A recent study suggests that a plant-based diet may reduce diabetic neuropathy and, in effect, diabetic foot ulcers.
Among the many complications that can arise from diabetes is the risk of diabetic foot ulcers. As the American Podiatric Medical Association reports, about 15 percent of all people diagnosed with diabetes will experience such ulcers, and 6 percent of those will develop wound infection or another complication that requires hospitalization. These ulcers often form due to neuropathy, nerve damage leading to poor circulation in the feet that causes a loss of feeling or tingling sensation in the lower extremities. Along with being a cause of ulcers, neuropathy can exasperate the situation by making it difficult for patients to feel pain related to wounds, thereby preventing them from seeking proper wound care.
As such, researchers have been on the prowl for a way to ease nerve damage to the feet among diabetics. According to a study published in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes in May 2015, a vegan diet may be an effective intervention for diabetic neuropathy.
About the study
Conducted by researchers at George Washington University and California State University, the study was a randomized, controlled pilot delving further into the already-known benefits of a low-fat, plant-based diet, namely the vegan diet. As the study points out, such health regimens have been proven to enhance the body’s natural glycemic control in Type 2 diabetics. Over the course of 20 weeks, 34 human subjects with Type 2 diabetes and painful, chronic diabetic neuropathy took part in one of two regimens: One was assigned B12 supplements, while the other took on a plant-based diet (with classes to teach them proper nutrition under this regimen) as well as the same B12 supplements.
Through questionnaires and clinical and lab data, the researchers found that the 17 participants who took on a vegan diet lost an average of 15 pounds per person. Additionally, these subjects benefited from improved blood flow to the feet and reduces pain, tingling and numbness associated with neuropathy. By comparison, the non-vegan group lost only 1 pound on average per person. As Dr. Neal Barnard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and lead author on the study, told Reuters, the study could mean great things for people with diabetic pain and no effective treatment options.
“This new study gives a ray of hope for a condition where there are no other good treatments,” Barnard said. “For an individual patient, it can be miserable and also depressing because there are no good treatments and it just gets worse and worse … By setting aside animal products and oily foods, you can become healthier, and your pain can diminish and perhaps even go away.”
Considering a vegan diet
A vegan diet involves removing all animal products from your diet, including dairy and eggs. For many, this can be a difficult life change. However, while this study strongly suggests that a plant-based diet is the key to weight-loss and reduced symptoms of diabetes, a vegan diet may not be the only answer.
“It’s hard to say that it’s this particular diet, itself,” Dr. Maria Pena, a weight-management specialist and endocrinologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told HealthDay. “The weight loss, by itself, can help with pain,” going on to explain that fat-loss can reduce inflammation, improve mobility and ease nerve pain.
Additionally, some patients may not be best-suited for a vegan diet, as nutritional needs vary by person. With that, it’s important to talk with a clinician about a diet plan that meets your needs and helps you reduce the symptoms of diabetes as well as the risk of diabetic foot ulcers.