Pain from diabetic neuropathy, or nerve damage, is notoriously difficult to treat, with only an estimated 40% to 60% of people affected achieving partial relief. But according to new research, a plant-based diet reduces the pain of the condition.
Neuropathy is experienced by up to 70% of people with diabetes, according to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. Peripheral neuropathy affects the nerves responsible for sensation, typically impacting the feet, legs, hands, and arms, causing symptoms such as pain, numbness, loss of sensation, tingling, coldness, and sensitivity to touch.
Previous research has indicated that a low-fat, vegan diet (which includes only plant-based foods and avoids anything derived from or produced by animals) can improve blood sugar control in people with Type 2 diabetes. To determine whether such a diet can also reduce neuropathy pain, investigators put 17 adults with Type 2 diabetes and painful neuropathy on a low-fat, vegan diet with B12 supplementation for 20 weeks, along with weekly nutrition classes for support in following the prescribed diet. A control group was asked to take vitamin B12 supplements, but received no other interventions.
The researchers found that, compared to those in the control group, those on the vegan diet experienced significant improvements in nerve pain based on the results of the Short Form McGill Pain Questionnaire (a self-reported pain scale), physical assessments, and electrochemical skin conductance on their feet. Blood circulation and nerve function were improved, and those following the vegan diet additionally lost an average of 14 pounds.
The researchers theorize that the diet works to improve neuropathy symptoms by reducing insulin resistance, allowing the body time to fix the nerve damage.
“The dietary intervention is easy to prescribe and easy to follow. Steel-cut oats, leafy greens, and lentils are widely available at most food markets and fit well into most budgets,” notes Cameron Wells, MPh, RD, acting director of nutrition education for the Physicians Committee. “It’s always so rewarding to see [our patients’] reactions, because it’s indicating ‘I really am doing something that seems to be working.'”
For more information, see the article “New study shows a plant-based vegan diet improves diabetic neuropathy pain, lowers body weight,” or see the study in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes. And for more strategies on dealing with neuropathy, see the piece “Controlling Neuropathic Pain: Tips From and Occupational Therpist.”
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