Diet & Your Neuropathy
Here’s your not-so-secret bit of medical wisdom for the day:
Most of the time, if you take care of your body, it’ll take care of you.
That obviously applies to things like controlling your weight or improving your cardiovascular fitness. But did you know it also applies to things like preventing and managing peripheral neuropathy and even controlling neuropathic pain? It’s true!
In fact, while serious neuropathy usually does require some medical intervention, good old-fashioned diet and exercise are almost always an important part of the treatment plan. And if we catch the signs of neuropathy early, they may be all you need to keep the worst from occurring.
So if you do start to notice the troubling warning signs of neuropathy—or we catch it on a screening test during your checkup—you’re going to want to make sure you’re really eating right! Here’s how:
Diet for Neuropathy
It may not be as easy to see the connection between diet and nerve health as, say, the connection between diet and waistline. But like any other part of your body, nerves get their energy and nourishment from what you eat. You’ll need to make sure you’re supplying them with the good stuff!
An Important Disclaimer
While what follows is a good general recommendation for a healthy neuropathy diet, everyone’s body is different—and eating certain foods or taking certain supplements may be inadvisable depending on any conditions you may currently have.
So, before making serious changes to your diet, we’d strongly recommend that you check in with your general practitioner or a nutrition specialist, especially if you have any existing dietary restrictions or concerns about your health.
What to Eat
Certain key nutrients are especially important for healthy nerve function. These include:
- Vitamin B12. A deficiency in this vitamin is the most common diet-based cause of peripheral neuropathy.
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine and benfotiamine), which helps control inflammation
- Vitamin B6, which helps maintain nerve endings. (Just limit yourself to 200 mg or less per day.)
- Alpha-lipoic acid (ACA), which is an antioxidant that can help improve nerve function, reduce pain, and lower blood sugar levels (which is one of the primary causes of neuropathy).
- Vitamin E. Deficiencies in this nutrient are relatively rare but are known to be linked with peripheral neuropathy.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. Healthy fats are an important part of the body’s process for reducing inflammation and regenerating damaged nerve tissue.
- Dietary fiber, which (among other things) slows your body’s absorption rate for sugar. This helps you get the energy you need (good) while avoiding severe blood sugar spikes (bad, especially for neve health.)
Either we or your general practitioner may recommend one or more dietary supplements for nerve health if we feel it’s warranted. However, what you put on your plate is usually going to make the bigger difference.
Opt for a diet with lots of veggies and colorful fruit. Shoot for 5-10 servings per day. This really should be the “core” of your diet.
When it comes to your protein, choose a moderate amount of lean meats, fish, and poultry, instead of fried foods or organ meats. If you’re a vegetarian or just want to cut down on meat, legumes like chickpeas, lentils, and even peanuts can be a great choice.
Whole grains like rice and oats are another “pillar” component of a healthy diet for nerves. They are rich in the many types of B-vitamins that are so critical for nerve health.
What to Avoid or Limit
Now that you know what should be on your plate, here’s what you should try to eliminate from your diet, or at least eat in very low to moderate quantities:
- Saturated and trans fats. Unsaturated fats (fish, nuts, vegetable oils) are generally much better than saturated and especially trans fats for nerve health. Trans fats were recently banned by the FDA, but still may be in some products—always check the label.
- Excessive alcohol. Alcohol depresses circulation and has a toxic effect on your nerve health. In fact, alcohol in your system “soaks up” many nutrients that would otherwise go to the nerves. Honestly, no alcohol is best; but if you do imbibe, try to limit yourself to one drink, and not every day.
- Excessive sugar, carbs, and refined grains. High blood sugar (with or without a diabetes diagnosis, though especially with one) is one of the principal causes of peripheral neuropathy. Over time, the results of eating a lot of sugar (junk food, processed meals, sweetened drinks, baked goods, etc.) can be catastrophic for your nerve health.
- Excessive sodium. Some amount of sodium is necessary to help nerves transmit messages, but too much sodium actually slows them down and aggravates them. For most people, the optimal amount of sodium is around 1,500-1,800 mg per day, with 2,300 mg as the maximum upper limit. Check your labels!
You’re Not Alone
While dietary and lifestyle changes are an important part of any plan for preventing, containing, and treating peripheral neuropathy—and you’re very much in control of what you put into your body—it’s important to remember that you’re not in this fight alone.
In addition to friends, family, and other supportive people in your life, you can also rely on specialists on your medical team—very much including your podiatrist, Dr. Darren Elenburg.
Peripheral neuropathy has huge potential consequences for foot health. It’s clearly linked with a higher risk of injury, ulceration, fall risk, Charcot foot deformities, and even amputation. So obviously, we’re going to do everything in our power to help you avoid these complications.
So if you notice any tingling or unexplained painful sensations in your feet, or if you have diabetes and haven’t gotten a foot checkup in a year or more, we’d strongly urge you to come see us. We are here to help!
To request an appointment, reach out to us online, or call our office at (405) 418-2676. We have clinic locations in Oklahoma City and Moore for your convenience.
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