Flax Seeds vs. Diabetes

Flax Seeds vs. Diabetes
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A daily tablespoon of ground flax seeds for a month appears to improve fasting blood sugars, triglycerides, cholesterol, and hemoglobin A1c levels in diabetics.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

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

One plant in particular that’s now been tested is flax. We’ve known for twenty years that having ground flax seeds in your stomach can blunt the blood sugar spike from a meal. But, it’s never been tested in diabetics—until now.

“An open-label study on the effect of flax seed powder…supplementation in the management of diabetes…” A tablespoon of ground flax seeds every day, for a month, and, compared to the control group, a significant drop in fasting blood sugars, triglycerides, and cholesterol—as well as the most important thing, a drop in A1C level. This was just after a month, though if one’s sugars are already well-controlled, there may be no additional benefit.

No weight gain was reported in people adding a quarter cup of ground flax a day to their diets for three months. In fact, the flax group ended up with a slimmer waist than the flax seed oil or control group. Even up to nearly a half cup a day—more than I’d recommend—still no significant weight gain, though this was only after a month.

How does flax help control diabetes? Well, flax seed consumption may improve insulin sensitivity in people with glucose intolerance. After 12 weeks of flax, there was a small, but significant, drop in insulin resistance—perhaps related to the drop in oxidant stress, given the antioxidant qualities of flax seed phytonutrients.

Now, this was a small, unblinded study. It’s hard to come up with a convincing fake flax seed placebo. So, look, if this was some drug they were testing, I’d never prescribe it, based on this one study. But, it isn’t a drug. It’s just flax seeds. There’s just good side effects. So, even if this study was a fluke or fraud, flax seeds have other benefits. So, even in the worst case scenario, I’d still end up benefiting my patients not quite ready or able to reverse their diabetes completely, with a completely plant-based diet.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to sean dreilingerPhú Thịnh Co; and grafixtek via flickr

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

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

One plant in particular that’s now been tested is flax. We’ve known for twenty years that having ground flax seeds in your stomach can blunt the blood sugar spike from a meal. But, it’s never been tested in diabetics—until now.

“An open-label study on the effect of flax seed powder…supplementation in the management of diabetes…” A tablespoon of ground flax seeds every day, for a month, and, compared to the control group, a significant drop in fasting blood sugars, triglycerides, and cholesterol—as well as the most important thing, a drop in A1C level. This was just after a month, though if one’s sugars are already well-controlled, there may be no additional benefit.

No weight gain was reported in people adding a quarter cup of ground flax a day to their diets for three months. In fact, the flax group ended up with a slimmer waist than the flax seed oil or control group. Even up to nearly a half cup a day—more than I’d recommend—still no significant weight gain, though this was only after a month.

How does flax help control diabetes? Well, flax seed consumption may improve insulin sensitivity in people with glucose intolerance. After 12 weeks of flax, there was a small, but significant, drop in insulin resistance—perhaps related to the drop in oxidant stress, given the antioxidant qualities of flax seed phytonutrients.

Now, this was a small, unblinded study. It’s hard to come up with a convincing fake flax seed placebo. So, look, if this was some drug they were testing, I’d never prescribe it, based on this one study. But, it isn’t a drug. It’s just flax seeds. There’s just good side effects. So, even if this study was a fluke or fraud, flax seeds have other benefits. So, even in the worst case scenario, I’d still end up benefiting my patients not quite ready or able to reverse their diabetes completely, with a completely plant-based diet.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to sean dreilingerPhú Thịnh Co; and grafixtek via flickr

Doctor's Note

This reminds me of my video, Prunes vs. Metamucil vs. Vegan Diet, or some of my videos on various foods that may control blood sugar (Amla Versus Diabetes); weight (Fat Burning Via Flavonoids); cholesterol (Dried Apples vs. 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? That’s why I called my 2012 wrap-up Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death.

The two books I feature are the original classic from 2003, Defeating Diabetes (co-authored by my favorite dietician, Brenda Davis), and then, in 2007 and 2012, books 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 fact, Fuhrman’s book was so new, it wasn’t even out when I recorded this video for my Volume 12 DVD!

This is my third flax video of the year. See my previous two videos to learn what flax can do against prostate cancer: Flax Seeds vs. Prostate Cancer, and Was It the Flax Seeds, Fat Restriction, or Both? Next, we move on to Flax Seeds for Sensitive Skin.

For more context, you can refer to my associated blog posts: Flax Seeds for DiabetesTreating Sensitive Skin From the Inside Out; and Flax and Breast Cancer Survival.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

 

52 responses to “Flax Seeds vs. Diabetes

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    1. I think that is a good question. I sometimes wonder how much nutrition would be lost if the pre-ground were bought rather than grinding it myself. Grinding myself is not a huge deal, but I am always looking to save time in the kitchen.




