Eating Flaxseed

Flaxseed Miracle? Sorry, Not Really

UPDATE: Sometime after we published this report at 6am on June 7, the journal editor retracted the original publication in question below. Good decision. Click here for the retraction notice.

Flaxseed, if you believe health reporting, is pretty much a health food miracle. The Food Revolution Network is serving up “70 Health Reasons to Eat More Flaxseed.” will sell you on 9 Fantastic Benefits of Flaxseed. You can find suggestions that it’s good for everything from constipation to obesity and more. A 2015 study published in Nutrition Journal concluded that:

This study suggests that flaxseed added to a weight loss diet could be an important nutritional strategy to reduce inflammation markers such as CRP and TNF-α.

These are impressive findings that turn out to be false. Writing in response to this study, Rositsa Dimova and David Allison report that:

The conclusions of Cassani et al. in the January 2015 issue of Nutrition Journal cannot be substantiated by the analysis reported nor by the data themselves…The conclusions of the paper are invalid. A correct analysis of the data shows no such effects.

The original authors reply:

After reading the article by Bland and Altman and reviewing the statistical analyses, all authors agree that this study does not allow us to conclude that there was decrease in the blood levels of CRP and TNF-alpha that could be attributed to flaxseed.

We hope that the errors in the statistical analysis will be seen as an honest mistake for which we sincerely apologize.

The sincere apology, however, did not include a retraction of the original publication, which remained in the literature, having been cited  by ten other publications. It was just sitting there in PubMed to mislead the unwary.

So far, it seems that constipation is the only thing for which flaxseed has been shown to work. A review of available evidence published by the Mayo Clinic states that no evidence exists to support 26 other possible uses for flaxseed and its oil.

Nutrition Journal should enforce a higher standard. Papers with unreliable findings, such as this one, should be withdrawn from publication.

Click here for the original paper. Click here for the analysis by Dimova and Allison.

Eating Flaxseed, photograph © dubh / flickr

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June 7, 2016

5 Responses to “Flaxseed Miracle? Sorry, Not Really”

  1. June 07, 2016 at 7:04 am, Al Lewis said:

    At least they apologized. Aetna was caught lying about claims that they could take employees’ DNA, tell them whether they had an obesity gene, and if they did have the obesity gene, they would be more likely to lose weight. It turned out all their data self-invalidated and an editorial advisor to the journal (Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine) said it never should have passed peer review, but Aetna doubled down and pushed it out some more.

    • June 07, 2016 at 7:54 am, Ted said:

      Apology is a lost art, I’m afraid. Thanks, Al!

  2. June 08, 2016 at 11:46 am, Allen Browne said:

    The information superhighway can be a misinformation super highway. We all need to be alert. And we all need to be willing to put good information on the highway.

  3. June 08, 2016 at 5:24 pm, Kathryn Kaiser said: is the retraction notice for the original article by Cassani et al.

    • June 08, 2016 at 8:32 pm, Ted said:

      Excellent, Kathryn. Thanks for the update.