A low-fat vegan diet may help people with type 2 diabetes reduce physical pain related to the condition, suggests a small new study.
Most people with type 2 diabetes will develop peripheral diabetic neuropathy, a condition that causes people to feel pain, burning and numbness in their body's extremities.
“For an individual patient, it can be miserable and also depressing because there are no good treatments and it just gets worse and worse,” said the study’s lead researcher who is also affiliated with the George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.
Type 2 is the most common form of diabetes and is often linked to obesity. In type 2 diabetes, the body's cells are resistant to the hormone insulin, or the body doesn't make enough of it. Insulin gives blood sugar (glucose) access to the body's cells to be used as fuel.
The disease is thought to interfere with the ability of nerves to signal the brain about pain, light touch and temperature. Anti-seizure medications and antidepressants help relieve nerve pain in some patients but may have unpleasant side effects.
For the new study, the researchers recruited 35 adults with type 2 diabetes and painful diabetic neuropathy.
They randomly assigned 17 participants to follow a low-fat vegan diet and take B12 supplements for 20 weeks, with weekly support classes. The other 18 were instructed to take B12 supplements but maintain their normal diet.
The vegan diet focused on vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes. Overall, most participants on the vegan diet appeared to avoid animal products and about half stuck to low-fat diets throughout the study.
After 20 weeks, those on the vegan diet lost an average of about 15 pounds, compared to about one pound among those in the comparison group.
Several other measures of health, including blood pressure, improved among the participants on the vegan diet, compared to the control group.
Those on the vegan diet also reported a much greater drop in pain, compared to the control group. A test of the nerves in the foot also suggested that the vegan diet may have slowed or halted nerve function decline, compared to the control group.
The research team acknowledged that larger trials are still be needed to show a vegan diet helped relieve pain related to type 2 diabetes.
Source: Nutrition and Diabetes, online May 26, 2015.
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