sweet-potato-300x225About 60-70% of people with diabetes have some form of neuropathy (1).  It’s more common in those who have problems controlling their blood sugar.  Neuropathy is the damage to nerves in the body which can cause tingling, numbness or pain among other symptoms.  Pain or tingling typically affects the extremities (such as hands, arms, feet and legs) but nerve damage can actually affect any organ in the body. The problem is current treatments for neuropathy pain only treat the pain and not the underlying cause of the pain.

Back in 1994, an observational study had showed that 17 out of 21 adults with type 2 diabetes experienced complete relief of neuropathy pain while on a low-fat, high-fiber vegan diet for a month.  The majority of these subjects were also able to reduce their diabetes and blood pressure medications.  However, this was not a controlled study.  As such, researchers at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine put the diet to test—this time in a controlled setting.

For the current study, fifteen male and female adults (average age of 57) with type 2 diabetes were recruited. Each was randomly assigned to either a low-fat, high-fiber vegan diet with B12 supplement OR to the B12 supplement alone.  Those assigned to the diet also attended 20 weekly classes that covered nutrition education, social support, cooking demos and food product sampling.

Ultimately, subjects on the diet had significantly greater improvement in pain management than those taking the B12 supplement alone.  Diet subjects also had significantly greater reductions in Body Mass Index (a value derived from height and weight).  They also experienced improvements in HbA1c (a proxy of blood sugar levels within the past 3 months), and lower cholesterol with many actually coming off of cholesterol medications.  On the other hand, subjects taking B12 alone were put on more cholesterol lowering meds.

Long term effects of the diet have not been investigated, but the researchers plan to follow subjects through 1 year. Nonetheless, preliminary findings appear worthy and show the potential of how a dietary intervention could be used to ease diabetic neuropathy pain.

  1. Diabetic neuropathies: The nerve damage of diabetes. National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, US Department of Health & Human Services. Updated Nov 2013. Available at: http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/neuropathies/
  2. American Association of Diabetes Educators. Source reference: Bunner A, Trapp C “A dietary intervention for chronic diabetic neuropathy pain” AADE 2014.
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