A plant-based diet could help people with type 2 diabetes manage symptoms of their disease, according to a new review published in BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care. The review, conducted by researchers at the University of London, found that type 2 diabetes sufferers who consumed a plant-based diet saw significant improvements in symptoms including mood, weight, and cholesterol levels.
The researchers analyzed the results of 11 studies published between 1999 and 2017. The studies compared the effects of different ways of eating on a total of 433 patients with type 2 diabetes, most of whom were in their mid-50s.
This review is the first to examine not just the physiological but also the psychological impact of a plant-based diet in people with type 2 diabetes. Improvements in mood are particularly significant given the link between type 2 diabetes and depression. Certain prescription antidepressants were linked in one 2012 study to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, and a news release regarding the study explains that it is more difficult to control the blood glucose levels of type 2 diabetes patients who also suffer from depression.
“A systematic critical analysis of the results showed that quality of life – both physical and emotional – improved only in those patients on a plant based/vegan diet," reads the news release. "Similarly, depressive symptoms improved significantly only in these groups.”
Researchers found that a plant-based diet also lessened nerve pain and loss of temperature control in the feet. This, according to the researchers, suggests that a plant-based diet could slow progressive nerve damage in diabetes patients.
The researchers nevertheless noted that the small sample sizes of the studies they reviewed indicates that more research will be needed.
"Future studies could explore ways of delivering proper nutritional education in order to support participants to follow healthier dietary patterns," wrote the authors.
Diabetes affects 29.1 million people in the United States, but according to the CDC, one in four of these people is unaware they have the disease. Nearly 15 percent of all deaths worldwide are attributed to diabetes.