Flax is one of the oldest crops known to man. Even the ancient Egyptians cultivated it extensively.
These days, we don’t see it around much, except in health food stores or the supplement shelves in grocery stores.
So why am I writing about this stuff? Well, flax has some handy properties that someone who loves a dog with cancer might want to know about.
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A little background, if I may. The seed part is most commonly used in nutritional preparations, and you can also find oil. Don’t bother with the oil. It does not have the good stuff you want for this purpose. You want the ground seed itself, specifically the lignan portion of the seed.
Lignans provide strength to plant cells and make them water-tight. They are overall quite safe.
The lignan that seems to be the main player for our purposes is secoisolariciresinol (like some of the readers, I probably will avoid trying to say that twister).
Not that this is active in the body- it’s not.
However, this stuff gets broken down by the microbes in the intestine to a couple of active products in the body (eterolactone and enterodiol). These two have real effects that we like.
These phytoestrogens are the players of interest.
Flaxseed slows the metastasis of of certain kinds of breast cancer cells that were put in mice by 45%. Here is the abstract.
Flaxseed slowed the growth of melanoma cells in mice significantly as well. Check it out for yourself here.
There is also a slew of data on human anti-cancer diets, and flax is one of the ingredients that helps in these diets.
An average dose for a large dog would be roughly 16 grams (approximately half an ounce) of ground flax seed per day. Kind of a big scoop, but if your loved canine is eating well, it would likely be tolerated and maybe even gobbled up happily.
I would definitely consider it for the melanoma dogs, and for those pooches with angry mammary cancers. Discuss with your vet and oncologist of course.
The scientific scrutinizer set will bring up the estrogenic effects of these active phytoestrogens from flax. Yep, kind of like soy and yams, there are some estrogen (female hormone effects).
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Why does it matter? Well, if your dog is spayed and fairly young, there is not much estrogen floating around. Conventional veterinary doctrine states that early spay is best, and thus so is the removal of these baaaaaaaad female hormones from those removed ovaries. You put some flax lignan in the dog, you get baaaaaad estrogens again.
I disagree (in case you didn’t guess). First, young dogs rarely get melanoma or breast cancers. So the effects of these plant estrogens would not be over a typical lifetime, just towards the end of life.
Next, the most aggressive breast cancers in dogs do not usually have the estrogen receptors on their cells (the “lock” that the estrogen “key” fits it, that can turn on growth). No lock for the phytoestrogens to turn on cancer cell growth means no cancer stimulation effect of the flax lignans.
Finally, the dogs with breast cancer are often not spayed. These dogs have natural estrogens in them, which block estrogen receptors in cells. Thus the phytoestrogen key cannot fit in the lock. It already has a key in it.
Anyway, many of you may have gotten bored by now, so I’ll stop. Sorry about that!
Take home message?
Flax is generally safe and can help. We want to attack canine cancer on a lot of levels, like a daisy cutter bomb. This is another way to do it.
Caution is warranted in diabetic dogs (may lower insulin levels needed) and in dogs having or recovering from surgery (some theoretical “blood thinning” effects). Please discuss with your vet or oncologist.
Best to all,
Dr. Demian Dressler is internationally recognized as “the dog cancer vet” because of his innovations in the field of dog cancer management, and the popularity of his blog here at Dog Cancer Blog. The owner of South Shore Veterinary Care, a full-service veterinary hospital in Maui, Hawaii, Dr. Dressler studied Animal Physiology and received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California at Davis before earning his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University. After practicing at Killewald Animal Hospital in Amherst, New York, he returned to his home state, Hawaii, to practice at the East Honolulu Pet Hospital before heading home to Maui to open his own hospital. Dr. Dressler consults both dog lovers and veterinary professionals, and is sought after as a speaker on topics ranging from the links between lifestyle choices and disease, nutrition and cancer, and animal ethics. His television appearances include “Ask the Vet” segments on local news programs. He is the author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Hawaii Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Avian Veterinarians, the National Animal Supplement Council and CORE (Comparative Orthopedic Research Evaluation). He is also an advisory board member for Pacific Primate Sanctuary.
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