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      1. Isn’t it more about the omega 3s going rancid? As far as I understand they are fragile and susceptible to oxidation – some people suggest eating ground flax within 15 – 30 minutes to avoid the damaged fats. Maybe this is a bit extreme – perhaps a good compromise would be to grind a whole load, and then put them in the freezer for later use?




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        1. Joe: I agree that lots of people are concerned about the fats going rancid. And I agree that rancidity (who knew that was a word?) can be a problem. However, one of Dr. Greger’s videos talks about keeping flaxseed air-tight and then not worring about it. I grind up my flaxseed and keep it in an airtight container in the fridge. Seems to work fine for me for a good week. I just don’t get the sense that we have to eat ground flaxseed within 15-30 minutes. But I’m not an expert so I’m just expressing my opinion.

          As for nutrition loss: It is my understanding that the more processed a seed/grain is, the more nutrition that quickly gets lost (outside of the issue of the fat going rancid). I got this idea from watching one of Brenda Davis’s talks and see a slide where she ranked grains nutrition levels. Whole Grain Heirarchy: (from most nutritious to least) intact whole grains (wheat berries, oat groats, quinoa, etc), broken whole grains, whole grains (rolled oats, etc), shredded whole grains (shredded wheat), ground whole grains (whole wheat flour products), flaked whole grains, puffed whole grains.

          I don’t think that list is solely concerned with what happens to the omega 3s. Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.




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    2. Steve, I purchase whole flax seeds by the pound at a local store. I grind up about 2 tablespoons in a coffee/spice grinder. The flax seeds are inexpensive as well as the grinder. I add the ground flax seeds to my blender along with rice milk, a banana and some frozen mixed berries for a mid-morning or mid-afternoon smoothie. The ground flax seeds act as a thickener (which is why I am able to use rice milk which is traditionally very thin and watery).




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    1. Whole flax seed is known to be too small and hard and thus to pass through the digestive system without being absorbed. Your best bet is to follow Nan S’s advice: buy them whole (bulk bins are great!) and grind small amounts at a time to add to your food.

      I fill a re-purposed, air-tight peanut butter jar with my flax seed that I have personally ground in a little coffie grinder. The jar is stored in the fridge. I go through a jar very quickly as I consume Dr. Greger’s recommended (in a previous video a long time ago) 2 Tbls (or so) each morning. Also, I give a bunch to my dog each day, mixing with with water. He loves to lick it up.

      The trick to making flax part of your regular diet is to find something that you eat every day that goes with flax. Since I’m not a smoothy fan, putting it in oatmeal worked for me. Because of the way I doctor up my oatmeal, I don’t taste the flax and because the flax gets good an soaked before I eat, gritty texture is not a problem for me either.

      Good luck!




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      1. Thanks, Thea! That makes sense. A few months ago I bought a Nutribullet and have been enjoying flax seeds in my green drinks. But I will grind them up and see if I can get them into powder. And, I have a dog! I’ll try them on her as well. Thanks for answering.




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      2. >>Whole flax seed is known to be too small and hard and thus to pass through the digestive system without being absorbed.<<

        That may be true, at least for a part of the flax seed. However, soaking flax seeds in water for 10 or 15' creates a viscous liquid much like egg whites — so something is being produced that needs no grinding.




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        1. Shay: Interesting thought.

          I believe that Dr. Greger has a video which mentions the importance of grinding flax seed. And another poster, on this thread or a recent one, also quoted a Canadian medical or government authority on flax seeds needing to be ground. So, I think there is *something* to the thought that it needs to be ground. I just don’t know how much of an issue it is. For example, what if you soaked the whole seeds for hours rather than minutes? Would that make a difference?

          I know what you mean about “flax eggs”. I have used several flax eggs over time and most recently in a recipe this last weekend. It worked great and the popovers came out delicious! But one interesting thing is that when I make a flax egg, I mix 3 tablespoons of water with 1 tablespoon of *ground* flax seed. I’ve never tried it with a whole flax seed.




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  1. You can get ground flax seeds by buying them whole, which saves you money and keeps them fresh, and then grinding them yourself- fresh- either in a blender, say as part of your smoothie, or in a coffee grinder. Mixing a tablespoon of them, ground, with a quarter-cup of water makes a good binding agent and a substitute for an egg in baking recipes too.




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  2. Though not tested or part of this report, I’d be curious whether the Doctor thinks Chia seeds might have a comparable effect or value. Thoughts?




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    1. Compared to flax, chia has similar levels of alpha-linolenic acid, but neglible lignan content. The lignans, functioning as either water-soluable antioxidants or phytoestrogens, may be responsible for the effects here.

