Weight Loss May Improve Diabetic Neuropathy Symptoms

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Weight Loss May Improve Diabetic Neuropathy Symptoms

Losing excess body weight through dietary strategies may help improve symptoms of diabetic neuropathy, according to a new study published in the journal Obesity.

Diabetic peripheral neuropathy affects the limbs, mostly the legs and feet, and is marked by numbness, tingling, or burning sensations. It can range from mild to severe, and can be debilitating in its most severe forms. Peripheral neuropathy develops in people with diabetes due to nerve damage caused by elevated blood glucose levels over time. There are pain management treatments available to treat the condition, including oral prescription drugs as well topical applications including a patch that releases capsaicin, an ingredient derived from hot peppers. For severe pain from diabetic neuropathy, a spinal cord stimulation implant has also been approved in the United States. While peripheral neuropathy can be disabling in its own right, it may also increase the risk for diabetic foot ulcers — wounds that don’t heal easily, which in the most severe cases can lead to toe, foot, or leg amputations. Neuropathy has also been linked to cognitive decline in people with type 2 diabetes.

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For the latest study, researchers were interested in looking at the effects of diet-induced weight loss on symptoms of diabetic peripheral neuropathy in people with severe obesity. There were 72 participants who completed the study, with an average age of 50. Participants started out taking a meal replacement containing 800 calories per day for 12 weeks, then transitioned to replacement meals containing 1,200 to 1,500 calories per day for a total duration of two years. The researchers measured neuropathy-related outcomes in a few ways, including nerve fiber density in the thigh and lower leg, as well as nerve conduction studies, sensory testing, and questionnaires asking about symptoms and quality of life.

Weight loss linked to improvements in diabetic neuropathy measures

After two years, participants had lost an average of 12.4 kilograms (27.3 pounds) of body weight. They also saw improvements in various metabolic measurements, including blood glucose and blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides). While nerve fiber density didn’t change significantly overall, participants saw improvements in how they rated their neuropathy on questionnaires — including how it affected their quality of life — and in sensory testing.

The researchers noted that while they set out mostly to evaluate the effects of dietary weight loss on neuropathy symptoms, the improvements seen in metabolic health were also notable. They also pointed out that nerve fiber density tends to get worse over time in people with peripheral neuropathy, so the lack of any significant changes in those measurements could actually count as an improvement. “Given that natural history studies reveal decreases in [nerve fiber density] over time, dietary weight loss may halt this progression, but randomized controlled trials are needed” to know more about the role of weight loss in this process, the researchers wrote.

Want to learn more about neuropathy? Read “Coping With Painful Neuropathy,” “Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy,” and “Controlling Neuropathic Pain.”

Want to learn more about weight management? Read “Tried and True Weight-Loss Techniques,” “St “Losing Weight Without Feeling Hungry,” and “Seven Ways to Lose Weight.”

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

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A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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