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New study suggests vegan diet could control blood sugar for people with, or at risk of, type 2 diabetes

A study into the effects of a vegan diet in people with or at risk of developing type 2 diabetes has found that a plant-based lifestyle may help control blood glucose levels.

The study is supported by the NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) and NIHR Applied Research Collaboration East Midlands (ARC EM).

TMAO (or trimethylamine N-oxide) is a molecule produced when food, particularly from animal sources, is broken down in the gut. Its presence is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, which is often linked to type 2 diabetes.

Researchers on the ‘Plant Your Health’ study looked at whether a vegan diet could reduce the production of TMAO as well as improve blood sugar control in the body, and therefore reduce the risk of symptoms of type 2 diabetes.

The study followed 23 individuals who either had or were at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, or whose weight was defined as clinically obese. Participants were given a full health check, including TMAO, blood sugar and cholesterol levels. They were then asked to swap their regular meals with vegan equivalents over a period of eight weeks and encouraged to keep their physical activity the same.

The researchers found that on average TMAO levels in participants almost halved after just one week, and remained relatively steady at eight weeks. However, when participants switched back to their regular diets at the end of the study, TMAO levels had gone back to their original levels four weeks later.

Professor Tom Yates, a professor at the University of Leicester, and co-author on the study, said: “Recent research into the causes of type 2 diabetes has found a strong association between a molecule in the blood called TMAO and increased risk of heart disease. 

“Research has found that TMAO is particularly linked to animal products in the diet such as red meat, eggs and dairy. Due to the increased risk of patients with type 2 diabetes also developing heart disease, research suggests that there is a connection between diet, type 2 diabetes and heart functioning.” 

Dr Stavroula Argyridou, a registered dietitian who conducted the research, said: “Our findings suggest that a vegan diet could be an effective strategy for reducing TMAO and blood sugar levels in individuals with or at high risk of type 2 diabetes.” 

Read more about this research on the Leicester BRC website