By Bob Condor

It is not surprising that South Dakota State University is a leading research center for analyzing the health value of flax seed. The National Agricultural Statistics Service reports that North Dakota is the top state for flax production, followed by Montana, South Dakota and Minnesota.

What’s a bit surprising is that a distinguished professor at South Dakota State, Chandradhar Dwivedi, points to flax meal as potentially superior to flax oil for health purposes. You can buy high-quality flax meal (ground flax seeds) for less than a dollar per pound. Go organic, maybe it sets you back three to four bucks.

Flax oil, in contrast, is pricey—roughly a dollar or so per ounce—because it is more concentrated and extracting oil from flax seeds is a more costly proposition.

What Dwivedi found is that flax meal offers something you can’t replicate in flax oil. In animal studies, Dwivedi shows evidence that both flax meal and flax oil can help prevent colon cancer cell growth. The next step was to compare flax meal and flax oild

“I did research first on flaxseed oil, which has roughly 58 percent of [healthy] omega-3 fatty acids,” says Dwivedi, head of pharmaceutical sciences in the College of Pharmacy at South Dakota State. “It prevented colon cancer development in mice.

“Then I got further into flax research and looked at flaxseed meal. Flaxseed meal has omega-3 fatty acids, just as in flaxseed oil, but at the same time it has a chemical known as lignan. Lignans also have been reported to be cancer chemopreventive. Flaxseed meal has lignan plus omega-3s. It's much better than flaxseed oil.”

Dwivedi presented his findings at a Flax Institute meeting in Fargo in March. He said flax producer organizations are willing to fund the next wave of flax meal studies. The goal is t

o see whether the lignans in flax meal might not only prevent cancer but be used to treat it in patients already diagnosed with colon cancer.

While Dwivedi is a respected scientist, he is far from reluctant to use intuition. He originally started his flax research because his family cooked with mustard oil when Dwivedi growing up in northeastern India.

“In our homes, most of the cooking was done in mustard oil,” he explains. “In that area [of India] the incidence of cardiovasulcar disease and cancer was very low. So in the back of our minds we had the idea for generations that mustard must be good for you. When I got into science and research, I became curious about what is in mustard. I found out it has omega-3 fats, which makes up about 24 percent of mustard oil.”

Problem: The mustard we use as a condiment in the U.S. has been processed to remove the omega-3 fats. We are taking out the best part of the plant.

Dwivedi realized this limitation and looked for another plant source of omega-3s to protect the heart, colon and other major organs. He thinks he has found it in flax. At a dollar to four dollars per pound—that’s a lot of flax when a tablespoon or two in your cereal, smoothie, salad dressing or soup stock is a potent daily amount—who’s to argue?

“Bob Condor is the Daily Health Blogger for Barton Publishing. He is also the Living Well columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He covers natural health and quality of life issues and writes regularly for national magazines, including Life, Esquire, Parade, Self, and Outside. He is a former syndicated health columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of six books, including “The Good Mood Diet” and “Your Prostate Cancer Survivors' Guide.” He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and two 11-year-old kids.”