Easing Diabetic Nerve Pain With a Vegan Diet

Researchers conducting a small study on the health effects of a vegan diet on people suffering from diabetic nerve pain have found that it can potentially help alleviate certain symptoms and promote weight loss. The results of the study were published in the May 25 issue of Nutrition & Diabetes and included data showing how study participants who followed a vegan diet, which excluded animal products and byproducts, exhibited an average weight loss of 15 pounds per person, improved circulation in the feet and increased relief from pain.

According to the investigators, the goal of the small pilot study was to determine if the adoption of an entirely plant-based vegan diet could be an effective way to help patients manage the chronic pain associated with the peripheral nerve damage frequently caused by type 2 diabetes. Unlike relatively less restrictive vegetarian diets, which typically exclude only animal products like meat, vegan diets are designed to exclude all animal products, which also includes dairy, eggs and any processed byproducts. People who follow a vegan diet, like the one used in the study, strive to obtain all of their nutritional requirements through the consumption of plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grain cereals, nuts and cooking oils derived from plants.

The United States National Institutes of Health estimates that approximately half of those with diabetes will end up suffering from some form of neuropathic condition, which typically causes sharp pain, chronic sensitivity or numbness in the lower extremities. The nerve pain from peripheral neuropathy caused by diabetes is the result of consistently elevated blood sugar levels which can damage small blood vessels and reduce blood flow to nerves in certain areas.

Study participants with type 2 diabetes and diabetic neuropathy who followed a vegan diet, in conjunction with B12 supplements, for roughly 20 weeks displayed an average weight loss of 15 pounds person. In addition to the weight loss, those on the vegan diet showed lower blood sugar levels and reported decreased nerve pain in comparison to those participants who merely took B12 supplements without changing their usual dietary habits.

Endocrinologists and weight-management experts seem to concur that a vegan diet can be of use for managing diabetic nerve pain by helping to reduce blood sugar levels and promote weight loss. However, they’re quick to point out that a strictly plant-based diet will require B12 supplements, which is found only in animal products, and proper education regarding how to meet all of their nutritional requirements from vegan sources.