Skip the meat and eggs, and help yourself to fruits and vegetables. According to a new study, that change of diet may turn out to be a long-sought treatment for peripheral diabetic neuropathy – diabetic nerve pain.

Sooner or later, diabetic neuropathy strikes about half of all people with type 2 diabetes. Good blood sugar control may help to prevent it. It is most often felt in the feet and legs. Until now, doctors could only try to ease the pain of diabetic neuropathy; there wasn’t any way to treat the underlying cause. Now, a small, preliminary study suggests that a plant-based diet may do both.

The Research

In the Dietary Intervention for Chronic Diabetic Neuropathy Pain study, called DINE for short, patients with type 2 diabetes were randomly assigned to one of two groups. One group followed a low-fat, high-fiber, plant-based diet, avoiding animal products such as meat, milk, and eggs altogether. They also took supplements of vitamin B12, a nutrient that many diabetic patients are deficient in. The second group took vitamin B12 too, but followed their usual diet.

Since high-fiber foods are low in calories, members of the group that were on the vegan diet were told that they could eat as much as they wanted. However, they had to limit their intake of fatty foods such as oils and nuts and attend weekly nutrition classes.

What Happened?

After 20 weeks, results were impressive. The patients on the vegan diet reported greater improvements in neuropathy pain than the other group, and there were neurologic improvements in their neuropathy too. They were also more likely to have lost weight, which significantly improved their body mass index (BMI). Both groups saw improvements, but the group on the vegan diet benefitted most.

Among the questions we can’t answer without more research are these: was the vitamin B12 that both groups took responsible for some of the benefits that both groups reported? And did the vegan group’s nutrition classes change their eating habits in ways that affected their neuropathy?

Researchers will continue to follow the DINE study participants for one year to see whether the improvements will stand the test of time.

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