Nutrition and Peripheral Neuropathy

By Elissa Bass – LumenMD.com

Your doctor told you that the tingling, numbness and occasional burning sensations you’ve been having in your hands and feet is called peripheral neuropathy. Caused by damage to the peripheral nerves, it often causes weakness, numbness, and pain, typically in the hands and feet. It can become chronic, lasting years or even for a person’s lifetime.

A common cause of peripheral neuropathy is diabetes, but it can also be caused by chemotherapy treatment for cancer, an injury or infection, alcoholism, or exposure to toxins.

While you may think what you eat has no effect on an issue such as numbness in your feet, the opposite is actually true. Diet – a healthy diet – is critically important to all aspects of your health, especially as you get older.

Peripheral neuropathies are common, especially among people over the age of 55. It is estimated that at least 20 million people in the United States suffer from debilitating foot and leg nerve pain from peripheral neuropathy.

According to the Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy, “the best way to prevent peripheral neuropathy is to carefully manage any medical condition that puts you at risk. That means controlling your blood sugar level if you have diabetes or talking to your doctor about safe and effective treatments if you think you may have a problem with alcohol.”

The foundation recommends “a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein” and also suggests keeping a food diary so you can be aware of what you are eating every day, and adjust your diet to make sure you get all the nutrients you need.

If your peripheral neuropathy is related to diabetes, it is very important to be aware of your carbohydrate intake. While you may think only bread and pasta contain carbohydrates, they are found throughout the food pyramid. Foods that contain carbohydrates are:

  • bread, cereal, pasta
  • starchy vegetables, like corn, peas, potatoes
  • dried beans, lentils, rice
  • fruits and fruit juices
  • milk, yogurt and other dairy foods
  • sweets, like cookies, candy, regular soda, sugar, syrup.

“Good” carbohydrates include: high fiber/whole grains, fruits, beans/lentils, and low-fat dairy.

Keeping a food diary will enable you to accurately count your carbohydrate intake throughout the day. Spread out your carbohydrates across three meals and 2-3 small snacks. When you count your carbohydrates, read the label for serving size and total carbohydrate.

Other causes of peripheral neuropathy can be vitamin deficiencies, traumatic injuries, or alcoholism. Treatments may include managing underlying causes, physical therapy, medications and dietary changes. Always talk to your doctor before changing or starting any plan.

According to the American Diabetes Association, processed grains, baked goods, some fruits and a few starchy vegetables such as potatoes and corn should be avoided or limited by people with peripheral neuropathy from diabetes. According to a study published in 2018 by Nutrients, choosing whole grains and vegetables that contain fiber helps control blood sugar levels in people with Type 2 diabetes.

Some studies have linked vitamin deficiencies to peripheral neuropathy, including vitamins B1, B12, and E. Vitamin B12 is important for maintaining nerve health, and a study published in 2014 by Continuum linked a lack of B12 to peripheral neuropathy. You can find B12-rich foods in animal meats, eggs and dairy.

Additionally, if you have a gluten allergy or celiac disease, consuming gluten can trigger and worsen your symptoms. Common sources include all food containing white, wheat, cake or baking flour. Look for products labeled ‘gluten free’.

As you are working to improve your diet to lessen your symptoms, ask your doctor or physical therapy about adding Near Infrared therapy (NIR) to provide pain relief for symptoms of peripheral neuropathy. LumenMD uses cutting-edge, clinical-strength and FDA-cleared technology to provide sensation relief for symptoms of peripheral neuropathy. LumenMD devices offer an efficient and comfortable experience for patients requiring treatment for peripheral neuropathy symptoms. They can be used for a variety of applications ranging from pain-points, such as elbows or knees, to larger muscle groups, such as the back and shoulders.

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