Lignans are estrogen like compounds found in many foods, but particularly in flax and sesame seeds, and one hundred percent whole wheat.

Plant cell walls have many phytosterols which are estrogen like substances that are very beneficial to all animals, including us; one of these is the class called lignans.

They are found prolifically in nature. For example, you'll see fields and fields of flax and rapeseed with their beautiful blue, white and yellow flowers in the summer. Most of these foods sadly go to feed animals, folk not knowing that the vital nature of the anti oxidant properties are for us too. Less cancer and pain of arthritis if you keep up a steady, daily amount of these nutrients in your diet.

The other phytoestrogen is a class of compounds called isoflavonoids, found mainly in legumes like green beans and soyabean products; for example, in tofu and also in chickpeas.

Together they are known as phytosterols and phytoestrogens.

Both lignans and isoflavonoids are vital in the diet. If you are not eating them, you can be sure you'll have to be on statin drugs all your life to lower cholesterol. They are an important part of those foods that lower cholesterol naturally. Add to that their anti inflammatory effect and you'll realise the importance of these substances in anyone suffering from chronic pain.


Lignans block the cancerous effect of estrogen on the breast; they are found especially in flax and sesame seeds.

They are also found in whole grain foods. In other words, white bread, cakes and cookies, and pasta made from white flour have little of these compounds. Other high fibre foods like vegetables, salads and fruit are also rich sources of ligs.

Skip the next three paragraphs if you have no chemistry background.

They are phenolic compounds, meaning they have a carbon ring with an OH structure; these phenols are also found in extra virgin olive oil, but have been extracted from the refined olive oils.

Does your olive oil have no burn at the back of the throat? Buy extra virgin next time.

Likewise they have been removed from the seeds in the production of flax and sesame oil too. The rule of thumb is, eat your food as unprocessed as you can.

Then bacteria in the colon break down these organic substances to other forms such as enterodiol which is then absorbed. See the ring and the oxygen and hydrogen groups in the structure above? That's a phenol; just for those with a biochemistry background.

There is a huge amount of research going on worldwide on the value of lignans in the human diet. For example, the German cancer research institute, after deep studies into the nutrients in unrefined olive oil, declares that food having large amounts of them gives protection against prostate, large bowel and breast cancers.

And presumably others too, only these are the ones that have been researched. 

Likewise, Fang and colleagues from the Max Planck Institute have found many glucosinolates and lignans in rapeseed. But they discovered, that when processed into oil, also known as canola, most of the beneficial substances have been removed. Well, that's not entirely true.

Rapeseed for human consumption remains controversial, but canola is rich in omega 3.

For a comprehensive article on the phytosterol lignans and isoflavonoids read the Journal of Nutrition research by JW Lampe in the 2003 edition.  Google it.

So, rather get your antioxidants from your food. There's an embarrassing amount of research coming out that taking them from a bottle actually accelerates cancer. In the January 2014 edition of Scientist, Swedish researchers report that taking vitamin E, for example, actually increases the risk of lung carcinomas.

In your food, there are eight different forms of vitamin E. But in a bottle you usually get the processed variety only, alpha tocopherol. It has some excellent functions, but it also competes with the cancer preventing gamma isomer.

Forget the chemistry, just don't take vitamin E from a bottle; eat whole grains and legumes. A few pole beans in the garden would be a good start this summer.

Study the flax seed nutrition information and you'll see that it's benefits are not only the omega 3 that flaxseed is famous for, but also that it is a rich source of flax hull lignans. Get it? Not in the oil but in the whole flaxseed only.

Just as in the wheat grain, most of the phytonutrients are found in the kernel, so these nutrients in flaxseed are found in the hull. Actually I've never seen dehulled flaxseeds, but if you want flax hull lignans don't buy the flax oil at ten times the cost, don't buy flax hull ligns in a bottle at one hundred times the cost. Grind them yourself, it's so easy.

You want flaxseed oil with ligns? Then order one of the cheapo coffee grinders from Amazon at around twenty dollars and source out raw, whole flaxseed in your neighbourhood. They cost less than a doller per pound here in South Africa. A pound goes a long way, and it takes about ten seconds to whizz the seeds up so that you have the real McCoy; flax hull ligs also the richest vegetable source of omega 3.

Flax seed nutrition information

Flax seed nutrition information tells you what else is in this wonderful seed, most of which goes to animal food, and especially the fibrous lignans. 

A tablespoon of freshly ground fax seed on your muesli every morning is so easy. Add it to your cookie and cake recipes, to your bread baking; it has a very mild, pleasant, nutty flavour. Call it super lignan flax oil, call it flax lignans, whatever, just grind the raw seeds yourself.

