

Flaxseed and Constipation

If you're adding flaxseeds to your diet to improve constipation, both the whole or ground seed work, according to the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. To get more of the nutritional benefits out of the flaxseeds, however, you should consider the ground seeds over the whole seed, says Grinding the flaxseed makes it easier to digest and helps ensure you get the fiber you need to alleviate constipation. You also get the nutritional benefits of the omega-3s and lignans out of the ground seeds that you don't get when the seeds are eaten whole.

To prevent any additional abdominal pain, or worsening of your constipation, make sure you drink plenty of water when adding high-fiber foods like flaxseeds to your diet.

Flaxseed Oil, Too

It's not only the seeds that alleviate constipation, but flaxseed oil may help as well. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Renal Nutrition found that flaxseed oil was as effective at relieving constipation in hemodialysis patients as mineral oil. The researchers also reported an improvement in stool consistency and elimination in the participants taking the flaxseed oil.

While flaxseed oil may be effective at relieving constipation, it's important to note that the oil is not a source of fiber. You cannot cook with flaxseed oil, and to prevent the oil from turning rancid, keep it refrigerated.

Adding Flaxseed to Your Diet

You can find both whole and ground flaxseeds at most grocery stores. Due to the volatility of the nutrients in ground flaxseeds, the University of Maryland Medical Center suggests grinding your own seeds and using them within 24 hours to get the most benefits. Otherwise, look for ground flaxseeds in mylar packaging, which offers some protection against nutrient loss.

Add ground flaxseeds to your hot cereal or yogurt at breakfast. They also blend well in smoothies. In addition, you can add ground seeds to baked goods such as muffins or quick breads for extra fiber.

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