Cold-pressed flax seed oil and ground flax seed are at the forefront of the emerging health food market. The ingredients attracting most interest are polyunsaturated fatty acids (Omega 3, 6 and 9) and seed husk lignans (secoisolariciresinol diglucoside (SDG)). The former have anti-oxidant effects with a potential to protect cells from the free-radicals generated through metabolic processes. Flax has an exceptionally high lignan content, the principle one being SDG.
These phytoestrogens have been suggested to have beneficial hormone-modulating qualities that could have an inhibitory role against tumour formation, and in the prevention of the generation of new blood vessels in existing tumours. Like polyunsaturated acids, SDG can also quench cell damaging free-radicals. Work by Dr Mikhalovska has shown that SDG is non-toxic to renal cells (the most sensitive to extraneous factors) in an in vitro model. She is now investigating whether SDG has any cyto-protective effects on these cells when they are exposed to free-radicals. In addition,
Dr Mikhalovska has also obtained very encouraging data demonstrating the inhibition of autophagy in Hela (tumour) cells in vitro, by SDG. Autophagy is a mechanism where cells induce their own enzyme-mediated digestion. In normal circumstances this process can prevent the onset of disease (e.g. cancer) by removing abnormal cells from the body. However, in established tumour cells, autophagy can compromise drug treatments by shielding neighbouring tumour cells from chemotherapeutics drugs. Thus, careful targeting of anti-autophagic agents (such as SDG) could augment anti-tumour chemotherapy. Currently, chloroquine is being tested in clinical trials for this purpose.
However, SDG may be more effective since it is able to block autophagy at two different stages of the process compared with one for chloroquine. Research at PABS has also shown that SDG is an efficient binder of metals. Dr Flavia Fucassi and Dr Peter Cragg used mass spectrometry to elucidate binding constants for SDG against target metals. The findings indicated that dietary flax SDG could have sufficient metal affinity properties for extracting accumulated toxic heavy metals from the body. Alternatively, modified SDG could be used for the oral delivery of the trace metal, copper, which is essential in the body’s biosynthesis of neurotransmitters, and thus, a functional nervous system.