According to the American Diabetes Association, nearly 26 million U.S. adults have been diagnosed with diabetes. More alarming, another 79 million have blood glucose levels that are considered pre-diabetic. Combined, the total number of people in our country at risk for diabetes equates to nearly a third of our adult population. That’s right — one out of every three adults.
Despite efforts by physicians to help those at risk for diabetes to reduce blood sugar levels and related blood lipids (triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol), we seem to be losing the fight.
Traditional therapies include weight loss through increased exercise and adoption of low glycemic index diets, often combined with pharmaceutical treatments that frankly aren’t that effective. At least, that’s the conclusion of the authors of a recent research study: “Although many drugs have been developed and used for the treatment of diabetes, most patients’ therapeutic goals are still not achieved.”
Therefore, scientists continue to search for new, more effective treatment options for reducing blood sugar and blood lipids among diabetics and pre-diabetics. As part of these continuing efforts comes a remarkable new study showing the dramatic effects of substituting sesame oil as the primary cooking and salad preparation oil among diabetics.
The study, published online ahead of print in the journal Clinical Nutrition, showed that combining sesame oil with or without the diabetes drug glibenclamide, significantly lowered blood glucose and blood lipids, and increased antioxidant levels in the blood.
Sesame oil, which is extracted from, you guessed it, sesame seeds, contains both monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Both are well-known for their heart healthy characteristics including the ability to lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol. In addition, sesame oil contains vitamin E and other antioxidant compounds known as lignans.
Given these properties, the researchers speculated that substituting sesame oil for other cooking oils that contain unhealthy saturated fatty acids might enhance the diabetes drug’s ability to lower blood glucose and blood lipids. Their speculations proved to be well-founded. The group that utilized sesame oil and consumed glibenclamide experienced a 36% reduction in fasting blood sugar at the end of the study period. Further, this same group saw a 22% drop in total cholesterol, a 38% drop in LDL (bad) cholesterol, and a 15% drop in triglyceride levels.
Interestingly, the group that utilized sesame oil alone (i.e., no diabetes drugs) also experienced significant improvements on all of these measures including a 15% drop in fasting blood sugar, 19% lower total cholesterol, 32% reduced LDL cholesterol, and a 14% drop in triglycerides.
In the study, 60 moderate diabetic participants (32 men, 28 women) were divided in three groups. The sesame group was instructed to use 35 grams of sesame oil per day per person as their primary cooking oil and salad preparation oil over the 60 days of the study. The glibenclamide group received 5 mg daily of the blood sugar control drug but no sesame oil. The third group received both the sesame oil and glibenclamide during the study.
Prior to the beginning of the study, the researchers drew fasting blood samples from each participant and assayed their blood sugar, triglyceride, cholesterol and antioxidant levels. At the end of the study, blood samples were drawn again and the researchers compared the pre-study and post-study measures for any significant differences.
By way of comparison to the improvements achieved above with sesame oil alone, or the glibenclamide/sesame oil combination, glibenclamide did not perform all that well on its own across the majority of the same measures. For example, the glibenclamide-only group saw their blood sugar levels decline by 20%, total cholesterol by 4%, LDL cholesterol by 7% and triglycerides by about 4%.
Further, when looking at sesame oil’s ability to boost blood levels of protective antioxidants, the researchers found that the sesame oil group’s levels of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene and glutathione all rose significantly (between 25% and 50%). The group receiving both sesame oil and the diabetes drug results were about the same — questioning the additive value of the glibenclamide. Indeed, in looking at glibenclamide alone, the study team found only 8%-12% increases in blood levels of the same antioxidant.
The study authors could not specifically identify the mechanisms driving these improvements from the use of sesame oil, but they suggested that the antioxidant lignans and high levels of healthy fatty acids in sesame oil likely enhanced the body’s ability to eliminate, absorb or otherwise reduce excess blood sugar and blood fats.
While the study authors focused their commentary on the enhanced performance of the glibenclamide combined with sesame oil, we think the real story here is how much benefit came from the use of sesame oil alone. To be clear, we are not advocating dropping blood sugar control medications if you currently take them. We are pointing out that sesame oil might be an effective, natural element of a blood sugar control program.
Therefore, if you are a diabetic or otherwise struggle to control your blood sugar, cholesterol and/or triglyceride levels, you would be well-served to consider switching out vegetable oil in your cooking and salad preparations in favor of sesame oil. As these study results suggest, sesame oil may be a very powerful ally in maintaining healthy blood sugar and lipid levels.
 American Diabetes Association web site, http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/diabetes-statistics/, accessed Jan. 26, 2011.
 Sankar E, et al. Sesame oil synergistic effect with anti-diabetic medication in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Clin Nutr. 2010 Dec 15. [Epub ahead of print]