Saturday Feb 04, 2023

Linseed Oil

What do painters, woodworkers and doctors have in common? They’ve all come to appreciate the wonders of linseed oil. It’s weird how the same oil can be used to improve your health and act as a wood finish or paint binder at the same time. Well, linseed oil isn’t your typical oil.

Linseed or flaxseed oil is extracted from flax seeds which are grown in cooler climates all over the world. Now technically, there is a difference between the words flaxseed oil and linseed oil but most people don’t differentiate between them. We’ll get to that in a bit, anyways. Back to flax seeds. These seeds are one of the oldest grown crops on the planet. In Latin they’re called “Linum Usitatisimum”. The second word, which is the species, literally translates to “the most useful”. So even ancient civilizations knew of the countless uses of this oil.



Flax seeds are typically either brown or yellow. They undergo a bunch of processes to give the flaxseed or linseed oil we use. And that’s where it matters. Depending on the process you put these seed through, they’ll give you one of the two oils. The main difference between these two oils is that linseed is mainly for industrial purposes while flaxseed is mainly for human consumption. So why does the process matter so much? If you take the seeds and extract the oil by any form of pressing except cold pressing, the end product is linseed oil. During extraction the heat involved breaks down and changes many healthy components in the oil. Since these components are gone or rendered useless, what’s the point in using the oil for human consumption? As for flaxseed oil, it’s extracted by cold pressing. You probably guessed it. Cold pressing means no heat. So healthy components stay intact making it beneficial to us.


A third type of oil, if you really want to get to technical, is food grade linseed oil. It’s an alternative to flaxseed oil but somewhat less beneficial. It’s mainly used as an ingredient added to dishes, drinks and some recipes. However, you should never use it, or any of the three oils, as cooking oil. Why? Because they have a very low smoke point. What that means is at around 225 degrees Fahrenheit, they begin to smoke and burn, giving an unpleasant odor and taste to food. Not only that, but their healthy components break down into hazardous ones. Most people, even some pharmaceutical companies, don’t usually tell the difference between the three types of oil. So to avoid confusion, let’s just stick to the word linseed oil for now.


Uses of Linseed Oil


Let’s start with the industrial uses. Linseed oil is used in paint formulas and wood finish products. That’s because it dries up not only slowly, but also at a uniform rate. That means you won’t find the paint partially wet in some areas, while others are dry. As for wood, it gives it a nice glow. The linseed oil doesn’t stick on the surface or leave any residue. Instead, it seeps deep into the wood and strengthens it. Strong on the inside, smooth and glowing on the outside. It’s the perfect wood finish.


Woodworkers especially love linseed oil when they’re dealing with pine or poplar. These types of wood can be difficult to predict when adding a color to them. You can end up with streaks, blotches or simply uneven layers. So they take some linseed oil, add some turpentine (ratio one to one) and apply it to the wood 24 hours before painting or staining it. What this combination does is increase the cohesion between the wood and the coloring material. Any large pores or knots will accept the paint evenly and smoothly. Basically it works as a wood conditioner but much cheaper than commerical versions.


If you’re a painter who lives in hot or humid areas, you know how long it can take for some paints to dry up. So if you’re working with enamel or oil-based paint, add some linseed oil. As a natural drying agent, it’ll help speed up the drying process and bind the enamel paint. The great thing is you can use it repeatedly. Let’s say you’re painting several individuals coats or layers. Why wait hours for each coat to dry? Just add some linseed oil in between each layer to save time.


So let’s say you’re not a painter. Or a woodworker. You simply care about your furniture. Then you’d use linseed oil to protect it from termites and woodworms. By itself, it can’t kill them. But add in a few drops of orange peel and watch your termite problem go away. It even protects your furniture from recurrent invasions.


Termites aren’t the only threat to your furniture. It can just as easily be damaged by too much water. To avoid that, apply a layer of linseed oil, which has water resistant properties. In fact, this water resistance is actually put to many uses. Some people apply it to their bicycles to get rid of rustiness and that old-bicycle look. To do that, apply a thin layer of linseed oil and let it dry in the shade, not the sun. It’ll look shiny and practically brand new.


