Plant lignans, of which flaxseed is a particularly good source, are converted into enterodiol and enterolactone in the colon. There is some evidence that enterolactone, a phytoestrogen, may have a beneficial effect on prostate health, bone health, breast health, menopause symptoms, heart health, hair loss, acne and inflammation.
The increasing number of positive studies is driving sales. The market is currently dominated by Acatris' SDG (secoisolariciresinol diglucoside) flax lignan.
"SDG, the main flax lignan has been part of the human diet for centuries. It's bioavailability and health benefits are well documented," said Jocelyn Mathern, technical specialist for Acatris Inc Canada during the Functional Foods & Nutraceuticals (FF&N) web-based seminar "Focus on Flax Lignans and the EFA Category".
"The number of products including standardized flax lignans and targeting specific health benefits have seen tremendous growth in the last four to five years including products focusing on women's health, prostate health and breast health," said Mathern.
Kelley Fitzpatrick from Flax Canada echoed this view. Fitzpatrick said that North American growth in the specialty supplement category including flax lignan products is up 8.1 percent overall in 2004 over 2003 to more than $2.9 bn in annual sales in 2004, and Fitzpatrick expected 2005 to demonstrate continued growth.
Acatris' impressive sales figures back up these data. Between March 1 and October 1, 2005 sales of Acatris' LinumLife EXTRA product, said to be the first flax extract with a standardized 20% lignan concentration, increased by 300 per cent from the entire sales figures for 2004.
Flax lignans may face a challenge from a newcomer to the market, however - Linnea's HMRlignan (7-hydroxymatairesinol) from Norway spruce bark, said to be suitable for stand-alone or multi ingredient supplements since only a small dose is needed - between 10 to 40mg are claimed to elevate the enterolactone level to the same degree as three tablespoons of lignans from unground flax seed, and with higher bioavailability.
This economy in formulation of HMRlignan is also said to knock down the daily dosage cost to around 30 to 40 percent that of other sources of lignans.