Neuropathy, or damage to the nerves, is a debilitating disorder. Diabetes is by far the most common cause. Up to 50% of diabetics will eventually develop neuropathy during the course of their disease. It can be very painful, and the pain is frequently resistant to conventional treatments. In fact, there is currently no effective treatment for diabetic neuropathy. Clinicians rely on steroids, opiates, and antidepressants to try to mediate the suffering.
But 20 years ago, a remarkable study was published on the regression of diabetic neuropathy with a plant-based diet. There are two types of diabetic neuropathy: a relatively painless type characterized by numbness, tingling and pins-and-needles sensations, and then a second form, which is painful with burning or aching sensations to the point of excruciating, lancinating—stabbing—pain. This paper concentrated on the painful type.
Twenty-one diabetics suffering with moderate or worse symptomatic painful neuropathy for up to ten years were placed on a whole food, plant-based diet along with a half-hour walk every day. Years and years of suffering and then, complete relief of the pain in 17 out of the 21 patients within days.
Numbness noticeably improved too. And the side effects were all good. They lost ten pounds, blood sugars got better—insulin needs dropped in half, and in five of the patients, not only apparently was their painful neuropathy cured, so was their diabetes: normal blood sugars and off of all medications.
And their triglycerides and cholesterol improved too. High blood pressure got better, in fact, gone in about half the hypertensives—an 80% drop overall in the need for high blood pressure medications within three weeks.
Now, this was a live-in program, where patients’ meals were provided. What happened after they were sent home? The 17 folks were followed for years, and in all except one, the relief from the painful neuropathy continued or improved even further. How’d they get that kind of compliance? Pain and ill health are strong motivating factors. One of the most painful and frustrating conditions to treat in all of medicine and 75% cured within days with a natural, nontoxic—in fact, beneficial—treatment, a diet composed of whole plant foods.
How could nerve damage be reversed so suddenly? It wasn’t necessarily the improvement in blood sugar control, since it took about ten days for the diet to control the diabetes, whereas the pain was gone in as few as four days. There are several mechanisms by which the total vegetarian diet works to alleviate the problem of diabetic neuropathy as well as the diabetic condition itself. The researchers’ most interesting speculation was that it could be the trans fats naturally found in meat and dairy and refined vegetable oils that could be causing an inflammatory response. They found a significant percentage of the fat found under the skin of those who ate meat or dairy consisted of trans fats, whereas those on a strictly whole food plant-based diet had none.
They stuck needles in the buttocks of people eating different diets, and nine months or more on a strict plant-based diet appeared to remove the trans fat from their bodies. But their pain didn’t take nine months to get better; it got better in days.
More likely, it was an improvement in blood flow. Nerve biopsies in diabetics with severe progressive neuropathy have shown small vessel disease within the nerve. There are blood vessels within our nerves that can get clogged up. The oxygen levels in the nerves of diabetics were found to be lower than even the levels of de-oxygenated blood. This lack of oxygen within the nerves may arise from blockages within the blood vessels depriving the nerves of oxygen, presumably leading them to cry out in pain.
Within days, though, improvements in blood rheology, the ease of blood flow, on a plant-based diet may play a prominent role in the reversal of diabetic neuropathy. Plant-based diets may also lower the level of IGF-1 inside the eyeballs of diabetics and decrease the risk of retinopathy—diabetic vision loss—as well. But the most efficient way to avoid diabetic complications is to eliminate the diabetes, and this is often feasible for those type 2 patients who make an abiding commitment to daily exercise and a healthy enough diet.
Since the initial report of neuropathy reversal, the results have been replicated: significant improvements in numbness and burning. Why didn’t I learn about this in medical school? The neglect of this important work by the broader medical community is nothing short of unconscionable.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.