Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of mortality and morbidity worldwide. The inclusion of functional foods and natural health products in the diet are gaining increasing recognition as integral components of lifestyle changes in the fight against cardiovascular disease. Several preclinical and clinical studies have shown the beneficial cardiovascular effects of dietary supplementation with flaxseed. The cardiovascular effects of dietary flaxseed have included an antihypertensive action, antiatherogenic effects, a lowering of cholesterol, an anti-inflammatory action, and an inhibition of arrhythmias. Its enrichment in the ω-3 fatty acid α-linolenic acid and the antioxidant lignan secoisolariciresinol diglucoside as well as its high fiber content have been implicated primarily in these beneficial cardiovascular actions. Although not as well recognized, flaxseed is also composed of other potential bioactive compounds such as proteins, cyclolinopeptides, and cyanogenic glycosides, which may also produce biological actions. These compounds could also be responsible for the cardiovascular effects of flaxseed. This article will not only summarize the cardiovascular effects of dietary supplementation with flaxseed but also review its bioactive compounds in terms of their properties, biological effects, and proposed mechanisms of action. It will also discuss promising research directions for the future to identify additional health-related benefits of dietary flaxseed.
Keywords: cardiovascular disease; flaxseed; functional foods; natural health products; α-linolenic acid.