Much like other health conditions, peripheral neuropathy symptoms improve or get worse depending on what we eat. A great way to manage symptoms of neuropathy is to watch your diet and check for any medical conditions that could increase your risk. This could involve lowering your alcohol intake or maintaining blood sugar levels if you have diabetic neuropathy.
In this article, we discuss the correlation between our diet and neuropathy, what you can do to improve your symptoms, and the foods you need to eat and avoid to treat neuropathy.
What is Neuropathy?
To understand the dietary changes that you need to make, you need to know what neuropathy is. Neuropathy refers to dysfunction or damage to parts of the nervous system, such as the peripheral nerves, which along with the peripheral nervous system, are located between the spinal cord and the brain. This condition can also be developed as a result of stroke, brain injury, or a different medical condition such as diabetes.
Today, neuropathy is among the leading causes of chronic pain, which can last for months and affects over 20,000 people in the country. Because nerves require nutrients for continued growth, treatment plans will include dietary changes in most cases, along with a dietitian. Since doctors have long seen a connection between a person’s diet and neuropathy, they’re convinced that a healthy diet may help slow down neuropathy progression or prevent it altogether.
Causes of Neuropathy
There are different causes behind neuropathy, which can develop slowly through the years, or come suddenly without warning. Many cases of this condition started from a pre-existing disease but this isn’t always the cause. Below are just a few causes of neuropathy.
- Diabetes: This is known as the most common cause of neuropathy, which is prevalent in poorly managed cases.
- Autoimmune diseases: There are specific kinds that can target the nerves, causing neuropathy.
- Issues in the circulatory system: High blood pressure may stop oxygen from being properly delivered to many parts of the body and result in peripheral nerve damage.
- Trauma: Sports injuries, car accidents, falls, and surgery mishaps can result in nerve damage and neuropathy.
- Infections: Some viruses can attack our nerves, leading to dysfunction.
- Hormonal imbalances: As we get older, changes in our hormones may lead to swelling of nerves, which can leave them impaired.
- Cancer: There are kinds of tumors that may affect our nerves. Moreover, the drugs used for chemotherapy in cancer patients may also cause neuropathy.
- Nutrient deficiencies: Mineral and vitamin deficiencies could leave nerves impaired or damaged.
While not all of the causes listed above are avoidable, some of them are, such as nutrient deficiencies and diabetes. Working with foods that can help treat neuropathy can lower your risk of developing this condition.
Symptoms of Neuropathy
Just like the causes behind neuropathy, its symptoms are also varied. Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy come in a wide range and could depend on where the nerve is located. The possible symptoms of neuropathy are as follows:
- Tingling in feet and hands
- Muscle twitching
- Muscle weakness
- Problems with movement coordination
- Loss of feeling in hands and feet
- Inability to feel pain
- Excessive sweating
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Inability to feel temperature changes
While the symptoms of neuropathy are highly varied, they will likely come from nerve damage and will also depend on where the damage occurred. The type of treatment you receive will also vary depending on the severity of the condition, the symptoms exhibited, and the type of nerve damage. If your doctor has assessed you for neuropathy, it’s likely that you’ll also be assessed for related conditions such as celiac disease and type II diabetes.
Your healthcare provider will be able to guide you through the dietary and lifestyle changes you may need depending on your results.
How Our Diet Can Treat Neuropathy
Switching to an eating pattern that provides support for our peripheral nerves is a great way to manage neuropathy. Thiamin, folate, vitamin E, and B vitamins are all vital to proper nerve function. Eating a varied diet that contains a lot of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats is the best way to stock up on these nutrients.
If you have a deficiency, your doctor may recommend dietary supplements to help boost your nutrient intake. To stop the progression and treat neuropathy, it’s imperative to limit any risk of complications and alleviate the symptoms associated with it.
What is the Best Diet to Treat Neuropathy?
Below are seven food items that can help to treat neuropathy while improving symptoms that you may feel if you suffer from a form of peripheral neuropathy.
Fruits have antioxidants that can help to control inflammation and fight peripheral nerve damage. Not only do fruits have the ability to prevent nerve damage, but they can also help to heal existing damage to the nerves. Try to eat at least one serving of fruit per day, and look for the following:
Like fruits, vegetables are also rich in antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins. If you’re looking for options that can improve nerve function and prevent nerve damage, look for vegetables that contain alpha-lipoic acid, such as:
- Brussels sprouts
If you’re looking for healthy carbohydrates, that can provide important B vitamins to support nerve health and the brain, here are a few good options:
- Brown rice
- Sprouted grain bread
Be sure to avoid refined grains like white rice and white bread which can trigger symptoms of neuropathy.
Nuts are also a great source of vitamin B and are also rich in fiber which means that they can keep you fuller for longer while preventing overeating. Some nuts and seeds that you should try include:
- Sunflower seeds
Magnesium is the most important element needed for nerve regeneration and to restore nerve function. Look for options that naturally contain magnesium such as:
- Black beans
- Pinto beans
- Fava beans
- Lima beans
Research has found that fish oil provides an effective way to restore damaged nerves thanks to omega-3. These fatty acids are known to improve blood sugar control and help with inflammation. They also contain resolvins, protective molecules that help to manage the symptoms of neuropathy.
Here are a few sources of omega-3-rich foods to look for:
- Chia seeds
Vitamin B-12 can be found naturally in lean meats such as turkey and chicken which are beneficial to your neuropathy diet. These vitamins are vital to maintaining a healthy nervous system, healing nerve endings, and improving transmission between nerve impulses.
Foods to Avoid
If you’re looking to maintain a balanced diet, fight the symptoms, and treat neuropathy, you’ll need to ensure that you have good nutrition. However, you also need to avoid all the excess and unhealthy foods that may further irritate your condition. Below is a list of foods that you should limit or cut off completely.
More and more people find themselves with celiac disease, gluten allergies, and gluten sensitivity, which is especially true for those with neuropathy. Gluten is often found in baking flour, wheat, and soy sauce, so be sure to read ingredient labels before making a purchase.
Those with diabetes are highly susceptible to diabetic neuropathy because of their sugar consumption. This type of neuropathy will often damage nerves as a result of diabetes, most often targeting the hands and feet. Luckily, it can be managed by managing high blood sugar levels through daily activities and a healthy lifestyle.
Alcoholic neuropathy occurs when a person consumes too much alcohol — being overexposed to alcohol can have a toxic effect and can trigger peripheral neuropathy. It’s best to stop drinking alcohol until your condition improves and your symptoms have completely disappeared.
Processed grains such as instant brown rice can quickly raise your blood sugar level. Controlling your blood sugar can help prevent diabetic neuropathy and peripheral neuropathy. You can improve your diet’s glycemic index by using whole grains to replace all refined grains.
Those who wish to treat neuropathy will need to replace potato chips with nutritious alternatives because salty foods will often trigger numb or burning neuropathic pain. You’ll also need to avoid cold cuts, processed foods, pretzels, and food items that contain high levels of sodium.
These are often found in dairy products and fatty meats, and should also be avoided because they can cause inflammation while increasing your risk of heart disease, type II diabetes, and obesity. Be sure to replace foods high in saturated fats with lean alternatives and healthy fats found in nuts, seeds, and avocados.
Don’t Ignore Nerve Pain
At the first sign of neuropathy, be sure to seek medical advice to ensure that symptoms are checked before they get worse. Through regular exercise, you can maintain a healthy weight and ease the symptoms that come with this condition. No matter what kind of neuropathy you’re dealing with, early detection will help you get started with healthy eating, which can help to improve your quality of life.
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