Diabetics looking to lower blood glucose levels through diet often turn to foods and supplements that might do the trick. Flax seed has shown promise as a natural way to lower blood sugar levels, but the evidence remains mixed for its use as a diabetes treatment. Diabetics should exercise caution when using flax seed, since these tasty seeds might affect other diabetes treatments.
Flax seed contains high levels of the essential omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, along with protein, fiber and plant compounds called lignans that act as antioxidants when ingested. These small brown seeds can be consumed whole or ground into flax seed meal. Grinding makes the inner components more accessible but also makes flax seed more perishable. The seeds can also be pressed into flax seed oil, which does not contain the lignan, fiber or protein components but does retain the ALA.
Diabetes develops when the body cannot adequately produce or utilize insulin, the hormone that controls blood glucose levels. Type 1 diabetes results from a complete lack of insulin, while type 2 diabetes develops gradually as insulin production or the response to insulin declines. People with type 1 diabetes require periodic insulin injections, but those with type 2 diabetes can sometimes control their condition through diet and exercise. Maintaining steady blood sugar levels can keep diabetes from causing dangerous complications such as cardiovascular disease and kidney damage.
The evidence for flax seed as a treatment for diabetes remains mixed, but some studies indicate that the seeds can stabilize blood sugar levels. A 2007 study in "Public Library of Science One" found that type 2 diabetics who consumed flax seed-derived lignan supplements for 12 weeks had lower average blood sugar levels as determined by the A1C test, a measurement of blood glucose control based on the percentage of hemoglobin in the blood that contains glucose molecules. A low score on the A1C test indicates good blood glucose control over the past two to three months, while a high score indicates poor blood glucose control.
While some studies have shown promise for the use of flax seeds as a treatment for diabetes, others have yielded mixed results. Further research is needed to definitively state that flax seed is effective for this use and to determine the precise dose needed. Because of the potential effect on blood sugar levels, you should talk to your doctor before including flax seed in your diet if you are diabetic. Consuming flax seed might affect the medicines you currently use for diabetes, so you and your doctor should monitor blood sugar levels carefully when you are using flax seed. The NYU Langone Medical Center notes that flaxseed might also increase the risk of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar.