In a recent painweek.org Daily Dose, the benefits of a low-fat plant-based diet for chronic diabetic neuropathy were discussed (read the Daily Dose here). The study highlighted the fact that a vegan diet led to weight reduction, lower blood pressure, and significantly reduced pain. It was suggested as well that the vegan diet may have slowed or halted nerve function decline.
The Pain Reporter contacted lead researcher Neal D. Barnard, MD, President of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and Adjunct Associate Professor of Medicine at George Washington University School of Medicine Washington, for additional comments.
Q: What do you think about the general state of nutrition and pain management in the US today?
A: Thankfully, meat intake has begun to fall and has dropped about 20 pounds per capita over the past decade. That is a good sign. Cheese intake remains phenomenally high, which escorts a huge load of fat and calories onto the American plate. But the number of people shifting to vegetarian and vegan diets is bigger than ever, and that is a good sign for the future.
Q: Do you think the combination of low-fat AND vegan eating led to the positive results of this study?
A: Yes. As fat particles build up inside the cell, they cause insulin resistance, which causes sugar to build up in the bloodstream. By greatly reducing fat intake, the fat particles tend to dissipate and insulin sensitivity improves.
Q: Do you plan more studies of vegan diets in other pain populations? If so, which?
A: We have done many already, testing vegan diets for weight loss in overweight people, for their pain-reducing effect in young women with menstrual pain, their ability to reduce blood sugar and blood pressure, and other things. We have published quite a number of studies at this point.
Q: How can we change the way Americans see the importance of animal-based protein?
A: This first thing is to not think of it as protein. Meat is a mixture of protein and fat (along with a sprinkling of bacteria). Although I and most other Americans grew up with a meat-based diet, it is a clear contributor to the health problems that are so common nowadays: obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and others.
Q: Do you come across doctors and/or scientists who still think of plant-based eating as relegated to only ‘hippies’ or animal lovers?
A: People who think that are the same people who think it is wimpy to quit smoking.
Q: Can you foresee a time when practitioners routinely recommend a plant-based diet to their patients in pain?
A: Yes. For several years, the American Diabetes Association has included vegan diets in its recommendations for treatment of diabetes, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has recognized their value as well. Our biggest advocates are the patients who have tried this approach, and their primary doctors who are often amazed to see the results.
Q: What is a dream project you hope to work on?
A: We need to work with children, which means a combined intervention helping the children, their families, and their schools. By starting children on the right path, many problems can be prevented.
Thank you, Dr. Bernard!
To read about an ED drug that may relieve neuropathy, click here.
To read about diabetic neuropathy and iron, click here.
For access to a slide presentation about diabetic peripheral neuropathy, click here.