      Chia also has high antioxidant activity, in the form of fat-soluable phenols, which accounts for the greater stability of chia oil. In a sense, the two seeds may be complementary as the water soluable vitamin C and fat-soluable vitamin E.




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  3. Some health authorities warn against to high intake af flaxseeds because of the high content of Cadmium. There seems to conflicting informations about the problem. Opinions anyone? On the other hand – everybody in this forum knows that SAD + flaxseeds does not solve the problem. The solution to obesity induced type 2 DM is a lot of drugs………………NOT!!!!
    A low fat plant strong diet improves or solves the problem.




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  4. Any thoughts on whether or not this might work for my diabetic cat, who appears to be insulin resistent? And if it might work, could you please give a suggestion for a dosage for a 4kg cat? Thank you!




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    1. Hi Maya,

      I don’t know if it would work for your cat’s diabetes but there is a product called Flaxy Cat that has flax seeds in it so apparently it’s not harmful to them. I’ve never used Flaxy Cat myself but I saw it advertised. It says it’s for coat and skin as well as digestion, joints and heart health. I would ask your vet though.




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    1. The polyunsaturated fatty acids in flaxseed are adversely affected by heat, light and oxygen, which is why it’s contained in a strong, protective shell, so you lose major benefits by toasting. Moreover, once ground, keep the flaxseed in the freezer.




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  5. Is it true that unbroken flaxseeds may not break open at all as they pass through our digestive system and not yield any benefits?




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    1. yes, MIchael Angel, the seeds need to be ground up…I grind enough for a week’s worth every Sunday and store in fridge…I store the whole seeds in fridge too. I chuck 2 TBSP. into my oats, my dark berry & kale blender concoction, onto my dark leafy green salads, you name it.




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    1. All seeds must be masticated to break the cell wall and reach the nutrients within, so yes, ground chia would be best for this purpose




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    2. NO.
      Chia for Health – Dr. Weil
      http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA365093/Chia-for-Health.html
      Cached
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      Andrew Weil
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      And, unlike flax, they do not have to be ground to make their nutrients … As with ground flax seeds, you can sprinkle ground or whole chia seeds on … Another bonus: insects don’t like the chia plant so it is easier to find organically grown varieties. I expect we’ll soon be hearing much more about chia and its health benefits.




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  6. I discovered this by accicident. I have been Type II for just over a year and take my fasting blood sugar every morning and also every evening 2 hours after dinner. On average, my morning readings average 133 and evening average 125. It’s been this way for six months. I do not take any medication for my diabetes. This week I noticed a big drop where my mornings for last 3 days 109, 106, 102 and evenings 101, 92, 101. The only thing i’ve changed in my diet is having a slice of home baked bread with every meal. The bread is made with 1/2 cup of ground flax seed to the dough. I started baking bread as a hobby and was unaware of the benefits to improving my health. I started adding flax meal as an experiment. Flax does not affect the taste at all and added to bread dough is undetectable when combined with whole wheat flour.
    This is the recipe I use. 1 package yeast, 1 cup warm water, 1/3 cup olive oil, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 cup milled whole flax seed, 1/2 cup oat meal, 1 cup whole wheat flour, 2 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour, (optional 1 tbsp vital gluten). Mix yeast, water, and brown sugar, together in a bowl and let set about 5 minutes until a nice foam begins on top. Add olive oil, salt, flax, and oat meal to the mix and stir. add whole wheat flour, then add the bread flour. At this point you have to abandon the spoon and start using your fingers. Keep some water and extra flour available to adjust the dough until it has nice texture and elastic ( I like to add vital gluten to keep bread from crumbling after its baked). Nead dough for 10 minutes then put in a large bowl sprayed with cooking spray. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place until double in size ( about 2 to 3 hours). Remove dough and nead again for 2 minutes and place in a loaf pan that’s had the bottom sprayed with cooking spray. Let rise for about an hour or until top is nice and rounded over the top of the loaf pan. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. Once the loaf has cooled, slice it and store in a bread box. I eat one or two slices at every meal. Note: This bread can get moldy after 4 days, but it’s so delicious, I doubt it will last that long.




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  7. thank you for this. I just started blending my own with greens, sorrel, tomatoes green tea and everything nutritious in my kitchen. Makes a great morning meal




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  8. My PPBS levels are high as 300+ since last 3 months but I do not suffer from frequent urination, no weight loss occurred, wounds are healing surprisingly quick, no loss of appetite, no other symptoms of diabetes except dry mouth. I am not taking any tablets our insulin. what should i do at this stage?




