The Connection Between Diabetic Neuropathy and Vegan Diet If You Want Relief from The Pain
Relief from the pain of diabetic neuropathy is possible with a change in diet, according to a new study. Following a vegan diet (plant based eating) is associated not only with improvement in neuropathy but other benefits for diabetics as well.
A team of researchers from Physicians Committee, California State University East Bay, and George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences conducted a pilot study involving 34 individuals with diabetes and painful diabetic neuropathy. The participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups: a low-fat, plant-based diet (vegan diet) along with weekly support classes and supplementation with vitamin B12; or use of the supplement but no other intervention.
The pilot study lasted 20 weeks, and various lab, clinical, and questionnaire information regarding pain, symptoms, and quality of life was collected before, midway, and at the end of the study. The diet focused on fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains that were low-glycemic index items and limited fat intake to 20 to 30 grams daily.
Here’s what the investigators found:
- Pain of diabetic neuropathy (measured by the Short Form McGill Pain Questionnaire) declined by 9.1 points in the vegan diet group and by 0.9 in the control group
- Vegan diet participants did better on the Neuropathy Impairment Score-Lower Limb test while those in the control group got worse, but the changes in both groups were not statistically significant
- Body weight dropped by a mean of more than 14 pounds in the vegan diet group compared with slightly more than 1 pound in the control group
- Mean hemoglobin A1c declined by 0.8 percent in the diet group but did not change in the control group
- Use of glucose-lowering drugs were reduced for 10 patients in the vegan diet group and increased for two by their doctors. In the control group, two patients needed an increase in medication and one required a reduction
- Both groups showed similar significant improvement on the quality of life questionnaire, although those in the diet group scored better on the autonomic symptoms subscore
- Improvements were seen in total cholesterol: a 12.1 mg/dL decline in the vegan diet group and a 2.2 mg/dL drop in the control group
- Bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein) decline 7.8 mg/dL in the diet group but rose by 0.4 mg/dL in the control group
- Both groups saw a decline in systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and there was no significant difference between the groups
According to Neal Barnard, MD, president of the Physicians Committee, “A dietary intervention reduces the pain associated with diabetic neuropathy, apparently by improving insulin resistance. The same diet also improves body weight and reduces cholesterol and blood pressure.”
Go vegan for diabetic neuropathy?
Modifying one’s diet to eliminate animal-based foods sounds challenging, but when done gradually, purposefully, and with a goal in mind, it can be not only rewarding but exciting. One way to approach the change is to begin with a list of all the things you now eat that are plant-based and then expand on it. Replace animal-based foods with new plant-based selections, and you will feel less like you are giving things up and more like you are expanding your selections.
Anyone interested in making dietary changes to address diabetic neuropathy or diabetes in general should first discuss it with their physician. It also can be helpful to have a nutritionist or dietician help you when making the transition. Getting together with other people who follow a vegan diet also can help you discover new ways of eating and preparing different foods.
Bunner AE et al. A dietary intervention for chronic diabetic neuropathy pain: a randomized controlled pilot study. Nutrition & Diabetes 2015; 5:e158. Online publication 26 May 2015