Plant-based diets rich in whole carbohydrates can improve insulin sensitivity and other health markers in individuals with type 1 diabetes, say researchers.
Two case studies, published in the Journal of Diabetes & Metabolism, followed individuals with type 1 diabetes who adopted plant-based diets rich in whole carbohydrates--including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. "Decades of research has proven that a plant-based diet can be beneficial for those with type 2 diabetes. Now, groundbreaking case studies are offering hope that the same may be true for those with type 1 diabetes," said the study authors from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in the US.
Previous studies have found that low-fat, plant-based diets can be beneficial for those with type 2 diabetes. Research has also shown that those eating a plant-based diet have approximately half the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, compared with non-vegetarians. For the findings, the patients' health care teams tracked their blood sugar control, heart disease risk factors, and other health measurements before and after the diet change.
Revealing Case Studies
One case study followed a female patient who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2018. At the time, her A1C was 8.7 percent. A1C is a blood test for type 2 diabetes and prediabetes.
She initially adopted a low-carbohydrate (less than 30 grams of carbohydrate per day), high-fat diet that was high in meat and dairy. Her blood sugar stabilised, but she required more insulin per gram of carbohydrate consumed. Her total cholesterol also increased from 175 to 221 mg/dL.
In January 2019, she switched to a plant-based diet, eliminating dairy products, eggs, and meat. The patient was able to decrease her insulin dosage, maintain her A1C level at 5.4 percent, and drop her cholesterol level to 158 mg/dL.
The other individual - a 42-year-old man who had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 25 - eliminated animal products from his diet and switched to a whole-food, plant-based diet. After adopting a carbohydrate-rich plant-based diet, he lost weight, required less insulin, and reduced his A1C -- a measure of blood sugar levels over a 3-month period - from 6.2 percent to a range between 5.5-5.8 percent.
"The study shows that adding more healthful carbohydrates to the diet stabilised glycemic control, reduced insulin needs, and boosted her overall health in both patients," the researchers said. The authors note that randomised clinical trials are needed to verify the case studies' findings, assess their generalisability, and quantify the effectiveness of plant-based diets in the management of type 1 diabetes.