It is now well-established that a healthful and nutritious plant-based diet can help prevent and treat chronic diseases including heart disease, cancer and obesity. Now a new study is showing that a vegetarian diet could help reverse diabetes.
Millions of people battling the killer disease could improve their blood sugar levels by eradicating meat from their weekly shop. Scientists believe removing animal meats could help cure the condition, leaving patients free from the disease.
Vegetarian diets are often associated with health advantages including lower blood cholesterol levels, lower risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure levels, lower risk of hypertension and now we can add preventing and reversing type 2 diabetes to that list.
According to one large study, vegetarians are a third less likely to need hospital treatment for heart disease or die from it, and the diet could mean living nine additional years than you might consuming meat based diets according the the findings.
They said changes to diet could be used as an alternative treatment for type 2 diabetes. An analysis of previous studies revealed removing animal meats from diet helps improve insulin sensitivity.
Eating a vegetable-based diet reduced levels of a key blood-protein called glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c).
For people with diabetes, the higher the HbA1c in their blood, the greater the risk of developing diabetes-related complications such as nerve damage, eye problems, and heart disease.
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The study found a vegan or vegetarian diet lowered HbA1c by an average of 0.4 percentage points, and up to 0.7 points. This is comparable to the effects of drugs given to help patients with diabetes control their blood-sugar levels, researchers said.
‘A diet change beats a pill,’ said dietitian Susan Levin, one of the study’s authors.
‘A plant-based diet improves blood sugar, body weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol all at the same time, something no drug can do.’
Dr Neal Barnard, of the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, added: ‘Plant-based diets work in a different way than “conventional” diabetes diets.
‘We now know that type 2 diabetes is caused by insulin resistance. Getting the animal fat — and fats in general — out of the diet helps repair insulin’s ability to function.’
Most health experts now recognize that animals fat are problematic for a percentage of the population who has trouble metabolizing and effectively utilizing the nutrients in meat based products. That also happens with many who consume grain-based products, especially wheat. The key is to find which method works best for you.
Although this study shows an association between a vegetarian diet and a reduction in HbA1c, it fails to pinpoint which aspects of a vegetarian diet might have this effect, or whether other changes to diet, which don’t involve giving up meat, might also help to lower blood glucose.
Barnard said the ‘side effects’ are beneficial, people lose weight, blood pressure improves and cholesterol levels drop. ‘With a plant-based diet, we could help tackle the disease once and for all.’
Across the world, 347 million people have diabetes, according to the World Health Organization. They predict it will be the seventh leading cause of death by 2030.
The condition occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin to take sugar out of the bloodstream, or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces.
Over time diabetes can lead to raised blood sugar levels, which causes damage to many of the body’s systems, especially the nerves and blood vessels.
This damage can lead to blindness, amputation, heart disease, kidney failure and stroke.
As part of the new study, researchers analysed the dietary patterns of 255 adults with type 2 diabetes in the U.S, Brazil, and the Czech Republic.
They found people who ate low-fat vegan diet, or a diet of egg and dairy products but no meat, lowered HbA1c by an average of 0.4 percentage points and up to 0.7 points in some studies.
This is comparable to the same effect of alpha-glucosidase inhibitors, drugs given to patients that help control their blood-glucose levels by preventing the digestion of carbohydrate, they said.
Writing in the report, the researchers said:
‘Vegetarian (including vegan) diets have benefits for cardiovascular health, hypertension, body weight, and plasma lipids, and also provide nutritional advantages compared with omnivorous diets.’
A vegetarian diet also contains fewer calories, therefore helping patients manage their weight, a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
Plant-based diets tend to be higher in fibre, which slows the rate sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream, researchers added.
Therefore, a vegetarian diet could be used as a ‘treatment alternative for type 2 diabetes, they concluded.