Don't eat them whole by the way. Not only will they pass through the intestine untouched but they may get caught in diverticuli.

Flax seed nutrition information will tell you most of what you need to know. 

How to make tahini?

How to make tahini is only for those who have no local Greek or Lebanese shop. It's made from sesame seeds and is so inexpensive that it's not worth making yourself; and I've tried.

Yes, sesame seeds too are a rich source of lignans, but have one tenth of  those in flaxseeds according to Dutch researchers and they too pass through the digestive system untouched unless you grind them. If you want to enjoy a sesame bun, then you have to "fletcherise". Chew each mouthful 32 times to crack the hull so that your digestive enzymes and the bacteria in the colon can get at the goodies inside. They're locked up like the crown jewels in the Tower of London to prevent them oxidising!

I used the same coffee grinder that I use for flaxseed when I wrote this how to make tahini page. Tahini is a paste rich in sesame lignans.

Never heard of tahini? You're missing out.

Tahini is used extensively in Mediterranean cooking, for example in this authentic hummus recipe. Just one of the reasons why the people of the Med have so much less heart disease.

I just love tahini straight on a salad, or on bread instead of peanut butter. Peanuts do have phytosterols too, but a very small amount compared to flax and sesame seed. One three thousandth. 1/3,000. It's all about making sure you're not one in eight women who get breast cancer. Or your husband prostate cancer.

Breast and prostate cancer

Probably the most important reason to include flax and sesame lignans in your diet on a daily basis is their protection against cancer; I now often grind them together because of their anti estrogen properties. By competing with estrogen at receptors in the breast, and effectively blocking these estrogen sites, these phytosterols greatly reduce your risk of cancer. 

The prostate cancer lignan link is now well established; these hormone like plant substances block the noxious effects of testosterone in the prostate gland, for example. But equally important is the lycopene research. Read more about how a tomato a day gives fifty percent protection against the most malignant nasty that men die from. 

Of purely anecdotal value, my doctor phoned recently after a routine PSA test; he was astonished that it was 0.9. That's extremely low for my age said he; I attribute it to the lignans that we eat daily in our wholesome food.

Once again, as a famous heart surgeon recently said, return to the food that your grandmother served, and forget all the lessons that your mother instilled in you about food. He points out that fast foods, supermarket foods are largely deficient in these vital nutrients; worse they are highly inflammatory. Despite all the advice about cholesterol, and the statins folk are taking, when he looks down blood vessels he finds they seem to get redder and more angry every year. That's inflammation for you.

Whilst they are found most abundantly in flax and sesame seeds, they are also in many other foods like beans, broccoli and the brightly coloured fruits like strawberries.

Because there are so many different types, with differing properties, it's important to source them from as many different foodstuffs as you can. Whether it's growing green beans in your own back garden, enjoying tofu nutrition or discovering the interesting facts about strawberries for example, you are investing in a life without cancer.

Queen of the anti cancer table can be easily filled with a lesson on how to grow broccoli.

Here's a small girl tucking into her broccoli soup; it's just delicious. Jup, she is my granddaughter. Incidently, research at Harvard shows that the collagen gelatine extracted from chicken bones makes a powerful anti inflammatory. Chicken bones stock makes the perfect bouillon for your vegetable soups.

The breast and prostate are particularly sensitive to high levels of circulating hormones; enter foods rich in lignans. You can read more about these very serious, and highly prevalent cancers at our breast cancer and prevention page; and prostate gland health.

Chiropractic help

Why on earth on Chiropractic website you may well ask? Good question. Firstly, because it's all about healthy living tips, but secondly it's wearisome in the practice faced with many patients who have aching legs, thinking they need chiropractic for a pinched sciatic or femoral nerve. But no, all they need is to add foods that lower cholesterol to their diet; simply by adding 100 percent wholewheat, with its lignans, helps improve your blood chemistry.

And thirdly, yes it happens at the Chiropractic Coalface occasionally, we have to break the news that the pain is not from a sacroiliac lesion, but from prostate cancer.  Think lignans if you want to sit under those trees you once planted, sipping tea and watching your grandchildren grow up.

Foods that lower cholesterol

Foods that lower cholesterol is a far more interesting subject than foods to avoid high cholesterol.

If you eat your lignans you can have your cholesterol and eat it.

100% whole wheat

The bran in wheat helps prevent colorectal cancer. Research published in the journal of Nutrition indicate that lignans play a part is this inhibition of cancer. Get smart and enjoy it in your 100% whole wheat flour.

Note well, however, that millers are permitted to call their flour "wholemeal" provided no more than 40% of the germ and bran have been removed; all the best parts. Buy only "100%" wholemeal flour. We use it to bake fresh bread every day. If you're serious about bread, buy your own wheat mill; they're expensive. 

