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Cyanide Poisoning in Flaxseed?

Don Gauvreau, MSc, CSCS aka, “The Supplement Godfather”

Many consider flaxseeds a superfood, but in reports out of the UK and Europe, scientists warn that eating too much flaxseed could cause cyanide poisoning. Is this accurate? Or is this an embellished claim that draws attention in news headlines? Well, here are the facts. 

Flaxseed, which is also known as linseed, is a rich source of omega-3 fats and fibre. People consume the oil and also the whole and ground-up flaxseeds. Recently, scientists at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published a report warning people that “eating as little as one third of a teaspoon of ground flaxseed can be dangerous for a small child.” It goes on to say that adults could end up getting sick from eating as little as three teaspoons at a time. The EFSA’s report concludes that eating 1.3 grams of ground flaxseed (one third of a teaspoon) could result in dangerous levels of cyanide in a toddler’s body. However, all of the data compiled is based on a “worst case scenario and assumes that the flaxseed being consumed contains high levels of cyanogenic glycoside.” Also, it’s important to note that they’re only concerned with ground-up flaxseeds. When flaxseeds are crushed or ground, their content becomes more accessible to the body, and this increases the risk of getting harmful amounts of hydrogen cyanide.

Since news outlets in the UK reported this news, the EFSA has backed down on its claims and played down the flaxseed and cyanide connection, saying, “EFSA’s opinion does not state that consuming one third of a teaspoon of linseed leads to poisoning. It states that, in a worst-case scenario, one third of ground linseed could lead to reaching the acute reference dose (ARfD).” 

The acute reference dose is an estimated intake of a chemical substance in food, expressed on a body weight basis, that can be ingested over a short period of time, usually during one meal or one day, without posing a health risk. The bottom line is, if you consume flaxseeds (especially ground-up), make sure your source is top quality. Or another great option is to switch over to hemp seeds. In my opinion, hemp seeds are a much better choice than flax.

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