What if you want to protect something from water, but can’t apply the oil directly to it? Happens a lot with valuable or fragile items. Simply get a linen cloth and soak it in a generous amount of linseed oil. You’ve just made your own waterproof material. Wrap your item with it. Moisture won’t get in.


Linseed oil is also used as a light-duty polish for furniture. Add a little water to the linseed oil (ratio one to one) and spray it onto your wooden furniture. Do this two to three times a week. This’ll keep your furniture glossy and smooth without clogging the pores that your  furniture needs to breathe.


Do you have any cookware from years back that you haven’t used? It probably needs seasoning, right? Sure, Teflon coated cookware doesn’t let anything stick to it, but with age, some cookware become frustrating. So use some linseed oil, or more specifically this time, food grade linseed oil. Apply a layer and let it dry. Now it’s non-sticky, easy to clean and practically brand new.


Before we get to the health related uses, there’s one more. Leather conditioning. You may not care much about paint or furniture. Some people don’t even care about their health. But when it comes to your clothing, you draw the line. Especially those expensive leather shoes or that brown leather jacket you keep in the back of your closet. Even that leather belt you use everyday, you don’t want it to be ruined. Well here’s a solution. Get a cotton pad and put a few drops of linseed oil on it. Use it to clean the leather. The linseed oil will basically seal up the leather and make it much stronger but softer to the touch. So don’t worry about your clothing getting wrecked, linseed oil has your back.



Health-related uses

Wood, paint, polish, all these things aren’t as important as your body. If your goal is therapeutic, linseed oil will still deliver. It’s beneficial to your heart, gastrointestinal system, skin, hair, nails, fertility, blood pressure, inflammation and much more. Almost too good to be true? It’s all thanks to the components of linseed oil. These components are :


-Alpha-linolenic acid

-Linoleic acid

-Oleic acid

-Palmitic acid

-Stearic acid

-Palmitoleic acid

-Eicosenoic acid

-Arachidic acid

-Other components


You’ve probably realized there are a lot of acids. These are all fatty acids. Some are called “essential” and some are “non-essential”. What’s the difference? Well, the essential fatty acids are ones your body can’t manufacture on its own. That means you have to supply them from the outside, either by ingestion or topically. They’re also not used as fuel but rather, for body functions. The non-essential fatty acids are the ones your body can manufacture and partially use as fuel. You still need to take them externally of course, just with lower amounts.


Linseed oil is rich in both essential and non-essential fatty acids. Alpha-linolenic acid is one of the essentials. It’s actually the most important of all the components. Alpha linolenic acid (ALA) is an omega-3 fatty acid. You’ve probably heard that they’re good for you. Foods that are rich in omega-3 are more expensive and always being promoted by health and fitness gurus. Why? It’s simple. They’re beneficial to almost every inch of your body.


Let’s start with inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids quell inflammation. They inhibit an enzyme in your body called cyclooxygenase (COX), which is responsible for inflammatory mediators. If the inflammation is associated with lupus, the joints, skin and kidneys are often inflamed. Linseed oil reduces this and also helps lower cholesterol levels that are often elevated in lupus patients. For those who have gout, linseed helps to reduce the pain and swelling. It’s also beneficial for women suffering from fibrocystic breasts.  They often have low levels of iodine in their blood. The omega-3 fatty acids help with inflammation and also enhance the absorption of iodine.


Those 3 disease are too specific. Not everyone has gout or lupus or fibrocystic breasts. But everyone has a heart. And that heart is one of the most important and commonly diseased organs in your body. Linseed oil was proven in many studies to protect you from heart diseases by lowering your cholesterol levels. It also helps regulate your blood pressure. High blood pressure and high cholesterol levels are among the leading causes of heart failure and many other heart diseases. By doing these two things, it helps prevent them, especially angina which causes severe chest pain. Its anti-inflammatory properties also help prevent reactions that cause artery-thickening and poor circulation. This way, your blood pressure won’t get too high and your heart will stay healthy.


