Elevated C-reactive protein (CRP), IL-6 and retinol-binding protein 4 (RBP4) levels are associated with insulin resistance and diabetes mellitus. Phytoestrogens (including lignans and isoflavones) may enhance the management of diabetes and are hypothesized to act through inflammation pathways. The present study explored the effects of flaxseed-derived lignan on inflammatory factors and RBP4 concentrations in type 2 diabetics, who have higher levels of these biomarkers. Seventy community-dwelling diabetic patients (twenty-six men and forty-four post-menopausal women) with mild hypercholesterolaemia completed a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over trial of supplementation with flaxseed-derived lignan capsules (360 mg/d) or placebo for 12 weeks, separated by an 8-week wash-out period. The participants maintained their habitual diets and levels of physical activity. Baseline to follow-up concentrations of CRP increased significantly within the placebo group (1·42 (sem 0·19) v. 1·96 (sem 0·22) mg/l, P < 0·001), but were comparatively unchanged in the lignan-supplemented group (1·67 (sem 0·19) v. 1·90 (sem 0·26) mg/l, P = 0·94); a significant difference was observed between treatments ( − 0·45 (95 % CI − 0·76, − 0·08) mg/l, P = 0·021). This effect was confined to women (P = 0·016), but not observed in men (P = 0·49). No between-treatment differences were found with regard to IL-6 or RBP4; though IL-6 concentrations increased significantly from baseline to follow-up in both groups (P = 0·004 and P < 0·001 following lignan and placebo treatments, respectively). The study suggests that lignan might modulate CRP levels in type 2 diabetics. These results need to be confirmed by further large clinical trials of longer duration.