Often caused by diabetes, fibromyalgia, shingles or nutrient deficiencies, nerve pain is one of the most difficult and uncomfortable pain types, says Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, a board-certified internist, researcher and contributing writer for "Psychology Today." It's also highly manageable, given proper care. Once your doctor has determined and provided treatment measures for the underlying cause, a healthy diet that emphasizes particular foods and limits others could help minimize your symptoms.
Whole Grains for B Vitamins and Fiber
Unlike refined grains, whole grains retain valuable nutrients during processing. As a result, they supply significantly more B vitamins and fiber. Eating foods rich in B vitamins is important because deficiencies of the nutrients can cause nerve pain. Fiber promotes appetite control, making it easier to reach or maintain a healthy body weight. This is important because excess pounds can strain nerves, including your sciatic nerve, raising your risk for nerve pain in your lower back. As low-glycemic foods, meaning they have a mild impact on your blood sugar, whole grains help reduce inflammation. To reap these benefits, replace refined-grain products in your diet, such as white bread, pretzels and pastries, with whole grains, such as barley, oats, quinoa and brown rice.
Fatty Fish for Omega-3s
Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel and lake trout, are top sources of omega-3 fatty acids -- essential fats that reduce inflammation. In a study published in the "Clinical Journal of Pain" in February 2010, five patients with nerve pain conditions were given high doses of fish oil and showed significant reduction in pain and improved function for up to 19 months after their initial dose. To meet your omega-3 needs and promote cardiovascular health, the American Heart Association recommends eating fish, particularly fatty varieties, at least twice per week. For added health perks, choose baked, broiled or grilled fish in place of fatty meats, such as steak, bacon and fried chicken, which increase inflammation.
Protein Sources and Cereals for Vitamin B-12
Peripheral neuropathy is a painful nerve condition that can derive from a vitamin B-12 deficiency. Many people in the United States lack vitamin B-12, according to the University of Chicago Center for Peripheral Neuropathy, including 10 to 25 percent of people over age 80 and many people following strict vegetarian diets or who have digestive diseases such as Crohn's. To make sure your needs are met, incorporate more vitamin B-12-rich foods, such as lean meats, low-fat dairy products, fish, eggs and fortified cereals, into your diet. The protein helps alleviate nerve issues by enhancing immune function and tissue repair. To add protein to fortified cereal, serve it with low-fat dairy or soy milk. If you have difficulty meeting your vitamin B-12 or protein needs through food alone, discuss the potential need for supplements with your doctor.
Colorful Produce for Antioxidants and Fiber
Eating a healthy diet that keeps your blood sugar levels in a healthy range is particularly important if you have nerve pain related to diabetes, says the University of Maryland Medical Center. Fruits and vegetables supply rich amounts of fiber, which supports blood sugar and appetite control. As prime antioxidant sources, they also help reduce inflammation. Fruits and vegetables particularly rich in antioxidants include berries, citrus fruits, winter squash, bell peppers, tomatoes and dark, leafy greens. Turnips, raspberries and cooked Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and peas are particularly fiber-rich.
- Psychology Today: Eliminate Nerve Pain Naturally
- American Heart Association: Whole Grains and Fiber
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Back Pain and Sciatica
- Linus Pauling Institute: Two Faces of Inflammation
- Linus Pauling Institute: Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load
- Clinical Journal of Pain: Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Neuropathic Pain: Case Series
- American Heart Association: Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- McKinley Health Center: Macronutrients: the Importance of Carbohydrate, Protein and Fat
- Harvard University Health Services: Fiber Content of Common Foods in Common Portions