Sesamin: a protective lignan found in sesame seeds

 Unhulled sesame seeds are rich in calcium as well as several forms of vitamin E.  Natural forms of vitamin E such as those found in sesame seeds are thought to have anti-aging properties, and sesame consumption is known to raise plasma levels of tocopherols (vitamin E) in humans.1 Sesame seeds display high antioxidative capacity and inhibit the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, especially black sesame seeds, which have triple the phenol antioxidant content of white sesame seeds.2

Research is accumulating on sesamin, the most abundant antioxidant in sesame seeds.  Sesamin is a lignan – a class of phytoestrogen with antioxidant activity.  Flaxseeds, chia seeds and sesame seeds are the richest sources of lignans.3

In human studies, sesamin has been previously shown to have cholesterol-lowering , antihypertensive, and antioxidative effects.Consumption of sesame seeds has also been found to result in decreased total and LDL cholesterol and oxidative stress, and increased sex hormone binding globulin concentrations, which could have implications for prevention of hormonal cancers.5

In cell culture studies, sesamin has been found to have these protective biological activities:

  •  Suppression of angiogenic activity (formation of new blood vessels) and expression of pro-angiogenic, pro-inflammatory, and pro-invasion molecules in breast cancer cells.6
  • Inhibition of proliferation of tumor cells from leukemia, multiple myeloma, and breast, colon, prostate, pancreas, and lung cancers.7
  • Decreased expression of adhesion molecules on endothelial cells initiated by an inflammatory stimulus (expression of adhesion molecules contributes to the formation of atherosclerotic plaque by attracting white blood cells).8,9

These data suggest that sesame seeds can be an important tool for prevention of cancer and cardiovascular disease.  Be sure to buy raw, unhulled sesame seeds or raw tahini (sesame seed butter) for maximum nutritional benefit.  White or black sesame seeds (or tahini) are a great addition to dips and salad dressings.


1. Cooney RV, Custer LJ, Okinaka L, Franke AA. Effects of dietary sesame seeds on plasma tocopherol levels. Nutr Cancer. 2001;39(1):66-71.

2. Shahidi F, Liyana-Pathirana CM, Wall DS. Antioxidant activity of white and black sesame seeds and their hull fractions. Food Chemistry 2006 99(3):478-483.

3. Coulman KD, Liu Z, Hum WQ, et al. Whole sesame seed is as rich a source of mammalian lignan precursors as whole flaxseed. Nutr Cancer. 2005;52(2):156-65.

4. Miyawaki T, Aono H, Toyoda-Ono Y, Maeda H, Kiso Y, Moriyama K. Antihypertensive effects of sesamin in humans. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2009 Feb;55(1):87-91.

5. Wu WH, Kang YP, Wang NH, et al. Sesame ingestion affects sex hormones, antioxidant status, and blood lipids in postmenopausal women. J Nutr.2006 May;136(5):1270-5.

6.  Lee CC, Liu KJ, Wu YC, Lin SJ, et al. Sesamin Inhibits Macrophage-Induced Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor and Matrix Metalloproteinase-9 Expression and Proangiogenic Activity in Breast Cancer Cells. Inflammation. 2010 Jul 9. [Epub ahead of print]

7. Harikumar KB, Sung B, Tharakan ST, et al. Sesamin manifests chemopreventive effects through the suppression of NF-kappaB-regulated cell survival, proliferation, invasion, and angiogenic gene products. Mol Cancer Res. 2010 May;8(5):751-61. Epub 2010 May 11.

8. Wu WH, Wang SH, Kuan II, et al. Sesamin attenuates intercellular cell adhesion molecule-1 expression in vitro in TNF-alpha-treated human aortic endothelial cells and in vivo in apolipoprotein-E-deficient mice. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2010 Mar 19. [Epub ahead of print]

9. Lee WJ, Ou HC, Wu CM, et al. Sesamin mitigates inflammation and oxidative stress in endothelial cells exposed to oxidized low-density lipoprotein. J Agric Food Chem. 2009 Dec 9;57(23):11406-17.

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Comments (8) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Paul - August 17, 2010 2:51 AM

Don't unhulled sesame seeds contains lots of oxalic acid that bind to the calcium making it unavailable?

StephenMarkTurner - August 17, 2010 6:19 AM

I eat gobs of tahini. It can be hard to find jars that state 'raw' on it. Mine comes from California (Artisana brand), over 2000 miles. It should be easier to find locally here in Canada, but, oh well.

I've tried the black tahini, that is too much, way too bitter, even for my more flexible taste buds.

Cheers, Steve

Dr. Josh Axe - August 17, 2010 10:45 AM

Great tip. I'll be incorporating more black sesame seeds into my diet. Also want to try the apricot tahini dressing.

Han - August 17, 2010 1:55 PM

It says you can find lignans, which are phytoestrogens, in sesame and flaxseeds. Should I be concerned about the possible estrogenic properties like those found in soy?

There is a bit of conflict here. There are blogs suggesting chia seeds be eaten instead of flaxseeds.

Deana Ferreri, Ph.D. - August 18, 2010 9:17 AM

No, you should not be concerned about the estrogenic effects.

Chia seeds have omega-3 fatty acid content similar to flaxseeds, but not lignans.

Michael - August 18, 2010 9:22 AM

Flax seeds are also much cheaper than chia seeds. I typically find flax seeds for less than $2/lb. Chia seeds are often 5x that or more.

Deana Ferreri, Ph.D. - August 20, 2010 9:17 AM

Sesame seed hulls do contain oxalic acid, but are also very high in calcium. I'm not aware of any studies that reported on the bioavailability of calcium from sesame seeds.

Ellie - July 1, 2011 7:55 AM

I was wondering if it is ok to have flaxseeds as I have read so many conflicting stories. I had ER+ Breast Cancer and am on Tamoxifen for 5 years to stop my body producing Estrogen. Would Chia Seeds be the better option as far as Omega 3's and do they contain the same amount of Omega 3's as flaxseeds/linseeds?
Many Thanks.

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