Written by Greg Arnold, DC, CSCS. Mice with polycystic kidney disease, who were given a flaxseed enriched diet, were 5% heavier than placebo group, and had significant reductions in kidney scarring (fibrosis) as well as a 40% decrease in PGE2 ( a protein that increases with decreased kidney function).

Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is a genetic disorder characterized by the growth of numerous cysts in the kidneys which reduce kidney function and result in kidney failure. Kidney failure usually occurs after many years and requires dialysis or kidney transplantation. PKD affects about 600,000 Americans and it’s the fourth leading cause of kidney failure (1). With surgery in the form of kidney transplant as the only option for those with PKD and cost more than $1 billion per year (2), any nutritional options for kidney health are desperately needed.

Now a nutritional option may be available in the form of flaxseed. Flaxseed has a number of consitituents, but the effects found are likely due to its high levels of Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA). In a 2006 study in mice (3), researchers found flaxseed oil to help preserve kidney function in a number of ways in mice with PKD. Flax oil, in amounts of 7% of the diet given to the mice by weight, day was able to protect against the weight loss that is a signature symptom of PKD by keeping the mice nearly 5% heavier in the flax group compared to the placebo group who had PKD (453 vs 430 grams).  Second, PKD mice in the flax group “demonstrated significant reductions” in the physical changes in the kidney normally seen in PKD such as scarring (“fibrosis”) and the presence of white blood cells in the area which signals infection and disease (“macrophage infiltration”). Finally, flax oil resulted in a more than 40% reduction in the release of PGE2, a protein known to increase due to decreased kidney function (4).

These beneficial effects on kidney health by flax oil occurred in varying amounts in the male and female rats, suggesting that gender may play a role in how flax affects kidney health. For the researchers, “Our results generally confirm the benefit of flax derivatives” on kidney health and that “there may be a biologic basis to consider gender as not only a variable in the natural history of illness, but also in the biology of therapeutic strategies.”

Source: Ogborn, Malcolm R., et al. “Effects of flaxseed derivatives in experimental polycystic kidney disease vary with animal gender.” Lipids 41.12 (2006): 1141-1149.

© AOCS Press 2004

Posted July 3, 2009.


  1. “Polycystic Kidney Disease” posted on The National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse website.
  2. “Polycystic Kidney Disease” posted on the Coolware.com website.
  3. Ogborn MR.  Effects of Flaxseed Derivatives in Experimental Polycystic Kidney Disease Vary with Animal Gender.  Lipids 2006; 41(12): 1141-1149.
  4. Ogborn MR.  Dietary conjugated linoleic acid reduces PGE2 release and interstitial injury in rat polycystic kidney disease.  Kidney Int 2003; 64(4): 1214-1221.