I won’t get too deep into the weeds with why I began, but as part of an effort to eat more healthy in the last part of 2021, I started added ground flaxseeds to my salads. I’d sprinkle it in some other things, too, while I was cooking. After weeks of misery, it turned out this the WORST thing I could have done. Please be aware that flaxseed has both great benefits and tremendous risks. Read on to learn more!
As the calendar turned to January and my commitment to choose better food amped up, my salad consumption increased to 3-4 lunches per week. I also gave up some other things like alcohol and coffee and limited many others, like processed foods and dairy. Each time I ate one, I’d sprinkle unmeasured heaping mounds of ground flaxseed over my salad. By the end of January, my progress frustrated me — I really didn’t feel great but try very hard to stay optimistic so I tried hard not to complain! — but committed to keep going. In February, I was drinking again — only one drink a few evenings a week — and as my digestion felt miserable; it was the first thing to go.
One Saturday night during family movie night I got hit with an “attack.” Someone with food allergies knows exactly what I’m talking about. My digestion was painful. I was doubled over. Sharp pains were making it hard to take a deep breath, talk or concentrate on being present in the room with my family. I KNEW exactly what it was. It was as if I’d consumed gluten, my arch nemesis that I go a decade back with, except I had not. (Side note: After healing my gut the last two years, I found I could eat gluten again, so I had eaten over the last year cumulatively but not a lot in one sitting ever. But I had had none because I had been feeling a bit “off” for weeks at this point.)
For those with celiac disease and allergies, it can take months to clear gluten. At my last allergy testing, I was negative for wheat and gluten and negative for celiac disease. As a food sensitivity sufferer, even a little gluten wouldn’t affect me this long. So I figured it was a new sensitivity. But what?
I used the internet to search for answers. We were eating more protein and fats and less carbs. So I figured maybe I had gallbladder disease (totally runs in my family and early tests have showed I may have a slow gallbladder). I ordered bile salts, switched out some other foods and committed to more anti-inflammatories including, you guessed, flaxseed.
After only one week on the first day of using bile salts, I had the mother of all attacks that should have sent me to the emergency room. I always prided myself on having food sensitivities that were “just” pain — never involving vomiting or diarrhea or any bowel movement change at all in fact. This time, I was experiencing nausea, vomiting AND diarrhea — incredibly painful diarrhea. It was tormenting! My family stood around me and prayed the attack would end. It did.
I called my doctor. Tests were scheduled and performed rapidly. Even given my history and my acknowledgement, nobody ever explored my diet with me, one of the great disservices in modern medicine.
I cleaned up my diet again, peeling way back to eating the same things over and over. No attacks, but constant painful digestion and either constipation or diarrhea each day with no clue which it might be. I had migraines nearly every morning, a big indicator of a food sensitivity for me. My energy was so low, I only wanted my bed or couch, and that’s not like me at all! I missed several dog walks when the weather was freezing or icy. I was concerned I didn’t have the strength to navigate around ice and might slip. I felt my brain was functioning at half its capacity. I couldn’t remember things. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t write, which made me miserable, plus I wanted to track my food and symptoms but it took every once of energy just to prepare my meals. And my husband did dinner every night, diligently cooking vegetables in water only as to not offend my gut.
All my medical tests of my pancreas and gallbladder came back negative. There wasn’t much they suggested I do. I was okay with that. I made an appointment already to see a digestive specialist in chiropractic/acupuncture that wouldn’t be until the end of March. I wondered if I’d survive that long.
Toward the end of the fourth week of the worst of it, I was eating my morning oatmeal and began thinking of the flaxseeds. It was one of the most constant things through every phase. I was increasing the amount. I had only heard positive things about how wonderful it is. I’ve read these things and heard them from doctors I trust.
Turns out, flaxseeds have a dark side. For one, they naturally mess with digestion because it’s one of their functions. They can really help if you suffer from constipation because they are high in fiber. Some websites even mention you might want to “start slow” with flaxseeds. I’d never heard that before, and it’s certainly not on the packaging. I have never been one to need extra fiber, so that was the first clue it could be problematic for me.
The second clue was that it’s high on the list of problematic foods for people who suffer from food sensitivities. That’s me! And last, they are listed by Endo Empowered on at top three list of foods women with endometriosis (also me!) should NOT eat, alongside gluten and soy products, which I already react to.
My anxiety was super high. ALL of my tools were not working. That’s usually a big indicator for me that there’s something else in the system of my body that’s not working correctly. Deep breathing, yoga, light therapy, meditation, and prayer DO HELP! And they helped me survive the day-to-day while I worked on understanding the mystery. But they cannot overcome an anxiety that has a root cause in a physical issue.
Food is medicine, which means it can also be a disease. Almost always there’s an answer that lies in food. But while you work and wait to figure it out, focus on tools for alleviating stress because that will help ease some of the inflammation. I’m here to help with loads of resources on stress! I even offer light therapy sessions locally to help balance the nervous system. (I have a rental and sales program for lights, too. Check out my shop.)
I cannot tell you how much my faith and my lights helped me during these four weeks. My emotional health was honestly great! It had its limits that mirrored my energy, but I was optimistic and joking even during some of the hardest moments. I know that wasn’t of me but from the Lord.
So that’s my story. Many, many people still find flaxseeds very beneficial. But I feel like there are enough reasons that it’s problematic that I need to raise awareness about it. That’s one reason I blog — to educate, inspire, and coach others in ways to deal with stress.