Diabetes and Low-Fat Vegan Diets
Researchers in Canada and the United States said Thursday that people with Type 2 diabetes taking oral medications have seen dramatic improvements after switching to a low-fat, vegan diet.
Dr. David Jenkins, who holds the Canada research chair in nutrition and metabolism at the University of Toronto, helped plan the study. He said the findings could pave the way for new ways of treating the disease.
"We're some way from the universal application of this, but I think it may provide some very interesting leads for the more imaginative patients and the more imaginative doctors," said Jenkins.
More than two million Canadians have Type 2 diabetes, which is linked to blindness and kidney failure and can lead to fatal heart disease.
Traditionally, patients are given an oral medication to help the body produce more insulin to keep blood sugar levels in check. As well, a diet that requires meticulous measuring in order to cut calories and carbohydrates is usually necessary.
Dr. Neal Barnard president of the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine, which helped conduct the study, told a news conference in Washington on Thursday that those restrictions weren't applied with the vegan diet.
"The diet did not restrict carbohydrate, it could be high carbohydrate, the diet didn't restrict calories, it didn't restrict portion size," said Barnard. "If it was 8:30 at night and you were hungry you could go ahead and eat."
The diet ruled out animal products, with vegetable oils and fatty fruits like avocados frowned upon.
Barnard took a group of diabetics, and put about half on the vegan diet, with the other half on the traditional diabetes regimen.
After 22 weeks, those who ate vegan lost almost twice as much weight while reducing both their cholesterol and blood sugar.
Nancy Bowen, who participated in the study, said she has stopped taking one of the drugs previously prescribed.
"Where I work, people say to me, I wish I would have known about this because we buried my mom or my dad a couple years ago.
People in the study attended weekly sessions with dieticians that included cooking lessons to help them get past oatmeal breakfasts and dry salads.
Researchers aren't exactly sure why the diet works, but believe it may be responsible for the low rate of diabetes in parts of Africa and Asia, where the diet is mainly plant-based food.
Details of the study will appear in next month's edition of a journal published by the American Diabetes Association.