British Journal of Nutrition

Research Article

Exposure to purified lignan from flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum) alters bone development in female rats

Wendy E. Warda1, Yvonne V. Yuana2, Angela M Cheunga3 and Lilian U. Thompsona1 c1

a1 Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario M5S 3E2, Canada

a2 School of Nutrition, Ryerson Polytechnic University, Toronto, Ontario M5B 2K3, Canada

a3 Osteoporosis Program, Department of Medicine, University Health Network & Mount Sinai Hospital, Toronto, Ontario


Due to the potential oestrogenic effects of secoisolariciresinol diglycoside (SDG), the mammalian lignan precursor in flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum), we hypothesized that exposure to purified SDG during early life would have a positive effect on developing bone. This present study determined whether exposure to SDG purified from flaxseed during suckling via mother's milk or continuously to adolescence (postnatal day (PND) 50) or adulthood (PND 132) increased bone mineral content (BMC) or bone strength in female rat offspring. Offspring were exposed to basal diet (BD) or one of two doses of SDG (50S, 100S) equivalent to that in a 50 or 100 g flaxseed/kg diet during lactation only or through to PND 50 or 132. At PND 50 and 132, femurs were analysed for BMC by dual energy X-ray absorptiometry and biomechanical strength by a 3-point bending test. Compared with BD group, rats exposed to continuous 50S or 100S diet had stronger femurs at PND 50 without changes in BMC. At PND 132 there were no differences in femur strength despite the fact that continuous exposure to BD resulted in a higher (P<0·05) BMC than rats exposed to 100S during lactation only or to 50S or 100S during lactation through to adulthood. In conclusion, female rat bone is more sensitive to the oestrogen-like action of lignans during early life when endogenous levels of sex hormones are low, but by adulthood the improved bone strength does not persist. Importantly, exposure to purified lignan does not have negative effects on bone strength.

(Received October 11 2000)

(Revised April 26 2001)

(Accepted June 07 2001)


c1 *Corresponding author: Dr Lilian U. Thompson, fax +1 416 978 5882, email