One of the leading causes of chronic pain among people is a condition called neuropathy. Also described as a general dysfunction of the nervous system, neuropathy is dependent on good nutrition and proper diet for improvement and mitigating symptoms. Just like with any medical condition, we cannot overlook the foods that will help one heal faster or make the condition worse. Therefore, in the following paragraphs, we’ll take a look at the foods neuropathic patients need to stay away from to get better. So, without further ado, let’s get started!
What Is Neuropathy?
To understand what kinds of food neuropathic patients need to avoid, it is essential to understand what kind of medical condition is neuropathy. As mentioned previously, neuropathy is described as damage or dysfunction of the nervous system. The damage and dysfunction often occur in the peripheral nervous system, which lies between the brain and the spine. However, to develop neuropathy, one doesn’t have to solely experience nervous system damage; neuropathy can also occur from brain injury or even a stroke.
Neuropathy is, unfortunately, one of the leading causes of chronic pain, alongside painful peripheral neuropathy. The pain often persists for months and it affects more than 20,000 people in the US, and more than 15 million people In Europe and worldwide, combined.
What Are The Symptoms Of Neuropathy?
The symptoms of neuropathy are different and usually depend on the type of nerve damage. However, some of the most commonly occurring symptoms are;
- Numbness and weakness
- Stabbing or burning pain
- Sense of wearing something on the hands or feet (like invisible socks or gloves)
- Lack of coordination
Numbness, weakness and burning pain occur in situations where neuropathy is caused by the damage of sensory nerves. These symptoms are known to rapidly worsen if they’re not treated early.
On the other hand, tingling, numbness, and the sense of wearing something on the hands and feet occur in case of neuropathy being caused by the damage of nerves that convey the sense of touch.
And finally, if the symptoms like cramping or lack of coordination occur, this means that neuropathy has been caused by damage to motor nerves. These nerves are responsible for one’s stability and movement.
How Is Neuropathy Recognized And Diagnosed?
- Physical exam – this comprises the examination of the symptoms, patient’s medical history, history of injuries and past trauma, past and current medications, and work or social habits. Also, the examination will look into the possible history of nervous system diseases, alcohol use, and dietary habits.
- Neurological exam – this comprises the examination of one’s reflexes, coordination, balance, muscle tone and strength, as well as one’s reactions to different sensations, like hot and cold, or touch.
- Blood work – this will show any vitamin or mineral imbalances, electrolyte imbalances, or thyroid issues that could be connected to neuropathy. Moreover, your doctor may also order an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), to detect possible tumors and whether they cause nerve compression.
- Tissue biopsy – tissue or skin biopsy is conducted to confirm the neuropathy diagnosis. Small samples of the skin or tissue are examined under a microscope to observe the nerves and muscle tissues.
- Electrodiagnostic assessment – this comprises the examination of nerve damage location and the severity of nerve damage. This can be done using electrodes (Nerve conduction study), or by using needle electrodes (Needle electromyography).
How Is Neuropathy Treated?
The treatment of neuropathy has the purpose of relieving symptoms. It can be done through a set of prescribed medications, especially in case of underlying conditions, or a set of different therapies;
- Pain relief medication – mild neuropathy symptoms can be treated with over-the-counter pain-relieving, anti-inflammatory medications. In some cases, if pain relievers don’t help, the health care provider can prescribe stronger painkillers. Some of the most common pain relievers for neuropathy include tramadol and oxycodone, also known as Conzip, Ultram, Oxytocin, etc.
- Topical treatment – some creams when applied to the skin can provide pain relief. Creams that contain capsaicin, or the substance found in hot peppers, can provide instant pain relief in neuropathic patients. The creams can cause skin irritation and redness due to their effects, but such skin irritations disappear quickly. Moreover, medical products, like creams or patches that contain Lidocaine can also be useful for alleviating neuropathy symptoms.
- Anti-seizure medication – in some cases, medications used for the treatment of epilepsy and seizure-causing conditions can also be used to relieve neuropathy symptoms. Anti-seizure medications used for neuropathy include Neurontin, Gralise, Lyrica, and Horizant.
- Antidepressants – studies have shown that antidepressant medications can provide symptom relief in neuropathic patients. Antidepressants interfere with a chemical process that makes the patients feel chronic and intense pain, resulting in pain relief, especially in the case of peripheral neuropathy.
- Electrical nerve stimulation therapy – also known as Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, TENS therapy has proven effective in relieving neuropathy symptoms. Electrodes are placed onto the skin and deliver gentle electric waves deep into the skin, where they affect the nerves. The therapy is applied every day for 30 minutes and should be repeated for at least 30 days.
- Physical therapy – sometimes by strengthening muscles, the symptoms of neuropathy can mitigate and diminish. That is why physical therapy is important for neuropathic patients. The therapy will improve their movement, strengthen their muscles, and overall help them deal with the condition.
Note: Therapies like plasma exchange or immune globulin therapy can help people with inflammatory conditions, relieve symptoms and supper immune system activity. In neuropathy patients, surgery can also be helpful if the nerve damage is caused by pressure on the nerves. Such pressure can occur from tumors, for example, which can be removed with surgery.
