When diagnosed with a physical ailment, we are quick to turn to medication to treat it. Tablets, creams, and supplements can work wonders. However, one incredibly important factor that can sometimes get overlooked is our diet.
Food plays a substantial role in overall health, especially for people with neuropathy. In this article, we'll look at the six food categories that can aggravate neuropathy that you should avoid.
What Is Neuropathy?
Neuropathy, known medically as peripheral neuropathy, is a form of nerve damage. It tends to occur in the body's extremities, such as hands and feet. While symptoms usually manifest in the hands and feet, the damage occurs in the peripheral nervous system outside the brain and spinal cord.
Neuropathy symptoms include:
- Tingling/numbness in the hands and feet
- Muscle weakness in the affected areas
- Loss of coordination and balance
People with peripheral neuropathy also tend to lose sensation in their feet and experience chronic pain.
One of the leading causes of neuropathy is type 1 and 2 diabetes. The reason is that the high blood sugar levels often associated with diabetes can damage the nerves over time. Physical trauma to the nerves, B12 deficiency, viral infections, and drinking too much alcohol are other causes. Certain medications can also trigger peripheral neuropathy.
What Foods Trigger Neuropathy?
Neuropathy from diabetes will worsen with certain foods and drinks that cause your blood sugar levels to spike. Triggers include excessively salty food, too, not just sugary goods. When in doubt, fruit and vegetables will never let you down and can be an excellent way to fill your plate.
If you're suffering from neuropathy due to type 1 or type 2 diabetes, there's a chance you are already relatively mindful of your diet. Below is a list of the top six foods and drinks that you should avoid if you suffer from peripheral neuropathy.
Unfortunately, if you have neuropathy, you are more likely to get celiac disease. Likewise, gluten sensitivity can result in nerve pain. Increasing evidence suggests a link between the two. The cause has something to do with anti-gluten antibodies that the body produces after having eaten gluten. Around 22% of people with celiac disease develop psychiatric or neurologic symptoms, according to a 2012 review.
If your neuropathy results from gluten intolerance or celiac disease, presumably, you won't be eating foods with gluten. If you are suffering from nerve pain, but aren't sure of the cause, it's worth having a doctor assess whether this may be the reason.
If you're celiac, you should not have gluten in your diet at all. If you're suffering from neuropathy, you should be limiting your intake. Celiac disease can damage your small intestine, making it harder for your body to absorb the nutrients it needs.
Popular foods that contain gluten are:
- Wheat germ
- Graham flour
- Wheat bran
- Wheat starch
- Chicken broth
- Malt vinegar
These are just some of the foods, but there are more. If you do have a gluten intolerance, it's best to get clued up on the foods that contain gluten. Many grocery stores have gluten-free product ranges, which will mean you don't have to cut the foods you love out your diet completely.
It is worth checking with a medical professional to see whether you have gluten intolerance in you are experiencing neuropathic pain in your hands and feet. Once you know for sure, you can adjust your diet accordingly.
2. Brown Rice
Eating brown rice can contribute to peripheral neuropathic pain. If you have diabetes, you should steer clear of this, too. The high levels of arsenic found in brown rice can trigger existing pain and symptoms and potentially lead to someone without neuropathy to get it.
The reason is that arsenic decreases nerve signal activity and can result in sensory issues or nerve pain. All rice contains arsenic as it accumulates in the outer layers of the grain. However, brown rice has the highest levels.
If you love rice, it doesn't mean you have to completely cut it out of your diet. You just have to be sensible with your quantities. Like with most things we eat, you should consume it in moderation and to a healthy portion size.
It's also good to get whole grains into your diet, meaning it is worth finding an alternative.
If you have not got neuropathic pain, but you may get diabetes, you will also need to cut down your rice intake. Allowing arsenic to build up in your body will contribute to nerve pain.
This food group can be detrimental to your nerves, specifically concerning nerve pain caused by diabetes. Carbohydrates, refined grains, and foods high in starch affect the body's blood sugar level. Keeping your blood sugar in check can help you manage nerve pain.
