According to a new study published in the journal BMC Cancer, flaxseed may protect against the damaging effects of radiation.
Mice that ate flaxseed either before or up to six weeks after receiving a large radiation dose to the chest were more likely to survive and had fewer lung problems than mice not given flaxseed. Four months after receiving radiation, up to 88 percent of mice that ate flaxseed were still alive, compared with just 40 percent of mice who did not eat flaxseed.
Not only is flaxseed something that can be easily administered in large amounts, but it also provides many additional health effects, particularly from the omega 3 fatty acids.
Radiation can be present for many reasons, hazardous materials incidents, terroristic events, nuclear breakdowns, and so on. One type of lung injury that can follow is called fibrosis, in which scar tissue prevents the lung from being able to expand normally during breathing. This injury can also occur in lung cancer patients who have received too much radiation during treatment.
The mice in the new study received a single dose of radiation equivalent to getting about 10,000 X-rays, or what a cancer patient might receive over an entire course of radiation treatment. One group of mice ate a diet of 10 percent flaxseed before radiation. In people, this would be the equivalent of eating four tablespoons of whole-grain flaxseed per day. Other mice were given that amount of flaxseed two, four or six weeks after radiation. A control group ate no flaxseed.
Aside from having a better chance of surviving, the mice that ate flaxseed also lost less weight and had a lower risk of inflammation and fibrosis than those who didn't eat flaxseed.
The researchers said they aren't sure how flaxseed mitigates radiation's effects. Most DNA damage occurs immediately after a radiation exposure, but flaxseed may prevent the body from reacting in an abnormal way to the radiation, and thus causing further damage, Cengel said.
It's possible providing flaxseed to lung cancer patients before radiation treatment could allow doctors to increase the radiation dose without increasing the risk of injury, Elsayyad said. "That could translate to better cure rates with radiation," he said.
It is uncertain about whether these results would be duplicated in humans, but there is reason to believe that they will be the same.