Have you ever wondered what might be causing a sudden increase in your neuropathy symptoms? You’re not alone. Most people don’t realize that what they eat can trigger a flare-up and make an already tricky condition more difficult to handle.
What is Neuropathy?
It’s sometimes that tingling, burning, numbness, or pins and needles sensation in your arms and legs like when your hand or foot “falls asleep.” Unlike when your foot falls asleep, though, it doesn’t go away if you change positions, and this is not the only type of symptom that could be present.
Neuropathy is the result of nerve damage. The symptoms become evident because the nerve may be pinched, damaged, or deteriorating and begins sending mayday signals to the brain. There are many causes , but this article focuses on decreasing symptoms.
How Can Food Make My Neuropathy Worse?
That what you eat can affect your body is a well-documented fact. With neuropathy, the physiological response we’re trying to avoid is inflammation.
Inflammation is your body’s response to a perceived threat, like germs, bacteria, or physical trauma, for example. Your immune system revs up to surround and either kill or expel an intruder or help the body to heal.
Unfortunately, the typical American diet tends to be highly inflammatory, and includes substances that set off your immune system and keep it firing on all cylinders for extended periods. The body gets confused, frantically searching for the source and may start attacking healthy tissue.
This condition of chronic inflammation is responsible for several autoimmune disorders, including fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and more. For people with chronic neuropathy, an inflammatory response increases nerve damage, which worsens symptoms and can make living with neuropathy more difficult.
5 Common Culprits
The following foods are the worst offenders driving inflammation in our bodies:
It’s no secret Americans consume too much sugar. Scientists, doctors, and dieticians have repeatedly called for us to change our diets to improve our waistlines. So, we cut back on dessert but see only minimal results. Why?
The problem is the sugar we don’t know we’re eating—the hidden sugars in our food.
According to the USDA, the average American eats or drinks 34 teaspoons of sugar daily. That comes to more than 100 pounds of sugar per year.
Sugar is added to processed foods to increase shelf-life, heighten flavor, and replace other ingredients like fat in fat-free products. There are more than 50 different names for sugar. The most common are:
- Syrups- corn syrup, barley syrup, rice syrup, and malt syrup.
- Sucrose, fructose (basically anything ending in “ose”)
- Juice- evaporated cane juice, fruit juice concentrates
- Sugar alcohol- xylitol, maltitol (and others ending in “tol”)
- Raw Sources- honey, molasses, agave nectar
Sugar is strongly linked to damaged nerves and is mainly recognized among those with diabetes or those who become insulin resistant (meaning you have too much sugar in the blood, and your body overproduces insulin to compensate). Diabetic neuropathy treatment requires a sugar-restricted diet to see real improvement.
2. Refined Grains
Whole grains include the bran, germ, and endosperm. Refined flours are just endosperm, eliminating much of the nutrients and fiber from the final product.
Refined grains metabolize like sugar without the fiber to slow it down. According to the Arthritis Foundation, “lectins bind to carbohydrate-specific receptors on immune cells called lymphocytes, triggering an inflammatory response.”
Refined flour is used in bread, crackers, and most baked goods. Manufacturers also use them in other products as fillers and bulking agents. Whole grains break down more slowly, keeping blood sugar levels more steady and creating less inflammation in the body.
3. Dairy Products
According to the National Library of Medicine, casein, a protein found in milk, can cause an inflammatory response that targets the myelin or insulating layer protecting your nerves. While this reaction is not universal, people experiencing nerve damage due to multiple sclerosis or peripheral neuropathy may be predisposed to such a reaction.
Alcohol combines processed grains and sugar in liquid form. As with juice, your body quickly consumes more of the sugar from the base ingredients. Excessive alcohol consumption has such a strong correlation with nerve damage that they classify it as alcohol neuropathy.
5. Chemicals in Processed Foods
Many processed foods include chemicals used to enhance taste and make foods shelf-stable. What’s good for the manufacturer isn’t always good for the consumer.
There are chemicals in processed food that cause developmental and reproductive issues, cause cancer, weaken the immune system, cause neurological harm, and damage DNA.
Because they’re in small amounts per individual food item, they are “Generally Recognized As Safe.” The problem is that even though the immune system might be able to eliminate the occasional intrusion of chemicals, they can’t counter years of constant use. The immune system kicks into sustained overdrive.
You might want to steer clear if you can’t pronounce the ingredients on the label.
Making a Change
These foods make up the bulk of processed foods in our stores. They are handy, make it quick and easy to fix a meal, and eliminating them may be inconvenient. You may pay more because you get the whole food without fillers and bulking agents. But if changing your diet could help give you neuropathy pain relief in the long run, wouldn’t it be worth the extra time, expense, and effort to learn new cooking methods? Only you can answer that question.
DISCLAIMER: THIS ARTICLE DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE
The information, including but not limited to, texts, graphics, images, and other material contained in this article are for informational purposes only. None of the material mentioned is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new care regimen. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article.
Diet significantly impacts neuropathy by triggering inflammation, worsening nerve damage. Common culprits include sugar, refined grains, dairy, alcohol, and additives in processed foods. A shift to a whole-food diet, free of additives, may help alleviate neuropathy symptoms with guidance from a healthcare professional.