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  9. Good day, Dr. Grege! Thanks a lot for this helpful article.
    I really think flaxseed oil is good for people with Diabetes. A lot of research
    finding prove that it’s really true that’s why I’m planning to recommend this
    to my friends and relatives who have high blood sugar. What I admire about this
    essential oil is that it’s also a good remedy for other disorders such as high
    cholesterols, hardening of arteries, sore throat, constipation, and even
    different types of cancer. And it’s also a mood enhancer as what I’ve read from
    recent findings. I’ve also learned from these articles the other benefits of
    flaxseed oils including their uses: http://oilypedia.com/?s=flaxseed+oil.




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  10. flax seeds when ground are really useful, great as an egg substitute in baking and good as a thickener. everyone seems to be rather polite about some of the effects of flax seed. It can make you jolly windy and make you run for the toilet. WARNING DO NOT EAT FLAX SEED BEFORE AN INTERVIEW!




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  11. It is so good to see one of our Diet-by-Evidence STARS, Dr. Greger, include in his work and his recommendations the work of his admired colleagues and mentors. I wish there were more cross-referencing among this group! Dr. Greger, you are such a tremendously LIKABLE person. Thank you for your work, your fabulous presentations, and your humor.




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  12. Well this is very interesting to know. I also have osteoporosis and to replace my estrogen had been grounding 1/2 cup of flaxseed which are also known for its estroginic properties. Now i know that it also will help control my blood glucose Thank you Dr. Greger!.




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  13. I have actually noticed my blood sugar is far better while taking the flaxseed for about 2 weeks. It was noticed in about 2 or 3 days and it has been consistent. I chew about 2 or 3 tablespoons a day.




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  14. Whenever I eat 1 tablespoon of flax seed (I always grind or blend it first) or more, though I’ve eaten this most of my life, for the past several years it always results in severe stomach burning and reflux. Could you ask Dr Greger whether there’s any other was of getting the benefits of this important food into the system. I react the same way to all nuts and seeds and an vegan so it creates a big problem for me. I’ve tried titration many times and it doesn’t help in my case.




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  15. One variety of flax that is widely grown for human consumption is solin (trade name Linola) that has only 3% omega-3 fatty acids compared with the highly aclaimed 50% plus for wild flaxseed. If the flaxseed you buy is solin, it will likely claim the same benefits as wild flax, but this amounts to a huge, industry-wide hoax.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flax#Flaxseeds




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  16. digression: flax seed is a good lubricant if you boil them whole for 15 minutes with some water. And now you have its benefits from top to bottom ;)




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  17. Dr.Greg, I have red your book and and watch your videos and always yo recomend to eat flaxseed and soy. I eat them every day. But reading the recent book The Secret Life of Fat by Sylvia Tara PhD, in chapter 9 , title “Fat can Listen”, she quotes Dr. Karron Powers of San Francisco, who blamed low levels of testosterone for the build up of fat, among other things and recommends “limiting intake of soy and flax” for containing high levels of natural plant estrogens.Is this credible ? I fellow your advice every time I have a doubt , please what is your opinion? Thanks very much for all you do.




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  18. Hi Jose,
    I’m one of the medical moderators here on NF. It’s actually fat that causes decreased testosterone not low testosterone that causes increased fat. Testosterone is converted to estrogen by an enzyme called aromatase in the presence of fat and inflammation. Flaxseed actually acts as an aromatase inhibitor decreasing this conversion. Here is a video that Dr G did on the topic of the effects of flax on early prostate cancer which also shows the benefits of flax in men. http://nutritionfacts.org/video/flaxseed-vs-prostate-cancer/
    Hope this helps answer your question




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  19. As one of the Moderators for NutritionFacts.org, I’ll comment on your question about replacing flax powder for flax oil. I was not familiar with the term flax seed “powder.” I’ve ground flax seed(aka flax seed meal), so wondered if this was just another term, although I assume it is more ground, more like a flour. When I looked online at the one product listed on Amazon for flax seed powder, I see it lists spices too in the ingredients.
    .
    Usually we want whole foods, but in this case the flax seeds are not broken down by the body, so they do need to be ground to get those good omega-3s. However we don’t want to grind too finely and lose the value of the fiber.Certainly even a more processed powder would be preferable to the oil, since the oil would be a much more concentrated source of fat without the benefits of the fiber. However a powder form would still not be as good as simple ground flax seeds (which are cheap and easily available all ground up for you, if you don’t want to grind your own). That way you’d have better control over anything else added (I’d look at the ingredient list for the powder very carefully.While there may only be flax seeds and spices listed, the manufacturer might sneak other unwanted ingredients in and if the spices may be problematic. (If you use the ground flax seed in your morning cereal, you may not like the taste of a savory spice then. . a less finely ground powder again because of the fiber.
    The big thing, Vijay, is that you’re moving away from the flax seed oil. Congratulations. and keep following NutritionFacts.org to maintain your healthy nutrition habits.




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