- Foods that are high in carbohydrates include:
- Dairy products (yogurt, milk, ice cream)
- Fruit – whole fruits and fruit juices
- Starchy vegetables (corn, potatoes)
- Legumes and beans
- Sugary foods (soda, candy, cookies, desserts)
Whole grains are healthy carbohydrates and are okay in moderate quantities. The same applies to any other carbohydrate foods. If you're struggling to reduce the number of carbohydrates you eat, try substitutes or limiting the quantities of carb-heavy fruits and vegetables that you consume.
If you already have neuropathy, reducing your carbohydrates won't get rid of it, but it will help alleviate neuropathy symptoms. If you don't but have diabetes, then eating fewer carbohydrates should lower your risk of developing nerve pain.
If you can eliminate seafood from your diet, this will help with any existing or potential nerve damage. Seafood contains high quantities of mercury. While there is mercury naturally in the human body, the amount found in seafood is borderline dangerous. As mercury is a toxin, it can make symptoms worse as it irritates your nerves.
To make sure that mercury levels don't reach unsafe levels, eat as little fish as you can, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. If too much mercury gets into your blood, it can result in mercury poisoning and cause nerve pain. You would experience some of the symptoms found in peripheral neuropathy, including prickling and burning sensations.
Per week, 2-3 servings of fish that are low in mercury is a healthy amount for adults. Children over the age of two should be eating 1-2, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Seafood that is low in mercury includes shrimp, clams, salmon, sardines, and cod.
Fish that are higher in mercury that you should avoid, especially if you are breastfeeding or pregnant, are:
- Big eye tuna
- Orange roughy
- King mackerel
Larger fish are usually higher in mercury as they accumulate it in their bodies due to longer life spans.
It's no secret that alcohol can have many adverse effects on the body, especially so when used to binge drink repeatedly over some time. In terms of peripheral neuropathy, alcohol can cause it. Usually, it is alcoholism as opposed to social drinking that can exacerbate the condition.
Alcoholic neuropathy is a type of neuropathy resulting from a long period of alcohol abuse or drinking too much. The reason is that alcohol damages the nerve tissue. The body needs various vitamins and minerals for nerves to function, but drinking in excess can alter these levels of nutrients. This imbalance then causes vitamin deficiencies, heightening the possibility of potential peripheral neuropathy, or making current symptoms worse.
Alcohol-induced nerve pain causes other symptoms such as:
- Muscle weakness
- Burning sensations
- Stomach cramps
If you're having nerve pain, or have been drinking too much, cut down on alcohol or eliminate it. Stopping consumption should help with peripheral nerve problems. If you are going to drink, have it in small quantities. Take water breaks and nourish your body the next day with fruits and vegetables.
6. Vitamin B6
Although vitamins are crucial in your diet, you will want to be careful of vitamin B6. High doses of vitamin B6 can be toxic to nerves and make peripheral neuropathy worse. Around 2 milligrams per day is a healthy amount of B6, but if you are consuming more than 200mg, there's a chance you could develop nerve pain.
If you take too much vitamin B6 in your diet or as a supplement, you may also experience:
- Difficulty walking
- Breathing issues
Recognizing where you may be getting vitamin B6 from in your diet – such as pork, chicken, eggs, and certain vegetables – and reducing it will assist with neuropathic pain.
If you suffer from neuropathy or suspect there's a risk in the future, it might be worth seeing your doctor and having your blood levels checked.
These six foods all further the risk of getting peripheral neuropathy and exacerbate existing conditions, especially so when eaten in abundance. These foods and drinks can also negatively affect neuropathy when it comes to other dominant causes such as diabetes.
You should aim to reduce most of these foods significantly in the diet. With products such as alcohol, ideally, you want to cut it out completely. Being mindful of your diet and the kinds of nutrition you need for you and any existing health conditions will help with your life quality. Steering clear of refined grains, foods that mess with your blood sugar, and processed foods is a solid first step.
Filling your plate with lean meats, vegetarian alternatives, fruits and vegetables, and low carbohydrate food is a general healthy basis for your diet. It will help you manage your peripheral neuropathy, and with persistence and a positive mindset, lead the way to a healthier life.