Background: Diabetic neuropathy is a common and often debilitating condition for which available treatments are limited. Because a low-fat plant-based diet has been shown to improve glycemic control in individuals with type 2 diabetes, we hypothesized that such a diet would reduce painful symptoms of diabetic neuropathy.
Methods: In this 20-week pilot study, individuals with type 2 diabetes and painful diabetic neuropathy were randomly assigned to two groups. The intervention group was asked to follow a low-fat, plant-based diet, with weekly classes for support in following the prescribed diet, and to take a vitamin B12 supplement. The control group was asked to take the same vitamin B12 supplement, but received no other intervention. At baseline, midpoint and 20 weeks, clinical, laboratory and questionnaire data were collected. Questionnaires included an analog 'worst pain' scale, Michigan Neuropathy Screening Instrument, global impression scale, Short Form McGill Pain Questionnaire, Neuropathy Total Symptom Score, a weekly pain diary and Norfolk Quality of Life Questionnaire.
Results: After 20 weeks, body weight change with the intervention was -6.4 kg (95% confidence interval (CI) -9.4 to -3.4, P<0.001) in an effect size analysis. Electrochemical skin conductance in the foot improved by an average of 12.4 microseimens (95% CI 1.2-23.6, P=0.03) with the intervention in an effect size analysis. The between-group difference in change in pain, as measured by the McGill pain questionnaire, was -8.2 points (95% CI -16.1 to -0.3, P=0.04). Michigan Neuropathy Screening Instrument questionnaire score change was -1.6 points (95% CI -3.0 to -0.2, P=0.03).
Conclusions: Improvements were seen in some clinical and pain measures. This pilot study suggests the potential value of a plant-based diet intervention, including weekly support classes, for treating painful diabetic neuropathy.