These days I'm making mainly a sourdough bread which I find tastier and more digestible. Or make this vegan seed bread variation, and of course use only butter, not margarine, and freshly ground flax.

Useful links

› Lignans

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Interesting challenges of the day

1. Mr S is a 76 year old man with neck pain of some 9 months duration. Luckily, most of the discomfort is upper cervical which is only rarely arthritic; his lower cervical spine is a degenerative mess that I've left alone. After seven treatments his pain and stiffness is 50 percent better, and he's happy in the circumstances. He can sleep through the night now and that makes a huge difference.

2. Mr P is 32 year old man with very severe lower back pain radiating to the big toe which is 30 percent numb. He had an episode three weeks ago, took anti inflammatories and was soon better as is typical of the medial disc herniation. But before it healed, after a trivia it came roaring back, much worse. The characteristic crossed sign was evident; sitting in a chair, straightening the right leg provoked severe left back pain and tingling in the leg. He's doing well.

3. Severe lower back pain is scary; just ask Mrs P. Just watching her get out of the car I she was in trouble; she had a slipped disc at L4 making her lean towards the opposite side; luckily she had no pain in the leg. Despite family pressure that this was far too severe for a chiropractor, she persevered. Within five days she was standing upright, and after two weeks almost painfree. 

Despite a hectic job, she wisely took my advice and stayed home for what I call exercising bed rest.

4. Mr S has had lower back, groin and back of thigh and calf pain for fourth months.

He has a pincer deformity in the hip causing the stabs in the groin, and a degenerative facet causing the sciatica. Both are responding well to chiropractic and he's well pleased; sixty five percent better after three treatments.

5. Mr T is a wise man; he's taken a warning TIA seriously and has lost 15 pounds, and has at least as much again to lose. A change to a low starch diet and half hour daily walk has made the difference; but the walking is making his foot and back miserable. The expensive orthotic is hopeless; luckily his hips and back are fine, but he needs a simple heel lift.

6. I too have had serious lower back issues, luckily fixed by my own chiropractor; so I too have to do my exercises, take care when lifting supers full of honey, gardening and using the chainsaw. Regaining the function of your spine is just as important as the pain.

7. My own granddaughter, only 7 is hypermobile giving her pelvic, knee and ankle issues. Xrays show a mildly dysplastic hip. Years ago we would have called it growing pains. She too regularly needs chiropractic care and luckily responds well. Increased range of motion is more difficult than too stiff in my opinion. Our care is for kids too.

8. This 65 year old lady is a serious gardener; every day she is bending, lifting and digging for 2 to 3 hours a day. It regularly catches her in the sacroiliac joint, so she has a treatment once a month that sorts it out. She does her lower back exercises faithfully.

9. This 88 year old lady is an inspiration; every day she is busy in the community. With a nasty scoliosis she manages very well with a chiropractic adjustment every six weeks and exercises faithfully done.  

10. Mr X is a 71 year old retired man who wants to continue with maintenance care every six to eight weeks; he had suffered from two years of lower back pain when he first came a year ago. He has no discomfort now after 8 chiropractic treatments, but is aware that danger lurks.

11. Mrs C has been having severe headaches, and taking a lot of analgesics. It's a non complicated upper cervical facet syndrome, and she's doing well.

12. Mr D is a 38 old year man with chronic shoulder pain after a rotator cuff tear playing cricket. It responded well to treatment, but he knows he must do his exercises every day; for two years he couldn't sleep on that shoulder.

13. Mr D, a 71 year old man, has a severe ache in the shoulder and midback since working above his head. Trapped nerve tests are negative but he has advanced degenerative joints of Luschka; after just two treatments he is 50 percent better. Can we reach 90?

And so the day goes; chiropractors shouldn't be treating the elderly most medical sites state but that's so much bunkum.

Have a problem that's not getting better? Looking for a different slant on your pain? Want to pose a question?

Interesting questions from visitors

CLS writes:

Greetings, Dr B.
You helped me quite some time back with a soothing and professional response which turned out to be exactly correct. I now consult a local chiropractor. You write a superb newsletter, too.

Your own unresolved problem. Pose a question

Knowing that up to 70% of the time the correct diagnosis is made with no examination, no special tests, no xrays, but just from the history, there's a fair chance I can add some insight to your unresolved problem. But at least 30% of the time, I may be quite wrong! Give plenty of detail if you want a sensible reply.

You visited this chiropractic help site no doubt because you have a problem that is not resolving and want to know more about what chiropractors do.

The quickest and most interesting way is to read one of my ebooks of anecdotes. Described by a reader as gems, both funny and healthful, from the life and work of a chiropractor, you'll love them. Priced right at $2.99, though Kindle fiddles the price without telling me.