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Best Diet for Diabetic Neuropathy

Neuropathy, or damage to the nerves, is a debilitating disorder, and diabetes is by far the most common cause. Up to 50 percent of people with diabetes 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, currently, there is no effective treatment for diabetic neuropathy. Clinicians rely on steroids, opiates, and antidepressants to try to mediate the suffering.

But, as I discuss in my video Curing Painful Diabetic Neuropathy, a remarkable study was published 20 years ago 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 a second form, which “is painful with burning or aching sensations to the point of excruciating, lancinating [or stabbing] pain.” This study concentrated on the painful type of diabetic neuropathy.

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, and insulin needs dropped in half. And, in five of the patients, not only was their painful neuropathy apparently cured, so was their diabetes. Their blood sugars were normal, and they were off all medications. Their triglycerides and cholesterol also improved, as did high blood pressure. In fact, it was gone in about half the hypertensives—an 80 percent drop overall in 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 the relief from the painful neuropathy continued or improved even further for all except one person. How did they get that kind of compliance? According to the researchers, “Pain and ill health are strong motivating factors.”

Diabetic neuropathy is one of the most painful and frustrating conditions to treat in all of medicine, and 75 percent of patients were cured within days with a natural, nontoxic, and, 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, 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.

The researchers stuck needles in the buttocks of people eating different diets and found that nine months or more on a strict plant-based diet appeared to remove the trans fat from their bodies (or at least their butts). Their pain, however, didn’t take nine months to get better—it got better in days.

More likely, it was due to an improvement in blood flow. “[N]erve 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 too. 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,” or 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 low-fat, whole-food vegan diet.” 

Why didn’t we learn about this in medical school? The “neglect of this important work by the broader medical community is little short of unconscionable.”

What about reversing diabetic vision loss? See my video Can Diabetic Retinopathy Be Reversed?.

Did you think trans fats were only in partially hydrogenated junk food? See Trans Fat in Meat and Dairy. Ideally, we’d reduce our intake as low as possible, which I discuss in Trans Fat, Saturated Fat, and Cholesterol: Tolerable Upper Intake of Zero.

The best way to prevent diabetic complications is to prevent the diabetes in the first place:

And then to reverse it:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

32 responses to “Best Diet for Diabetic Neuropathy

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  1. Years and years of suffering and then complete relief of the pain in 17 out of the 21 patients within days.

    Years and years of suffering and then complete relief of the pain in 17 out of the 21 patients within days.

    Worth repeating!

  2. Okay, so I talked to my father and explained immunotherapy and water fasting to him and he said that he wants my brother to water fast and that, he will look for studies to get my brother in and he said that he can get the money if he has to.

    That is what I know, but I genuinely want it to be water fasting instead of immunotherapy because they are a greedy Gus industry.

  3. I found this article very interesting. I live with nerve pain ( numbness, tingling, and burning sensations) due to an incomplete spinal cord injury at C4/C5. I recently found your website, and began to follow your recommendations for plant based diet and using teas and spices to help with inflammation, pain, and arthritis. I have been able to stop taking anti-inflammatory medicine within the first few weeks, but continued taking arthritis strength tylenol and gabapentin. Yesterday, I was getting ready for bed and realized that I had skipped my afternoon and evening dose of both medications. My pain level was low enough that I did not need them. Thank you for your recommendations. I would really appreciate any information you could share for people living with a spinal cord injury. People with this condition have a higher risk of diabetes, obesity, arthritis, and auto-immune disease and up to 70% of people with a spinal cord injury live with chronic pain. We also deal with issues of aging at a much younger age than the general population.

    1. I had terrible migraine headaches, sciatica, and leg pain. I went on a whole food plant based diet to lower my supposedly “familial” hypercholesterolemia, and all my pain has disappeared. I have more energy and improved mood than ever before. My skin (I’m 63 and had terrible acne as a teen and even had minor outbreaks up to 3 years ago) never looked better with greatly reduced wrinkling as well as few to no pimples.

    2. Kristin,

      Not nutrition related, but they are using the concepts of brain plasticity and have been changing things in the field of spinal cord injury.

      There is a TED Talk for that. There are also rehab places which are using the techniques and getting results.

      I think I saw it on Adventures in Brain Injury.

      I believe he had someone speak about a rehab place….. in Kansas…. is what I am guessing….. boy, that was so long ago.

