Can Flaxseeds Help Treat Diabetes?

Drug companies hope to capitalize on the fact that the consumption of certain plants appears to lower the risk of diabetes by isolating these plants’ active components for use and sale as pharmacological agents. Though not as profitable, why don’t we just eat the plants themselves?

One plant in particular that’s now been tested is flax. We’ve known for 20 years that having ground flax in your stomach can blunt the blood sugar spike from a meal, but it’s never been tested in diabetics–until now. World Health Organization researchers published an open-label study on the effect of flax seed powder supplementation in the management of diabetes.

Diabetic subjects took a tablespoon of ground flax seeds every day for a month, and, compared to the control group, experienced a significant drop in fasting blood sugars, triglycerides, and cholesterol, as well as the most important thing, a drop in A1C level. If one’s sugars are already well controlled, though, there may be no additional benefit.

How does flax help control blood sugars? Flaxseeds may improve insulin sensitivity in glucose intolerant people. After 12 weeks of flax, researchers found a small but significant drop in insulin resistance, perhaps related to the drop in oxidant stress due to the antioxidant qualities of flaxseeds.

The study profiled in the above video showing a tablespoon of daily ground flax seeds for a month appears to improve fasting blood sugars, triglycerides, cholesterol, and hemoglobin A1c levels in diabetics was a non-blinded, non-randomized small study. If it was some drug they were testing, I’d never prescribe it based on this one study, but this isn’t a drug. It’s just flaxseeds. There are just good side effects, so even if this study was a fluke or fraud, flaxseeds have other benefits. In the worst case scenario the seed would still end up benefiting patients who aren’t quite ready or able to reverse their diabetes completely with a plant-based diet.

Flaxseeds are calorically dense, but even adding a half cup of ground flax a day may not lead to weight gain. When 4 tablespoons a day were tested for 3 months the flax group ended up with a slimmer waist than the flaxseed oil or control group. Because of the potential of raw flax seeds to interfere with thyroid function at high doses, though, I would only recommend 2 tablespoons a day. And I would not recommend flaxseed supplementation during pregnancy.

The flaxseed study reminds me of the Prunes vs. Metamucil for Constipation one, or any of those talking about various foods that may control blood sugar (Amla Versus Diabetes), weight (Fat Burning Via Flavonoids), cholesterol (Dried Apples Versus Cholesterol), or sexual dysfunction (Watermelon as Treatment for Erectile Dysfunction). Yes, these foods may help, but why not get at the root of the problem and try to reverse the condition altogether with a healthier diet overall?

The three best books on reversing type 2 diabetes with diet are Defeating Diabetes, co-authored by my favorite dietician, Brenda Davis, and from two of my medical mentors: Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program To Reverse Diabetes Now and Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s The End of Diabetes.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos here and watch my full 2012 year-in-review presentation Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death.

Image credit: sean dreilingerPhú Thịnh Co, and grafixtek / Flickr

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68 comments

Cecilia Durham
Past Member 6 months ago

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Roberto Meritoni
Roberto Meritoniabout a year ago

Ty

Roberto Meritoni
Roberto Meritoniabout a year ago

Ty

Summerannie Moon
Summerannie M.2 years ago

Interesting study, thanks.

Martyna Wrobel
Martyna Wr?bel2 years ago

thank you!

Marianne Good
Past Member 2 years ago

Thanks.

Elena T.
Elena Poensgen2 years ago

Thank you :)

John B.
John B.2 years ago

Thanks Dr. Greger for sharing this very interesting video and information.

heather g.
heather g.2 years ago

I've used ground flax seeds for a long time now. It was a bit of a surprise to see them being called Linseed in a package among other Indian herbs and spices. Of course, this is what the English people call it......

I'm repeatedly shocked when I realize my mother was way ahead of her time and had knowledge of so many healthy foods 40-50 years ago. That was also the time when yoghurt was not available through retail outlets and we had no television and certainly no internet at that time. Nobody practised Yoga or meditation daily, but the mother did ! I was very fortunate to grow up with that wisdom at hand....