It’s estimated that 642 million people will be living with diabetes globally by 2040 – and following a plant-based diet could be key to managing the condition, a new study suggests.
Nearly 15 per cent of all global deaths are attributed to diabetes. It killed five million under-60s in 2015 and it’s also frequently associated with depression, which in turn can affect how well blood glucose levels are controlled.
But a new analysis in the BMJ suggests vegan diets might help alleviate issues associated with the condition including nerve damage and depressive symptoms, while also aiding weight loss.
Researchers in the UK analysed 11 clinical trials, published between 1999 and 2017, which compared the impact of following a plant-based diet (rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and seeds with few animal products like meat and dairy) with other types of diet.
How Can A Vegan Diet Help?
The analysis revealed that those who adopted a vegan or plant-based diet witnessed an improvement in quality of life and also felt less depressed.
It was also associated with reduced nerve pain. Researchers believe the diet may have slowed the progressive nerve damage associated with diabetes, which can result in amputations.
People who ate a vegan or plant-based diet also witnessed a fall in blood fats, which is a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease. And fasting blood glucose levels fell more sharply in those who cut out or ate very few animal products, with these participants losing nearly twice as much weight as those in other diet groups.
Professor Mike Lean, a specialist in human nutrition at University of Glasgow, previously told HuffPost UK, that if patients with early stage type 2 diabetes are able to lose a large amount of weight they can actually reverse the condition.
“We know anecdotally it happens,” he said. “We’ve seen it with bariatric surgery and we’ve seen it with individuals who have not accepted the diagnosis and have got rid of it. In most cases you need to lose a large amount of weight (15kg or more). If you catch the diabetes early, there’s a chance it might reverse with less weight loss.”
Researchers added the caveat that the study sample sizes were quite small. However, they noted that in six of the studies analysed, people following a plant-based diet were able to cut down or discontinue the drugs they were taking for their diabetes and associated underlying conditions, such as high blood pressure.
Daniel Howarth, head of care at Diabetes UK, warned people not to go jumping headfirst into a vegan diet. “It is very important to note that different diets will work for different people, and dietary advice should be individualised,” he told HuffPost UK.
“That is why we recommend that you consult with a healthcare professional before taking out important food groups from your diet.”
That said, making simple lifestyle changes such as eating less processed and red meat, and substituting those with plant-based protein, can have a positive impact on your health, including reducing the risk of cardiovascular complications from diabetes.
Eating more fruit, vegetables and wholegrain beans and pulses, as well as cutting down on the amount of sugar, salt and fat in your diet can help too, Howarth added.