Plant-Based Vegan Diet May Improve Diabetic Neuropathy Pain, Lower Body Weight

Ulka Agarwal, M.D. California State University, East Bay Student Health and Counseling Services, Hayward, MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Ulka Agarwal, M.D.
California State University, East Bay
Student Health and Counseling Services
Hayward, CA

MedicalResearch: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr. Agarwal: Diabetic peripheral neuropathy affects 60 percent of patients with type 2 diabetes and can come with painful symptoms but limited treatment options. We thought a dietary intervention may help alleviate these symptoms since glycemic control plays a role in diabetes complications.

To get started with the pilot, we put 17 adults on a low-fat vegan diet for 20 weeks and prescribed weekly nutrition classes. We found 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. The participants also lost an average of 14 pounds.

MedicalResearch: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Agarwal: The take-home message from this study is a low-fat, plant-based diet helps treat diabetes and the complications that emerge. This approach is an effective way to both treat diabetic nerve pain and manage type 2 diabetes. It also shows, time and time again, to help patients lose and maintain a healthful weight.

The dietary rules we use to guide the intervention are to first adopt a plant-based diet, favor low-glycemic food choices, limit high-fat foods, including oils, take a vitamin B12 supplement, and consume 40 grams of fiber a day. By filling up with nutrient-dense, high-fiber foods, study participants often lower blood pressure and improve total cholesterol. It’s a nice easy side effect and easy to implement with foods like black bean chili, oatmeal with fresh fruit and raisins, and leafy green salads topped with sweet potatoes, black beans, fresh herbs, and bold spices.

In terms of diabetic neuropathy, we saw electrochemical skin conductance in the foot improve by an average of 12.4 microseimens. Plus, the between-group difference in pain, as measured by the McGill pain questionnaire, was 8.2 points.

MedicalResearch: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Agarwal: We would like to replicate this pilot study on a larger scale, reaching even more people with a dietary intervention. There is room to separate which parts of the intervention lead to improved health outcomes, which was not a goal of this pilot study.

Ulka Agarwal, M.D., is the lead physician for the nutrition and integrative medicine program at California State University, East Bay, and former chief medical officer for the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

Citation:

Citation: Nutrition & Diabetes (2015) 5, e158; doi:10.1038/nutd.2015.8
Published online 26 May 2015

A dietary intervention for chronic diabetic neuropathy pain: a randomized controlled pilot study
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A E Bunner1, C L Wells1, J Gonzales1, U Agarwal2, E Bayat3and N D Barnard

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MedicalResearch.com Interview with: Ulka Agarwal, M.D. California State University, East Bay, Student Health and Counseling Services, & Hayward, CA (2015). Plant-Based Vegan Diet May Improve Diabetic Neuropathy Pain, Lower Body Weight 

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