July 27, 2006

Vegan diet reverses diabetes symptoms, study finds

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - People who ate a low-fat vegan diet,
cutting out all meat and dairy, lowered their blood sugar more
and lost more weight than people on a standard American
Diabetes Association diet, researchers said on Thursday.

They lowered their cholesterol more and ended up with
better kidney function, according to the report published in
Diabetes Care, a journal published by the American Diabetes

Participants said the vegan diet was easier to follow than
most because they did not measure portions or count calories.
Three of the vegan dieters dropped out of the study, compared
to eight on the standard diet.

"I hope this study will rekindle interest in using diet
changes first, rather than prescription drugs," Dr. Neal
Barnard, president of the Physician's Committee for Responsible
Medicine, which helped conduct the study, told a news

An estimated 18 million Americans have type-2 diabetes,
which results from a combination of genetics and poor eating
and exercise habits. They run a high risk of heart disease,
stroke, kidney failure, blindness and limb loss.

Barnard's team and colleagues at George Washington
University, the University of Toronto and the University of
North Carolina tested 99 people with type-2 diabetes, assigning
them randomly to either a low-fat, low-sugar vegan diet or the
standard American Diabetes Association diet.

After 22 weeks on the diet, 43 percent of those on the
vegan diet and 26 percent of those on the standard diet were
either able to stop taking some of their drugs such as insulin
or glucose-control medications, or lowered the doses.

The vegan dieters lost 14 pounds (6.5 kg) on average while
the diabetes association dieters lost 6.8 pounds (3.1 kg).

An important level of glucose control called a1c fell by
1.23 points in the vegan group and by 0.38 in the group on the
standard diet.


A1c gives a measure of how well-controlled blood sugar has
been over the preceding three months.

In the dieters who did not change whatever cholesterol
drugs they were on during the study, LDL or "bad" cholesterol
fell by 21 percent in the vegan group and 10 percent in the
standard diet group.

The vegan diet removed all animal products, including meat,
fish and dairy. It was also low in added fat and in sugar.

The American Diabetes Association diet is more tailored,
taking into account the patient's weight and cholesterol. Most
patients on this diet cut calories significantly, and were told
to eat sugary and starchy foods in moderation.

All 99 participants met weekly with advisers, who advised
them on recipes, gave them tips for sticking to their
respective diets, and offered encouragement.

"We have got a combination here that works successfully,"
said Dr. David Jenkins of the University of Toronto, who worked
on the study. "The message that we so often get with diet is
that it is no good because nobody follows it for very long."

Dr. Joshua Cohen, George Washington University associate
professor of medicine, said everyone diagnosed with diabetes is
told to start eating more carefully.

"That may be among the hardest things that any of us can
do," Cohen told the news conference.

The vegan diet "is at least as good, if not better than
traditional approaches," Cohen said.

Vance Warren, a 36-year-old retired police officer living
in Washington, said he lowered his a1c from 10.4, considered
uncontrolled diabetes, to 5.1, considered a healthy level, over
18 months. "My life is much better being 74 pounds (34 kg)
lighter," Warren told the news conference.