      I was pondering the Micropulse ICES for that and I believe the inventor said that they have had some anecdotal evidence, but it costs a lot to raise money for the studies. That man answers his emails and sells his gadgets, but he is not a doctor and it is self-hackers who buy them, but he does answer questions and I know I asked one about spinal cord injuries because I have someone who has one. She never followed through with him, but… well, start with the TED Talk and maybe find that rehab center.

    3. I would really like to talk to you and ask you some question. I have some of the same issues as you. If we could chat somehow it might be helpful.

  4. I am NOT a diabetic, I am of normal weight. 62. I have neuropathy so bad I literally can’t take it any more. I actually stubbed my toe and didn’t realize that my toenail popped off. I never felt it. No doctors will help me. I cant feel me feet to about halfway up the arch.

    1. I am shooting in the dark but did you look at b12? An injection(s) of B12 (no other form) could potentially tell you if that was the problem.

      1. Before injection:

        Are you taking B-12?

        Are you taking enough of it?

        Are you taking a shelf-stable kind?

        Merhyl didn’t wotk for s few of us and I will tell you that mild neuropathy and tiny lesions and skin conditions were part of my symptoms.

        I had experienced neuropathy before giving up dairy and oil, but it had gone away. I was doing fine with B12 when I was eating nutritional yeast and drinking fortified plant milk, but I stopped those things and got inconsistent with taking it and when I ran out, I bought Methyl and I was surprised that it didn’t work. I knew it didn’t always work but it seemed like it was until I started having symptoms. Leg spasms finally helped me figure out it was Methyl B-12

      2. I agree. B12 seems to be under diagnosed. I suffered from extreme tiredness, loss of balance, confusion, etc for a couple of years and when I went to my doctor’s I was told I was just working too hard and was too stressed. When my toes started to go numb got scared and did my own research. I asked my doctor to test my B12 level and we discovered it was down to 87, despite a diet rich in B12. I am now on B12 shots once a month for the rest of my life. Most of my symptoms are gone, but my toes remain numb.

    2. Carol,

      I agree about the B12.

      There is a Dr. Burke on YouTube who uses Low Level Laser Therapy/ Cold Laser. I think he might have been a Harvard researcher. He has a pretty graphic slide show with people with gangrene getting their color of their feet starting to come back and all sorts of things. Light therapy increases circulation at the very least, but his presentation impressed me and I have a relative through marriage twice removed person who had a spinal accident and she was never supposed to walk normally or ride a horse again and she used it and is totally back to normal. She had used it for another relative of hers after his motorcycle accident and had the same amazing results.

      Not trying to sell you anything. I just found the gadgets to be useful. Light therapy is something I believe in and have experienced amazing results. But Dr. Burke had people not need amputations and have jet black gangrene begin to reverse itself.

      1. I talked about it with my friend who has debilitating lupus and she said that it was the only thing which took away her pain.

        For me, infrared lamps – which you can buy a bulb for $10 on Amazon helped me so much and so did the Micropulse ICES.

        All of them are more self-hacker than medical model, but you could also go to a chiropractor or acupuncturist or foot reflexologist. My cousin who is a diabetic said that those all helped him greatly with his feet.

  5. The Keto diet is one of the best diets for diabetics. It’s been a proven fact that people with diabetes on the Keto diet were able not only to get off insulin but maintain a healthy sugar level and stay insulin free.

    1. Tracy,

      Whole Food Plant Based low saturated fats gets people off even quicker and without the risks and it actually heals people. Keto doesn’t take the fat out of the pancreas. Whole Food Plant Based low saturated fats does genuinely heal people. Keto is based on the fact that fat doesn’t spike sugar as much as carbs and proteins, but there are people who have tried both and their numbers become normal on high carb / low fat.

      Most Keto people eat too many animal products and animal products spike insulin. Fat doesn’t but fat is what plugged up the pancreas in the first place.

      Dr Barnard videos on Diabetes is what I recommend.

      1. My friends are Diabetics on Keto and they have not gotten off their insulin or orher meds.

        My friend has called sobbing because she just ate hamburger without a bun or condiments and her sugar is still high. Animal proteins still spike sugar. See Dr Gregers videos.

        Dr Barnard for people off meds in a week.

        1. I was watching Cancer videos and Cancer can use animal proteins to make glucose.

          If I am remembering that wrong, let me know.

