As a dietitian, I love to see studies that show how nutrition can affect health outcomes in diabetes- especially in the challenging field of neuropathy. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has promoted the benefits of a vegan diet over the years for the patient with diabetes. Recently they were part of a study published which showed a reduction in neuropathy pain with a vegan diet.
I actually was a vegetarian for a decade of my life surprisingly after being raised on beef cattle farm. Today, I call myself a recovering vegetarian and eat some white meats and fish because it was just too challenging to keep up a vegetarian diet. When talking to patients, I emphasize more plant-based foods to decrease cardiovascular risk. I enjoyed watching the documentary “Simply Raw” a few years back where they followed diabetes patients who switched to a vegan diet and experienced multiple health benefits.
This study was a 20 week study with 21 participants who had type 2 diabetes and painful diabetic neuropathy. They were divided into two groups. The intervention group followed a low-fat, vegan diet with weekly support classes and took a B12 supplement. Here is a pdf from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. It shows examples of a low-fat vegan diet like they were recommended in the study. The second group just took a B12 supplement with no other intervention. After the study, the intervention group lost an average of 14 pounds and reported significant improvements in pain measured by the Short Form McGill Pain Questionnaire, the Michigan Neuropathy Screening Instrument physical assessment, and through electrochemical skin conductance in the foot.
More research is needed on a larger scale to identify what role each of the components had in pain reduction. Was it weight loss, vegan diet, weekly support, combination of the B12 supplementation, or a little of all the above?
Vegan diets are challenging for most of the low-income, low healthy literacy patients I’m used to working with. If you are encouraged by these findings, I would highly recommend a dietitian diabetes educator as part of your team to help your patients move towards a more plant-based diet to see if it helps. It is such a change from the typical American diet. Please share stories below if you had patients show improvements particularly with diabetic neuropathy by moving to a plant-based diet.