Sugar and Neuropathy
Sugar is a delicious addition to many of the foods we eat daily, but it is not a necessary nutrient. It can give you energy, make you feel jittery or anxious, or make you feel as though you need a nap after gobbling too many tasty treats. It is important to pay attention to how much sugar you have in your diet. Consuming too much sugar can, and almost certainly will, negatively affect your neuropathy.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that “nerve damage is one possible complication from having high blood sugar levels for a long time”2, which means that it can provoke a flare-up of neuropathy symptoms (for example, tingling in your hands and feet). This is true even if you’re not diabetic. This post explores how sugar affects you and specifically your neuropathy. As well it seeks to provide tools you can use to manage your sugar intake and help manage your neuropathy.
How Too Much Sugar Affects You
When you eat food, your body breaks it down into glucose, fats, and proteins before using it as fuel. To do that, the blood vessels in your mouth, stomach, and intestines absorb the sugar from the food you eat moving it into your bloodstream. Once done, your pancreas secretes a hormone called insulin allowing the body to break down the sugar to make that energy-giving fuel5.
Problems start to arise when your blood absorbs too much sugar, as without there being a use for it the sugar in your bloodstream will linger for much longer than it should. Insulin regulates where the sugar goes in your body; if you eat too much sugar, it stores the excess in your kidneys, liver, and fat cells until needed or disposed of through your urine. In people with diabetes, the body either cannot produce insulin (type 1 ) or produces insulin that does not work properly (type 2).
Having high blood sugar harms the body because excess sugar damages both your small and large blood vessels. If clogged your large blood vessels harden and narrow, and the excess sugar causes your small blood vessels to leak. Complications with how your body uses and disposes of the sugar you eat can lead to heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, and negative effects on your nerves5.
What it Means for Neuropathy
Having high blood sugar causes inflammation and can damage your blood vessels causing poor circulation, which is unhealthy for your already damaged nerves. The Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy warns that high blood pressure over long periods of time puts pressure on & damages your nerves, which means that your nerves no longer have the ability to effectively communicate with different parts of the body3. Without your nerves being able to communicate effectively to the brain, it worsens symptoms of neuropathy, such as numbness, pain, a burning sensation in your hands and feet, increased sensitivity, and tingling.
Again, you do not need to have diabetic neuropathy to want to keep track of your sugar intake. It can simply be another method that you use to manage your neuropathy symptoms.
4 Ways to Manage Your Sugar Intake
These are four of the many ways to manage your sugar intake. It helps to be aware of which nutrients you are putting into your body and to strike a balance between eating lots of sugary treats and having no sugar at all.
- Test to See How Eliminating Sugar Impacts Your Neuropathy: Some people react more strongly to consuming a bunch of sugar than others. Try cutting out sugar completely for a few days or a week to see if symptoms improve. If you are indulging in a lot of sugar one day and notice that your symptoms worsen, then consider taking additional steps to minimize how much you are eating. Keep in mind that you should always consult your doctor before making any dramatic changes to your diet.
- Get into a Routine: Some people find it easier to manage their sugar intake when they rely on eating foods they are familiar with and know are low on sugar. This does not mean that you need to eat the same thing every day, but rather keeping track of foods you know work for you and putting them into the rotation of the food you consume.
- Know What is in Your Food: Sugar often hides under a pseudonym, and so it is hard to know which foods have processed sugars hidden in them and which do not. Pay attention to labels and be wary of ingredients ending in “ose” (like glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose). Also watch for syrups and sweeteners.4 Knowing what is in the food you put in your body helps make sure you are not unknowingly affecting your nerves with too much sugar you are providing good quality nutrients to your nerves.
- Stay Hydrated: Staying hydrated is good for you for many reasons, one of them being that it can help keep your blood sugar low. Keep a water bottle handy and take sips often throughout your day.
It is important to note the same way to regulate one person’s sugar consumption will not always work for everyone. Make sure to talk to your doctor about any lifestyle changes that you are thinking about making to make sure that it is a healthy thing for you to do!
- Controlling Blood Sugar Spikes Through Diet and Exercise. (2018, March 7). WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/diabetes-diet-exercise
- Diabetes and Nerve Damage. (2020, September 23). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/library/features/diabetes-nerve-damage.html#:%7E:text=High%20blood%20sugar%20damages%20your,with%20diabetes%20have%20nerve%20damage.
- Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy | Symptoms & Treatment | FPN. (2017, November 20). The Foundation For Peripheral Neuropathy. https://www.foundationforpn.org/what-is-peripheral-neuropathy/causes/diabetic-neuropathy/
- Harvard Health. (2019, November 14). The sweet danger of sugar. https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/the-sweet-danger-of-sugar
- Surwit, R. S., Skyler, J., & Bauman, A. (2004). The Mind-Body Diabetes Revolution: A Proven New Program for Better Blood Sugar Control (1st ed.). Free Press.