Dietary Changes For Neuropathy: Foods To Completely Avoid According To Neuropathy Type
Avoiding certain food groups is known to help neuropathy patients relieve pain and symptoms, alongside medications and therapies. It is essential to introduce thorough dietary changes, and start avoiding the following foods, in accordance with the type of neuropathy one has or can develop from underlying conditions;
Gluten – Gluten Neuropathy
Studies show that gluten in neuropathic patients can significantly worsen the symptoms, cause limitation to physical health, induce coeliac disease, and result in an overall lack of energy and fatigue. With gluten intake for neuropathy patients, the condition can result in the so-called gluten neuropathy, which is a manifestation of extreme gluten sensitivity. The symptoms of gluten neuropathy often include muscle cramps, weakness, stiffness, tightness, tingling sensations, burning pain, etc.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, and its purpose is to serve as a ‘glue’ or to help food keep its shape. For example, gluten is found in wheat or white baking flour. So, everything that contains wheat flour or gluten, like pasta, cake, beer, or bread, should be avoided by people with neuropathy or gluten neuropathy. Fortunately, neuropathic patients can easily follow a gluten-free diet, which is mostly based on fruits, veggies, seeds, beans, eggs, and low-fat dairy products.
Sugar And Artificial Sweeteners – Diabetic Neuropathy
As studies show, people with diabetes can develop so-called diabetic neuropathy due to the consumption of sugar and artificial sweeteners. Diabetic neuropathy occurs due to the nerve damage occurring because of diabetes, and it usually damages the nerves in the hands and feet. To avoid the development of diabetic neuropathy, or diabetes in the first place, it is essential to avoid sugar and artificial sweeteners and replace them with natural sugars found in fruits.
Diabetic neuropathy affects 50% of people with diabetes. It can be managed with proper blood sugar levels and a generally healthy lifestyle. It is essential to consume healthy, organic, and natural foods (especially natural sugars like palm sugar, honey or maple syrup, or fruits rich in natural sugars), and to maintain daily activity.
Food High In Trans Fats And Saturated Fats – Peripheral And Diabetic Neuropathy
Abnormal levels of fat or lipids in the body can contribute to the worsening of neuropathy symptoms. Especially when it comes to peripheral or diabetic neuropathy, trans and saturated fats can contribute to the slowing of the sensory nerve conduction, dysfunction of the nerves, abnormal sensory nerve perception, and numerous other nervous system issues. The onset of peripheral neuropathy, caused by trans fats, is usually characterized by burning pain, tingling sensations, increased sensitivity to touch, and serious problems, like ulcers, infections, and bone/joint pain in feet.
Consumption of high-fat diet, trans and saturated fats food (usually in fast or junk food), can lead to obesity, diabetes, and eventually nerve damage. In the case of obesity and diabetes, neuropathy can result in emphasized pain sensations, and it can be hard to mitigate the symptoms. That is why it is essential to avoid junk food, processed food, and overall food that is rich in trans or saturated fats.
Spicy And Hot Foods – Autonomic Neuropathy
Autonomic neuropathy can result in an incredible set of bodily reactions upon the consumption of hot or spicy food. Eating such foods can result in excessive sweating, serious gastrointestinal problems, troubles with bowel movement, lazy bladder symptoms, etc. Autonomic neuropathy affects the bladder, stomach, intestine, and one’s heart. The effects it has on these organs can seriously worsen upon eating for example, hot or chili peppers, spicy sauces like Tabasco, spicy noodles, or anything that contains hot spices.
This type of neuropathy can be incredibly painful and is known to cause people a lot of trouble with their health. Usually, the pain levels and the symptoms can be managed with thorough dietary changes; one needs to avoid spicy and hot food, but also the food that is overall unhealthy for the gastrointestinal tract. Such, foods include fast food, processed food, excessive sugar and artificial sweeteners, trans fats, etc.
Alcohol – Alcoholic Neuropathy
Alcohol is known to affect the nerve tissues significantly. When nerves start to tingle and cause pain sensations after alcohol consumption, the condition is known as alcoholic neuropathy. The reason alcoholic neuropathy occurs is that one has damaged the nerves due to excessive alcohol consumption.
Excessive alcohol intake can impact the levels of vitamins B6 and B12, niacin, folate, vitamin E, and thiamine in the body, all needed for proper nerve function. Not to mention that excessive alcohol intake damages the liver, and via that alone helps spread neuropathy. Unfortunately, alcoholic neuropathy usually results in permanent nerve damage, but by stopping drinking, one can mitigate and diminish the symptoms and pain levels.
A healthy diet and physical activity are the basis for one’s health, regardless of the medical condition. Therefore, in accordance with your doctor’s recommendations and advice, it is essential to avoid unhealthy, artificial, processed, and fatty foods. They are scientifically proven to promote unhealthy bodily reactions, often resulting in diseases, or worsening of the current conditions. So, make sure to eat lean meat, fruits, veggies, seeds, nuts, and take the recommended amount of water daily. You will witness the changes and improvements almost instantly.