Foods That Aggravate Peripheral Neuropathy

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Eating a balanced diet of whole grains, meat, eggs and dairy can help prevent conditions that cause peripheral neuropathy. (Image: Mizina/iStock/GettyImages)

Peripheral neuropathy occurs when nerves of the arms and legs are damaged, either through injury or an underlying medical condition. Symptoms can include tingling, numbness, pain, weakness and muscle spasms. Unfortunately, there is no specific neuropathy diet or foods that heal nerve damage. However, diet changes and avoiding certain foods can reduce your risk of aggravating these symptoms.

Diabetic Neuropathy Diet

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke states that diabetes is the leading cause of peripheral neuropathy. Unfortunately, once nerve damage has occurred, it can't be reversed. However, managing your blood sugar levels can help prevent neuropathy from getting worse, states the American Diabetes Association.

Foods that are high in simple carbohydrates, or sugar, cause a fast spike in blood sugar levels followed by a quick insulin response. These foods include processed grains, baked goods, some fruits and a few starchy vegetables such as potatoes and corn. People with peripheral neuropathy from diabetes should limit intake of these high-glycemic-index foods to help keep blood sugar levels within normal limits.

According to a study published in 2018 by Nutrients, a diet based on lower-glycemic-index foods helps control blood sugar levels in people with Type 2 diabetes. Choosing whole grains and vegetables that contain fiber will also help prevent blood sugar spikes and control blood sugar levels. Chronically high blood sugar levels can lead to peripheral neuropathy.

Vitamin and Mineral Deficiency

Peripheral neuropathy can also be caused by vitamin or mineral deficiencies. Vitamin B12 is important for maintaining nerve health, and a study published in 2014 by Continuum shows that a lack of this vitamin can lead to peripheral neuropathy. This nutrient is readily available in animal meats, eggs and dairy, making severe deficiencies uncommon. People who consume a vegan diet or have an underlying medical condition, such as Crohn's disease, are at the highest risk.

Deficiencies in vitamin E, vitamin B1 and the mineral copper can also lead to peripheral neuropathy. These deficiencies can occur from malnutrition or as a side effect of treatment for an underlying medical condition. Too much or too little vitamin B6 can also contribute to peripheral neuropathy symptoms.

Toxins and Peripheral Neuropathy

Toxins in the body are another cause of peripheral neuropathy. Alcoholism is a common cause. Excessive consumption of alcohol can lead to malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies that aggravate peripheral neuropathy or cause direct injury to peripheral nerves.

According to a study published in 2018 by Nutrients, peripheral neuropathy can develop from heavy metals in the bloodstream. Toxic seafood is one source of the heavy metal mercury. Fish that contain the highest levels of mercury should be avoided. The Food & Drug Administration lists them as shark, swordfish, bigeye tuna, orange roughy, marlin, tilefish and king mackerel.

Toxins are also present in pesticides used to protect fruits and vegetables from insects and disease. According to a study published in 2014 by the Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal, peripheral neuropathy may develop from chronic exposure to pesticides in farm sprayers. While this study didn't look at health risks for the consumer, washing produce before eating it or buying organic fruits and vegetables can reduce your risk of exposure to pesticides.

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