Let’s move downwards a bit. Right below your heart is your gastrointestinal (GI) system. What can linseed oil do for it? One word. Constipation. It acts a mild natural laxative. You can take a teaspoon of the oil with milk, a smoothie or any form of liquid and it’ll relieve the constipation in no time. It can also help with haemorrhoids and diverticular disease. In case of diverticular disease, linseed oil keeps your intestinal pouches free from waste and therefore acts as prophylaxis of infection. Its anti-inflammatory properties are also great for inflammatory bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease. And for those at risk of developing or already have gallstones, linseed oil prevents and dissolves them.


Keep going down. A few inches below the GI system is the reproductive system. Let’s see what linseed oil does for males and females. Well, ladies first. Linseed oil contains two important substances: lignans and phytoestrogens. They have hormone-balancing properties. By regulating the estrogen-progesterone ratio, they can have a positive effect on the menstrual cycle. This includes reducing menstrual cramps, improving menstrual symptoms and relieving hot flashes of perimenopause and menopause. Linseed oil also helps with fertility by improving uterine function. As for the essential fatty acids in linseed oil, they have the ability to inhibit the synthesis of prostaglandins. Excessive prostaglandins can cause the heavy bleeding associated with endometriosis. So basically, linseed oil helps with menopause, menstruation, infertility and endometriosis.


As for men, they’re often liable to prostate inflammation and swelling. Especially with age. This can even complicate into a disease called benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH). Some symptoms appear when you have a swollen or enlarged prostate such as frequent and urgent urination. That’s where the anti-inflammatory properties of linseed oil come in. By taming this inflammation, it provides effective treatment for the swelling as well as the symptoms. The essential fatty acids also play a role in male fertility. They keep sperm healthy and enhance blood flow to male reproductive organs which makes them perfect for treating infertility and impotence.


That’s enough for the inside of the body, let’s move to the outside. To some, they’re the most important parts. Your skin, hair and nails. When you’re not taking enough omega-3 fatty acids, your hair tends to dry up and lose its luster. The same goes for your nails. They can become dry, brittle, cracked or start to split. By taking enough essential fatty acids, you can revitalize and nourish your hair and nails.


When it comes to skin, it’s a bit tricky to keep it healthy. Several factors take part in that vibrant, healthy skin you strive for. Hydration is one. That’s easy. Drink enough water and apply moisturizers and oils to keep the water in. The second factor is collagen and elastin levels. Your skin needs an adequate amount of collagen and elastin to be elastic, soft and younger-looking. That’s because collagen is the backbone of your skin. It supports it, giving it its shape. As for elastin, it’s the one responsible for skin elasticity. It’s the reason an old man’s skin doesn’t snap back as fast as a child’s when pulled. Long story short, these two are important. Essential fatty acids work to promote proper collagen levels and also preserve the elastin in your skin. What more could your skin ask for?


Besides ageing, other skin problems are common like psoriasis, rosacea and eczema. These are associated with red, itchy skin patches. Again, the anti-inflammatory properties save the day. And if you get sunburned, don’t wait forever for it to heal. Spray some linseed oil on it and watch the fatty acids boost its healing process.


Now what about the most important skin problem that we all hate? Acne. It has a lot of triggers and causative factors but the main mechanism through which we develop acne is simple. We have glands in our skin called the sebaceous glands. They secrete sebum, a natural oily substance meant for lubricating hair and skin. Sometimes, these glands secrete too much sebum. All this excessive sebum accumulates with dead skin cells that are already there and clog up your pores. With the pores not breathing properly, it’s ideal for acne. Bacteria also thrive in this medium of excessive oil and dead cells. So how do you get rid of acne? Stop the sebum overproduction. That’s exactly what linseed oil does.

As you can tell by now, the omega-3 fatty acids are an absolute necessity. And the greatest thing about linseed oil is it that’s one of the richest sources -if not the richest- of alpha-linolenic fatty acid. Now as great as this oil is, nothing is perfect. You still have to be cautious in certain cases. For example, if you’re already taking blood pressure lowering medication, cholesterol lowering medication or NSAIDS (non-steroids anti-inflammatory drugs) then you might want to check with your doctor. You don’t want too many things doing the same job. Also, don’t be too generous with the dose for constipation. It can just as easily turn into diarrhea. Other than that, linseed oil is generally considered safe and recommended by many doctors. So remember whether you’re a woodworker, a painter or simply someone looking to improve their health, linseed oil has your back.


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