Nutrition for Neuropathy

Neuropathy (also referred to as peripheral neuropathy) is a condition that indicates the nerves are not carrying information to and from the brain and the spinal cord in the way they should. When this occurs muscle control is compromised, pain results, and numbness is also likely, especially in the extremities. The good news is that many of the conditions that include neuropathy as an unwelcome side effect can be kept in check by following a healthy nutrition plan. Eliminating the likelihood of neuropathy by controlling the diseases and eliminating medications that cause it can be accomplished by good nutrition.

How Can Nutrition Help Reduce Neuropathy and its Effects?

To achieve optimum health—whether to control diseases such as diabetes, cancer, or HIV—maintaining bodily functions and a strong immune system through a healthy diet is vital. Specifically, one of the main reasons diabetic neuropathy occurs is metabolic disorders due to high blood glucose levels, abnormal blood fat levels, or low levels of insulin. Diabetic control that is maintained primarily through nutrition helps a diabetic individual to avoid those complications. Other conditions and diseases, especially autoimmune disorders, which might result in neuropathy, can be better managed if proper nutrition is maintained.

Other metabolic disorders that could benefit from proper nutrition and thus stem the spread of neuropathy include:

  • Dietary deficiencies—most common is the lack of, or non-absorption of Vitamin B-12, often resulting in pernicious anemia and leading to nervous system disorders.
  • Excessive use of alcohol—often leading to nutritional deficiencies in addition to the complications of the alcohol itself.
  • Uremia—resulting from kidney failure that might occur from a lack of proper nutrients, including food and water.
  • Cancer—certain cancers have shown to be a result of unhealthy practices such as smoking and a lack of antioxidants that are present in many natural food products.

The best resistance to disease on a daily basis is maintaining a healthy diet. While traditional medicine might be necessary for some conditions, certain medications can also induce neuropathy in some individuals. Whether it is through prevention or disease management, nutrition is the first line of defense in maintaining a strong immune system to be able to fight such diseases and their side effects. The elimination of medications can also be both financially and medically relevant as well.

Why Use Nutrition to Treat Neuropathy?

Nutrition provides the needed fuel for your basic lifestyle. If that nutrition helps maintain optimum health, even when neuropathy occurs, other complications might be avoided. Using whole, natural foods rather than those processed with chemicals, sweeteners, and excessive amounts of salt, for instance, can be proactive in building the immune system.

Studies have shown that a healthy diet has very definite benefits. Especially in older adults and diabetics in whom neuropathy is most likely to occur, good nutrition can reduce the risk of osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease, and certain cancers. If neuropathy is present due to a condition in addition to one of those diseases, complications can be overwhelming. Because neuropathy affects motor control and nerve sensation, and can cause difficulty in swallowing or breathing; basic movement might be severely impaired.

A person with neuropathy is also more likely to suffer a fall. Should this occur and a broken hip or limb results, healing is likely to be more difficult with an already-compromised immune system. Nutrition, in that case, can become a matter of life or death. When a broken limb or hip is healing, all of a person’s nutrition first naturally goes toward healing those bones. A hip fracture in an older adult can be dangerous because that person might not consume nutrition sufficient to both heal the bone and help maintain the rest of the vital bodily functions. Other complications that could result from a fall might be broken skin or wounds that also need the proper nutrients in order to heal.

Whether the neuropathy is being managed through physical therapy, occupational therapy, or some form of orthopedic intervention, good nutrition is also vital to maintain energy and mental alertness. Good nutrition can sometimes replace the use of traditional medications that are used for pain or to facilitate movement. These medications can often bring serious side effects. If medications can be eliminated or minimized, the complications of neuropathy might also be reduced.

What is Nutrition?

Every person must maintain a certain level of nutrients in order to maintain proper body functioning. Nutrition refers to the nourishment of the body that those nutrients provide. Protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, and water intake comprise the nutrition necessary to achieve and maintain optimum health. Sometimes even the lack of one vitamin in the diet, or the lack of absorption of a vitamin (as is common with vitamin B12) can result in a state of malnutrition or lead to serious disease. That is when life itself is threatened, especially in those with autoimmune disorders and other serious diseases.

To assist people in managing good nutrition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services have presented what is known as MyPyramid—an illustration of all of the nutrients and serving amounts daily necessary to stay healthy. Other organizations and agencies have also expanded the directives to include ethnic diets, vegetarian and vegan diets, and diets more specific to the needs of a particular age group, among other factors. A balanced diet combined with plenty of water is the first line of defense helping the body to fight disease.

What Causes Neuropathy?

Approximately 30 percent of neuropathy cases occur in diabetic individuals. With 100 known types of peripheral neuropathy, the causes are just as numerous. When the peripheral nerves do not relay information from your central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) to the muscles, organs, including the skin, and the joints back to the brain properly, neuropathy will occur. A single nerve or nerve group can be involved, or possibly multiple nerves.

Conditions that might result in neuropathy include:

  • Hereditary disorders
  • Systemic or metabolic disorders
  • Infectious or inflammatory conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, HIV, and sarcoidosis
  • Exposure to toxic compounds
  • Drugs
  • Other causes—including ischemia (decreased oxygen and blood flow) and prolonged exposure to cold temperatures

Finding a Holistic Nutritionist

Experienced holistic nutritionists practice throughout the world, with many on the North American continent. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health in the United States offers criteria that can be helpful in determining legitimate care. Dieticians and several of types of alternative health care practitioners, including Chiropractors, Naturopaths, and Acupuncturists, can also provide nutritional counseling for a variety of conditions, including neuropathy.

Additional Resources

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

The Neuropathy Association, Inc.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

National Library of Medicine

The World’s Healthiest Foods

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