Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes worldwide, accounting for over 90% of cases. Studies show that being vegan significantly reduces the chances of developing this disease.

A young Caucasian man injecting insulin. Studies show a vegan diet can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes is one of the fastest-growing global conditions, and places a massive burden on individuals and health care services. Since 1996 the number of people in the UK with diabetes has nearly tripled, from 1.4 million to over 4 million. Over 21 million people have type 2 diabetes in the US.

If current increases continue, it is estimated that by 2025, 5 million people in the UK will have diabetes.  Worryingly, Type 2 diabetes is also now becoming increasingly common in younger adults and even adolescents.

“The figures are alarming and confirm diabetes is one of the biggest health challenges facing the UK today” – Diabetes UK

Diabetes is a leading cause of death and disability in the western world, and can lead to vascular complications causing heart disease, foot ulcers, limb amputations, erectile dysfunction, kidney failure, and eye sight problems including blindness. On average a diabetic’s life expectancy is ten years less than that of an average non-diabetic.

How can being vegan help with type 2 diabetes?

A large prospective study measuring rates of diabetes in vegans, the Adventist Health Study 2, found vegans to have a 60% less chance of developing the disease than non-vegetarians after two years of follow-up. The lower rates of diabetes in vegetarians, and vegans especially, were commented on by the study authors:

“Fruits and vegetables may contribute to a decreased incidence of type 2 diabetes through their low energy density, low glycaemic load, and high fibre and macronutrient content. Other features of the vegetarian diet are whole grains and legumes. These foods have been shown to improve glycaemic control, slow the rate of carbohydrate absorption and the risk of diabetes.” 

A cross-sectional study from the Adventist Health Study-2 showed vegans to have a 68% lower rate of diabetes than non-vegetarians. A number of clinical trials have now shown that a vegan, or mostly vegan, diet can lower body weight, reduce blood sugar, and improve other parameters for type 2 diabetes.

According to Diabetes UK:

“Plant-based foods, particularly fruit and vegetables, nuts, pulses and seeds have been shown to help in the treatment of many chronic diseases and are often associated with lower rates of Type 2 diabetes, less hypertension, lower cholesterol levels and reduced cancer rates.”

A 2016 Harvard University review of 3 large trials concluded that “plant-based diets, especially when rich in high-quality plant foods, are associated with substantially lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes” (1).  What is really important to note for health is that “while consumption of a plant-based diet high in less healthy plant foods was associated with a 16% increased diabetes risk.”  So we need to remember to eat a whole food plant based diet for health.

Researchers from Oxford and Peking universities stated that “higher fresh fruit consumption was associated with significantly lower risk of diabetes and, among diabetic individuals, lower risks of death and development of major vascular complications.” in a population of ½ million Chinese. (2)

Sources:

(1)Satija A, Bhupathiraju SN, Rimm EB, et al. Plant-Based Dietary Patterns and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes in US Men and Women: Results from Three Prospective Cohort Studies. Moore SC, ed. PLoS Medicine. 2016;13(6):e1002039. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1002039.

(2) Du H, Li L, Bennett D, et al. Fresh fruit consumption in relation to incident diabetes and diabetic vascular complications: A 7-y prospective study of 0.5 million Chinese adults. Basu S, ed. PLoS Medicine. 2017;14(4):e1002279. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1002279.

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