A trans-Atlantic collaboration is on the cards to analyse the impact of a vegan diet on diabetes in India. Neal Barnard, a US-based clinical researcher, plans to study if the results of his American experiment with the low-fat vegan diet will be similar in India as well.
Dr. Barnard, who has been studying the effects of the vegan diet, a vegetarian diet that keeps out milk and milk products as well, has found that it controls blood sugar three times more effectively than a conventional diabetes diet did. His most recent study, involving 99 people with Type 2 Diabetes (more common in India) in the US, proved that the effect was stronger than using medication.
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and published by the American Diabetes Association in its journal Diabetes Care, Dr. Barnard said, in an e-mail communication with The?Hindu.
So why India then? There is the obvious explanation: “There are more people with diabetes in India than in any other country. The World Health Organisation estimated that there were 31.7 million cases in India in 2000. That number is expected to rise to 79.4 million by 2030. The especially large rise is in type 2 diabetes, in which the body continues to make insulin (unlike type 1, in which the body stops making insulin), but the cells of the body resist insulin’s action.”
He adds, “We know the diet works extremely well. However, our studies have taken place in Washington, DC. Most participants have been black or white, and people of Asian heritage have been under-represented. So I would like to see how well the diet works among individuals in India and how well vegan diet is accepted.”
According to Dr. Barnard, the vegan diet operates on a different theory, compared with a conventional diabetes diet. Instead of limiting carbohydrates (breads, potatoes, etc), the vegan diet aims to eliminate fat. Fat – from cheese, milk, meat, or cooking oil – accumulates in the cells of the body and leads to insulin resistance. By eliminating fat, the diet directly addresses insulin resistance that causes diabetes.
In India recently, he met with diabetologists and researchers in New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Coimbatore, Puducherry, Goa, and Trivandrum to work out the modalities of beginning such a venture in the country.
Dr. Barnard said his study would probably start off in a single city initially where a group of individuals with diabetes would be started on a low-fat vegan diet. They would be compared against a group that makes no dietary changes or follows a more conventional diabetes diet. CT scan images would be taken to track the effects of the diet on the fat that accumulates in the cells.
Studies have been done in India already on the effect of a fruit and vegetable intake on cardiovascular risk factors. The results of a Chennai-based study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition early this month, scientifically established that increased intake of fruits and vegetables could play a protective role against cardio vascular disease in Asian Indians who have high rates of premature coronary artery disease.
It was conducted by researchers at the Madras Diabetes Research Foundation and Dr. Mohan’s Diabetes Specialities Centre, Chennai.
V. Mohan of Dr. Mohan’s Specialities Diabetes Centre said it had been established that a high-fibre diet reduced cholesterol and the effect lasted over a long period of time. Dr. Barnard said a vegan diet would be accepted well by all populations, considering the surprisingly high response they had received in the U.S. The Hindu