You’ve heard it since you were a kid: You are what you eat. That’s true when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding many diseases, but did you know that good nutrition can help you manage neuropathy symptoms, too? A healthy diet supports normal nerve function, so watching what you eat may help reduce pain, numbness, tingling, and other neuropathy symptoms.
More than 20 million Americans suffer from peripheral neuropathy, a condition that causes nerve pain outside of the brain and spinal cord. It often affects the feet, legs, and hands. Because neuropathy can be hard to diagnose, many men and women may have the condition and not even know it.
At Berkower Pain & Spine Rehabilitation in Pembroke Pines, Florida, David Berkower, DO, and his team help patients manage their neuropathy symptoms with treatment plans customized for their medical needs and lifestyles. Here’s how you can use nutrition to reduce neuropathy symptoms and optimize your nerve health.
A role for vitamin B-12
Vitamin B-12 is essential for nerve health and function. Low levels of this vitamin can cause damage to the protective sheath that covers nerves, thus interfering with nerve signalling and causing various symptoms, such as pain and numbness.
As many as 15% of Americans suffer from vitamin B-12 deficiency, with some data indicating that number could be much higher, especially for those with marginally low levels of the vitamin. Even a slightly lower-than-needed level of vitamin B-12 can result in nerve-related symptoms or exacerbate neuropathy.
Vitamin B-12 is found almost exclusively in animal-based foods, so if you’re following a plant-based diet or you eat very little meat and dairy, you could be at risk for this deficiency. Vitamin B-12 deficiency becomes more common with age, and it can also have a higher chance of occurring in people who:
- Have an autoimmune disease
- Have Crohn’s disease or other gastrointestinal diseases or disorders
- Have HIV
- Are anemic
- Use certain drugs, including proton pump inhibitors
Depending on your needs, Dr. Berkower may recommend supplements for B-12 and other key nutrients in addition to incorporating vitamin-rich foods into your diet.
Watch those carbs
If you have diabetes, you know how important it is to watch carbs and sugars. However, high blood sugar levels can cause damage to your organs and nerves, too.
You should also know that you don’t have to be diabetic to be at risk. Some people are “prediabetic,” which means their blood sugar levels put them at increased risk for developing diabetes.
Your body — including your nerves — needs some carbohydrates to function properly. The key is to keep your blood sugar within a healthy target range. You can do that by choosing nutrition-dense carbs, such as whole grains and nonstarchy vegetables, and by watching your portion sizes.
Alcohol is toxic to nerve tissue. While an occasional drink probably won’t cause harm, too much alcohol can injure nerves and make it harder for your body to absorb vitamin B-12 and other important vitamins. If you have neuropathy, it’s important to limit alcohol consumption or avoid it altogether.
Lower your intake of fat
In addition to managing your blood sugar, you should also look for ways to manage your cholesterol levels. Just as your body needs some carbs for proper function, it needs cholesterol, too. The problem is, many of us get far too much cholesterol in our diets, and that can damage nerves or interfere with nerve function.
To keep your cholesterol levels in check, you should:
- Limit fast foods and convenience foods
- Eliminate processed meats
- Incorporate low-fat dairy foods
- Choose unsaturated fats, such as olive or walnut oil, for cooking
- Look for lean cuts of meat
- Avoid fried foods
- Eat more vegetables and whole grains
Lowering your cholesterol can benefit your health in other ways, too, including reducing your risks for heart disease and stroke.
Like every other part of your body, your nerves require optimal nutrition to stay healthy. As a pain management specialist, Dr. Berkower takes a comprehensive approach to neuropathy treatment, helping patients find workable solutions to suit their lifestyles. To learn more about the comprehensive, custom solutions he offers, book an appointment online or over the phone with Berkower Pain & Spine Rehabilitation today.