    2. They still have diabetes which is apparent whenever they try to eat normal food.

      Yes the keto diet will mask some of the symptoms but the disease is still there and progressing In the meantime, such diets because they are usually high in animal fats and proteins will increase people’s risk for cardiovascular disease and some cancers.

  6. I wish there was a cure for non-diabetic neuropathy. Full testing at the Mayo clinic including nerve biopsies and still no solution. Vegan for 7 years and no improvement and slowly getting worse. Only suggestion was comfortable shoes, lose weight and try boosting lineoic acid. Going vegan dropped my total cholesterol to 111 and my joints don’t ache anymore. Big pluses.

  7. I have had idiopathic peripheral neuropathy for years. My father and brothers also have it. We have been tested for all the known causes — diabetes, low B12, metals, thyroid, etc., etc. All negative. So there is no known cause, but there must be a genetic link given we all developed it in our late 50’s/early 60’s.

    No known treatment for it, other than symptom relief. Although I don’t eat a lot meat, I need to try going totally vegan to see if that helps.

  8. I got neuropathy from Frontline. It is a chemical for ticks and fleas on dogs.
    I pet my dog after my wife had applied Frontline.
    I got it on my hands not realizing that it was dangerous.

  9. I have idiopathic small fiber neuropathy (diagnosed with punch biopsy) that has moved all through my body. Is there any data on relieving symptoms and/or resolving the condition (possibly due to nitrofurantoin and/or cipro usage)??

  10. I am diabetic, discover after a medical check up in Dec 2018, my HBA1C = 12%. (Singapore measuring normal range is up to 6.4), Good News is my July result is 6.2% after eating mainly plant base. However, i notice my feet sole skin start to peel and crack to the extend it bleed. Does anyone have any food recommendation to reverse this condition?
    PS: I taking B12 600mg daily

  11. I have been diagnosed with non diabetic PN affecting only my feet per the Mayo clinic. I have good circulation but the numbness has been slowly getting worse each year. I tried nearly everything to address the issue but with no success. However after a 12 day water only fast I found that my feet were not nearly as sore as they had been prior to fasting. I lost 21 pounds and have since went 100% whole foods plant base (no junk) and salt, oil and sugar free. Now doing intermittent fasting to try and lose more weight since my BMI is still 29. I’m not opposed to do another water only fast – maybe 7 days – to see if my feet get even better. Maybe my body was healing my feet while I was fasting? Hoping for more improvement but happy with even the small change so far allowing me to drop my gabapentin. Perhaps I was secretly diabetic but not technically fitting the guidelines for diagnosis? —-Confused in Colorado

  12. My doctor told me I was not diabetic and my blood sugars were in the normal range, however my BMI per the Mayo clinic was 30.4 After doing 2 stints of water only fasting of 12 days followed by 14 days I have lost a total of 32 pounds. Still overweight but my neuropathy pain has decreased significantly to the point that I have been able to drop the daily 1200 mg of gabapentin. If the pattern holds, another 3 – 14 day fasts will get me in the the normal BMI range for my height, weight and belly circumference. I can only hope my feet will continue to feel better. After being overweight for 35 years and obese for 5 of those with neuropathy for the last 15 years I can only say…..YES!!! Now on a true “whole foods, plant based” diet combined with SOS free meal planning additional health benefits are now surfacing including some recent joint swelling in my fingers. For those diagnosed as type 2 diabetics, you can do it I am sure of it.

  13. I am writing on behalf it my father. He is 71 years old and was diagnosed with neuropathy several years ago (he does not have diabetes so the cause seems to be unknown, our family has questioned possible side effects of being exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam). He is having a very difficult time walking, now needs a cane/walker (is in a lot of pain) and is starting to feel the numbness in his hands as well. He has been to a number of specialists including several in the Boston area, all of which have told them there is nothing they can do for him. I myself am vegan and firmly believe in a plant based diet and all of its benefits. I have been following you for a while now and love all of your videos. I have searched your book and website for information regarding neuropathy but it all seems to be connected to diabetes. Do you believe a plant based diet would work for neuropathy that is not associated with diabetes? I feel like I know the answer but wanted to know if you have any studies or know of any studies that I could show him to try to give him some hope. I would appreciate any information/opinions you could give me…I would really love to just be able to help him since every “traditional” doctor has given up on him. Thank you for your time. Sincerely, Karen

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