Nerve damage in the hands and feet that produce sensations, such as pain, numbness and tingling characterize peripheral neuropathy. Common in diabetics, it can also result from medications, injury, infections and toxins to name a few. Depending on the cause, it can sometimes resolve itself. Common treatments include medications and self-care measures. While no official diet exists to treat this condition, certain dietary changes might help promote nerve health. You should discuss treatments with your doctor, particularly any special diets or natural supplementation.
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Take Responsibility for Your Health
Peripheral neuropathy involves damage to the peripheral nerves that send messages back to the brain. For example, damage to your peripheral nerves can prevent your brain from receiving the signal that your hands are cold or your feet are burning, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. While many conventional medications and treatments can help manage your pain, you must take an active role in treating your peripheral neuropathy by making good lifestyle choices and managing underlying conditions that contribute to your neuropathy.
Do not smoke as it affects proper blood circulation. Avoid alcohol or--at the very least--drinking it in moderation to prevent further nerve damage. Regular exercise might reduce nerve pain; it will also keep blood sugar levels stable, if you have diabetes.
How Diet Influences Neuropathy
While a healthy diet forms the cornerstone of healthy living for everyone in general, it is particularly important if you have an illness or a medical condition, like peripheral neuropathy. Food contains important vitamins, minerals and other substances that promote healing in the body. The Mayo Clinic recommends eating the full range of healthy foods including fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains like oatmeal and brown rice, low-fat dairy and lean meats. Eating a diet rich in all these foods ensures you get the full range of beneficial nutrients that contribute to the health of your nerves.
If your peripheral neuropathy stems from diabetes, diet plays a particularly important role as poorly managed blood sugar will worsen your condition. Following these general guidelines will positively impact your glucose levels. You must take care to avoid eating an excess of fast-digesting carbohydrates that cause large spikes in blood sugar such as white flour refined foods and sugary drinks and foods like soda, cake, cookies and candy. These foods also have less nutritional value as well.
The B-vitamins play an important role in nerve health, explains Dr. Andrew Weil, a physician and integrative medicine expert. Foods rich in B-vitamins include whole grains, high-protein foods like dairy and a wide range of vegetables.
Options for Conventional Medications
A number of medications might relieve the pain associated with this condition. Your doctor can determine the most appropriate one for you. If over-the-counter pain medications fail to provide relief, your doctor might prescribe antidepressants or anti-convulsant drugs normally used to treat depression and epilepsy. These medications affect the central nervous system and the body’s pain response. You can also use lidocaine patches, which numb the area and reduce pain.
Supplementing Your Diet
While eating a full range of healthy foods represents the optimal way to get beneficial nutrients, supplementing can help if you cannot meet your goals through diet or if you require larger amounts of a particular substance to achieve therapeutic effects. Since specific nutrients have been linked to nerve health, you might benefit from taking them in supplemental form. Weil recommends taking a B-vitamin complex daily as well as alpha-lipoic acid, an antioxidant linked to better blood circulation to the nerves. The University of Maryland Medical Center, or UMMC, notes clinical studies indicate gamma-linolenic acid, or GLA, improves nerve communication in affected areas. Rich sources include evening primrose oil and black currant oil. You should work with a knowledgeable health care practitioner for guidance on natural supplementation, particularly if you take conventional medications to avoid negative interactions.
Experimenting with Alternative Therapies
Some alternative therapies might help peripheral neuropathy. The UMMC indicates clinical studies show acupuncture might stimulate the release of natural pain killers. You will typically need several sessions to see any benefit; you should only worked with properly licensed acupuncturists. Weil also recommends reflexology to help with neuropathy that affects the feet.