Vegan Diet Reduces Neuropathy Pain

By Pat Anson, Editor

A vegetarian diet coupled with a daily vitamin B12 supplement significantly reduced pain and improved the quality of life of people with diabetic neuropathy, according to the findings of a small study published in Nutrition & Diabetes. Participants also lost an average of 14 pounds.

Nearly 26 million people in the United States have diabetes and about half have some form of neuropathy, according to the American Diabetes Association.  Diabetic peripheral neuropathy causes nerves to send out abnormal signals. Patients feel burning, tingling or prickling sensations in their toes, feet, legs, hands and arms.

Many drugs used to treat neuropathic pain, such as Neurontin and Lyrica, often don’t work or have unpleasant side effects.

Researchers at California State University, East Bay, and the George Washington University School of Medicine put 17 adults on a low-fat vegan diet that focused on vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes. Typical meals included oatmeal with raisins, pasta with marinara sauce, vegetable stir-fry with rice, and lentil stew.

Participants also took a daily vitamin B12 supplement, as did a control group that did not alter its diet.

After 20 weeks, patients on the vegan diet not only had less neuropathic pain, they had lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and had lost weight.

"A dietary intervention reduces the pain associated with diabetic neuropathy, apparently by improving insulin resistance" said Neal Barnard, MD, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine at CSU East Bay.

Researchers also noted there was significant improvement in pain and other symptoms in the control group.  The magnitude of the improvement suggests that the B12 supplement, intended to serve as a placebo, may have had real effects in both groups.

One in three children born in the U.S. in 2000 will develop diabetes at some point in his or her life. The average lifetime cost to treat type 2 diabetes is $85,200, half of which is spent on diabetes complications.

"The dietary intervention is easy to prescribe and easy to follow," says Cameron Wells, a registered dietician and acting director of nutrition education for the Physicians Committee. "Steel-cut oats, leafy greens, and lentils are widely available at most food markets and fit well into most budgets."