A plant-based eating pattern is associated with a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes and is highly effective in its treatment.

Diets that emphasize whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes and exclude animal products improve blood glucose concentrations, body weight, plasma lipid concentrations, and blood pressure and play an important role in reducing the risk of cardiovascular and microvascular complications.

Researchers have known for years that if you eat more plants and less meat you can stave off type 2 diabetes or improve management of the disease. But emerging research offers information on a possible mechanism of these effects: revitalization of the cells that help produce insulin and stabilize blood glucose.

Scientists presenting at the annual conference of the American Association of Diabetes Educators in August 2019 (AADE19), in Houston, noted that the benefits of plant-based diets such as a vegan diet may be due to better beta cell function. According to the American Diabetes Association, beta cells in the pancreas produce insulin, a hormone that enables the body to use blood sugar (glucose) it gets from food. As type 2 diabetes progresses, these cells lose mass and function, past research reveals.

“While modern pharmacotherapy [treatment with drugs] is just able to slightly slow down the decline of beta-cell function in diabetes, we found that a plant-based diet is able to completely reverse the process and improve beta-cell function,” says the lead author, Hana Kahleova, MD, the director of clinical research with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, DC.

“This finding gives hope to many people suffering from diabetes, but also to those who are at a high risk of developing diabetes in the future,” she says.

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