New research has shown that a healthy diet that is loaded with vegetables can improve some diabetes risk factors. According to the research, vegan diets are better still.
Health scientists at the George Washington University found that eating a plant-based diet reduces levels of a blood protein (HbA1c) that can lead to complications in type 2 diabetes. The research was published in the journal Cardiovascular Diagnosis and Therapy.
Weight loss, lower cholesterol and improved blood pressure
The plant based diet not only helped manage blood sugar levels but also reduce cholesterol, hypertension and aided weight loss.
Now, before you assume that the key reason is that only meat and vegetables are eaten and the real factor is that no wheat, bread, high-carbs etc. is eaten, take note of the next finding: a low-fat vegan diet is even better. Patients who consumed a low-fat vegan diet allowed some type 2 diabetes patients to stop taking their insulin injections and other medication.
According to an article in Diabetes UK, Dr Neal Barnard said: “One simple prescription could help reverse diabetes, improve blood sugar, and lower weight, blood pressure and cholesterol. And all this is possible, our analysis found, not with a new magic pill, but with tried-and-true simple changes to diet.”
However, from past experience we do know that following such a diet will not work if people continue to eat too much. Losing weight still appears to be a key factor.
Tracy Kelly, head of clinical care at Diabetes UK, said: “Longer studies have also shown that eating a vegetarian diet does not consistently improve glycemic control or reduce risk of heart disease, except where energy intake was restricted and people lost weight.”
The extreme primal dieters are often doing this – are losing weight and getting fit. It may be that they are making it harder for themselves by eating mostly meat, eggs and fish though.
NHS to the rescue!
Don’t get too excited though, because it seems that the benefits may only be slight. Although The Daily Mail says “How becoming a vegetarian can CURE diabetes” and the Daily Express ran with the headline “Vegetable diet WILL beat diabetes: Meat-free lifestyle cures killer disease, experts claim” (note, the experts never actually made this claim!)
Fortunately, the NHS takes a more cautious stance and goes with the story that “Vegetarian diet ‘could have slight benefits in diabetes’“.
The NHS points out that “This slight reduction in HbA1c is no cure. As the researchers themselves pointed out, the reduction is less than you would expect if a patient was being treated with the drug of choice for type 2 diabetes, metformin.”
The NHS also criticised the review saying that the “review also has various important limitations, including the variable design and quality of the six trials included”. More importantly, they clearly state that:
So, it does not prove that a vegetarian or vegan diet is better for a person with type 2 diabetes, and any media claims of a “cure” for the condition are entirely baseless. – NHS Choices
The NHS report also highlights the conflicts of interest that existed in the research:
One of the co-authors declared a non-financial conflict of interest. This author serves as president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, without financial compensation.
This organisation is described in the publication as one that, “promotes the use of low-fat, plant-based diets and discourages the use of animal-derived, fatty, and sugary foods”. This represents a potential conflict of interest in the interpretation of the results. – NHS Choices
The conclusions of the research published in Cardiovascular Diagnosis and Therapy was:
“Evidence from clinical trials has shown that vegetarian diets reduce HbA1c levels, suggesting that they may be beneficial in the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes.”
Type 2 diabetes is still a degenerative disease, meaning that once a person is diagnosed at having it, their state will always worsen over time. It is usually caused by a malfunction of a part of the pancreas (the islets of Langerhans) which is responsible for making and releasing insulin.
Drugs help manage the condition by encouraging this organ to produce more insulin, but in time the result is that the condition progresses until the point that the drugs no longer have a functioning organ work with.
The main risk of diabetes is prolonged elevated blood glucose (sugar) levels, which damages blood vessels and causes hypertension. Over time damage is done to the large vessels, causing heart problems, stroke and of the heart and also small blood vessels (microvascular) which causes long-term numbness of the extremities, blindness (diabetic retinopathy), impotence and can cause strokes.
The best way to avoid diabetes is to maintain a healthy weight and stay fit. For those with diabetes, the best treatment is still to take the drugs that your doctor prescribes if lifestyle changes are not helping you to manage your blood sugar levels.
Diabetes kills, so take it seriously and do not believe the tabloid headlines. But do exercise and do eat a healthy, calorie controlled diet (and go easy on the cake).
Next we shall look at the growing trend in more extreme primal dieting.
Read the original research here:
“Vegetarian diets and glycemic control in diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis” by Yoko Yokoyama, Neal D. Barnard, Susan M. Levin, Mitsuhiro Watanabe