Plant-based diet may offer intervention for type 2 diabetes

A plant-based diet may improve insulin and incretin hormone secretion in type 2 diabetes patients, according to a new study by researchers from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), which published earlier this week in the journal Nutrients.

Researchers measured hormone levels to test the effects of two meal types, standard meat and vegan, on postprandial incretin and insulin secretion in 20 male participants with type 2 diabetes in a randomized crossover trial. The meals consisted of either a tofu-based veggie burger or a meat-based burger and contained the same number of calories and ratio of macronutrients, according to a release by the organization.

An increase in insulin secretion, connecting-peptide (C-peptide), and amylin was noted following consumption of the vegan meal, with increases of 30 .5 percent, 7.1 percent, and 15.7 percent, respectively. In addition, several parameters of beta-cell function increased after the vegan meal, particularly insulin secretion, rate sensitivity, and the potentiation factor, according to the paper.

The results show that participants' postprandial secretion of insulin increased more after the plant-based meal than the meat-based meal. Secretion of incretin hormones, particularly glucagon-like-peptide 1 (GLP-1), also increased more after the vegan meal. Incretin hormones amplify the release of insulin after a meal, and help decrease blood glucose levels, the study said.

Beta-cell function parameters also improved after the vegan meal. Beta cells synthesize, store, and release insulin. Beta-cell function is typically diminished in those who have diabetes and preserving beta cells' capacity to produce insulin is a cornerstone in the treatment of diabetes.

In the U.S., more than 100 million adults have either diabetes or prediabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Previous studies have shown effectiveness of plant-based dietary interventions in managing and even reversing type 2 diabetes, and that those following a plant-based diet have approximately half the risk of developing diabetes, compared with non-vegetarians.

Researchers say the results suggest a therapeutic potential of plant-based meals for improving beta-cell function in patients with type 2 diabetes. Hana Kahleova, MD, PhD, director of clinical research at the PCRM, says the food on our plates could be a solution to rising diabetes rates and soaring insulin costs.

"The results,” she said in the release, “add to the evidence that a plant-based diet should be considered a frontline treatment for type 2 diabetes.”