Neuropathy and Nutrition: How to Reduce Symptoms Through Diet
Dec 26, 2023
The stabbing, tingling and numbness of neuropathy can make everyday life a challenge. But sometimes, making some changes to everyday habits is the key to getting the upper hand. Especially when it comes to nutrition.
Let’s explore how you can manage the symptoms of neuropathy by making some simple adjustments to your diet.
Connecting Neuropathy and Nutrition
It might be hard to imagine that something as simple as increasing your intake of certain nutrients could make a difference with neuropathy. But your nerves are like any other parts of your body; they need the right nutrients to function at their best.
Getting the Most Out of Your Neuropathy Diet
Beyond just the food and nutrients part, here are some other ways to bolster your health with neuropathy.
- If you are smoking, quit. Smoking worsens nerve pain.
- Drink alcohol only in moderation, or not at all. Alcohol can increase neuropathy symptoms.
- Try to get regular exercise, as doing so can improve your balance and increase your strength and circulation.
- Wear comfortable shoes that make it easier to walk with neuropathy, such as the Cadense Original Men’s and Women’s Adaptive Shoes.
Primary Nutrients in Nerve Health
Now that you understand the importance of a nutritious diet and other healthy lifestyle changes, let’s take a look at some of the best nutrients for supporting healthy nerves.
B vitamins are some of the most important nutrients you can increase for nerve health. CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics explains, “Neurotropic B vitamins play crucial roles as coenzymes and beyond in the nervous system. Particularly vitamin B1 (thiamine), B6 (pyridoxine), and B12 (cobalamin) contribute essentially to the maintenance of a healthy nervous system. Their importance is highlighted by many neurological diseases related to deficiencies in one or more of these vitamins, but they can improve certain neurological conditions even without a (proven) deficiency.”
How can you increase your B vitamins?
Here are some food to consider adding to your diet:
- B1: Nuts, whole grain breads, peas, fruits, liver, fortified cereals
- B2: Milk, eggs, fortified cereals, yogurt, mushrooms
- B3: Eggs, fish, meat, wheat flour
- Pantothenic acid: Meat, eggs, mushrooms, liver, kidneys, avocado
- B6: Meat, peanuts, oats, bananas, fortified cereals, milk
- Folate: Brussels sprouts, broccoli, leafy greens, kidney beans, chickpeas, peas, fortified cereals, liver
- B12: Meat, fish, cheese, eggs, milk, fortified cereals
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory, and an important part of a healthy diet. A study on mice found that omega-3 fatty acids helped to speed up nerve regeneration and combat neuropathic pain. The Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy says, “Essential fatty acids [are an] important component of cell membranes, myelin sheath that protects nerves.”
If you want to increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, you can try eating more fish. If you do not eat fish, some alternative sources for these fatty acids include walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds and avocados.
How much magnesium are you getting in your diet? Now is a great time to think about adding more. As explained in Magnesium in the Central Nervous System, “Numerous clinical studies have found that magnesium has beneficial effects in patients suffering from neuropathic pain, dysmenorrhea, tension headache, acute migraine attack, and others. These effects are considered to be due to blockage of the NMDA receptor, attenuation of central sensitization, and muscle relaxing effects.”
Some foods that are rich in magnesium include leafy green vegetables and fortified cereals. You can also eat more whole grains, nuts and seeds.
One more type of nutrient you may want to target for increasing in your diet is antioxidants. These are compounds that fight the harmful effects of free radicals, reducing oxidative stress, including on your nerves.
A meta analysis that incorporated sixty-nine papers found, “Peripheral neuropathy is associated with an increase of reactive oxygen species and a decrease in endogenous antioxidants. Genetic predisposition to oxidative damage may be a factor. Antioxidant treatment is promising regarding treatment.”
Many of the foods highest in antioxidants are fruits, for example cherries, grapes, cranberries, strawberries, papayas and so forth.
Nutrients from Food
Here are a few key foods worth increasing to improve nerve health.
A lot of people think that eating carbs is always bad, but that is not necessarily the case. Healthy whole grains contain complex carbohydrates along with nutrients such as B vitamins, magnesium, iron and selenium.
Leafy greens is a big category of vegetables that includes options like spinach, collard greens, kale, beet greens, romaine lettuce, watercress and others.
To give you an example of how nutritious leafy greens are, take a look at the nutritional profile of kale:
- Vitamin A-206%
- Vitamin K -684%
- Vitamin C -134%
- Vitamin B6 -9%
- Manganese -26%
- Calcium – 9%
- Copper – 10%
- Potassium – 9%
- Magnesium – 6%
You can’t go wrong with any leaf greens—they all have amazing nutritional profiles like this one. Make yourself a leafy green salad, or just blend some leafy greens into other recipes. Your nerves will be grateful for it.
Fish and poultry
Two more foods that are particularly worth adding to a diet for neuropathy are fish and poultry.
Both chicken and fish are sources of lean poultry that are rich in vitamin B-12. Plus, as we mentioned previously, fish contains omega-3 fatty acids, which yield additional benefits for nerve health.
Example Meal Plan for Neuropathy
Having a hard time planning your menus with neuropathy? Here are a few ideas that can help you get started. Many of these meals are quick and easy to prepare, making them suitable even if you have a busy schedule or your pain is making it hard for you to find the energy to cook.
- Eggs on whole grain toast
- Avocado omelet
- Fresh fruit, including bananas and berries
- Fortified cereal
- Fruit smoothie
Sample Lunches (or snacks):
- Leafy greens salad
- Avocado toast
- Fruit or smoothie
- Poached salmon
- Grilled, seasoned portabella mushrooms
- Braised greens
- Tomato soup
- Chicken soup
- Wholegrain pasta with leafy greens
- Chicken or fish sandwich on wholegrain bread
These are just a few simple ideas for neuropathy meals. You can, of course, mix and match as you please—there is nothing wrong with having fish for breakfast or eggs for dinner.
You should avoid eating heavily processed foods, and you also should stay away from sugary foods and junk foods. Fried foods may also worsen your condition.
You will notice a lack of dairy in the meal ideas above; this is because for a lot of patients with neuropathy, dairy products trigger symptoms. If you do eat dairy, just try to make it only a small percentage of what you are consuming.
One nice thing about eating a nutritional diet for neuropathy is that you are eating a diet that is all-around healthy. Not only will you be enhancing nerve health, but you will discover that this diet also is great for the rest of your body systems.
You may still have a few additional questions about neuropathy and nutrition. Let’s answer some frequently asked questions now.
Is caffeine bad for neuropathy?
Many patients report that caffeine can make their neuropathy symptoms worse. Keep an eye on your own symptoms when you drink caffeinated beverages like coffee. Limit your intake as needed to control your symptoms.
What are good drinks for neuropathy?
Perhaps the best thing you can do is just drink plenty of water. Some fruit and vegetable juices may also make good choices, however. In fact, tart cherry juice has shown promise in research for treating peripheral neuropathy.
Can I eat cheese with neuropathy?
Alas, cheese can trigger neuropathy flares in many people due to the presence of saturated fat. Like caffeine, it is something you should eat only in moderation, and only if it is not causing you harm.
Are eggs good for nerve pain?
Eggs are high in B vitamins, so they are frequently recommended as a top food for nerve health. You may find eggs to be a great addition to your diet for neuropathy.
Can too much B12 make neuropathy worse?
Yes, it is certainly possible to get too much of a good thing. While low levels of vitamin B-12 may contribute to nerve pain, excess levels of vitamin B-12 can as well. Ensure that your levels are balanced.