Whether battling an illness or just trying to maintain our health, we should constantly be evaluating the things we do in our daily lives and how they affect us. We often forget to check in on these simple things as the hustle and bustle of doctors’ appointments, medications, physiotherapy and so on seem to take precedence, but we need to take control of those things which we can control. For anyone fighting an illness or condition of any sort, it is so important to ensure that our body is working at its maximum capacity so it can fight as hard as it can.
We can think of our body like a car. For a car to drive properly there are multiple parts involved and processes taking place. If one of these is not functioning as it should, this will affect the car’s performance. For example, if air pressure in the tires is too low because of a small hole in the tire, the car is working harder to move the car and will use more fuel than if the air pressure was where it should be. If everything else in this car is still working optimally then this will hinder performance, but only so much, but, if we also have an oil leak, then the car is dealing with low oil and low tire pressure.
Similarly, if we are dealing with a condition which hinders certain functions in our body, we should be ensuring that the rest of our body is working at its highest ability. As far as neuropathy goes, our bodies are in a compromised state due to nerve damage which may be inhibiting blood flow, lymph circulation and so on which make it difficult for out nerves to mend. In this instance our bodies are working very hard to overcome these obstacles and so we must ensure that we are fueling it and providing it with the best fighting chance it has. We must do all we can to promote the healing process.
Below we will outline a couple important lifestyle factors which should be attended to so we can encourage optimal healing function within our bodies. The four areas of focus are maintaining optimal weight, avoiding toxic exposure, correcting vitamin deficiencies, and eating a healthy and balanced diet.
Correcting Vitamin Deficiencies
We have likely been overwhelmed at the supermarket by the isles of different vitamins, but how often do we take a minute to think about these different vitamins? Vitamins are organic compounds which are essential to normal growth of the human body. They are required in the diet because our bodies cannot synthesize them (in sufficient amounts). Certain vitamin deficiencies have been linked to neuropathy or play a role in worsening neuropathy symptoms. Sounds scary? Well, luckily for us, vitamin intake is something we can manage easily with diet and supplements. Below we will go through various vitamins that should be incorporated into the daily routine of anyone suffering with peripheral neuropathy.
B Complex Vitamins
The vitamin B family helps to prevent and treat injured nerves. Below we will go into detail about each B-type vitamin and although this list may seem daunting, we don’t need to worry about it because there is something called a B Complex vitamin available which is comprised of these vitamins into one pill.
An essential nutrient required by all tissues in the body. The human body cannot produce thiamine and thus, it must be consumed either as food or in supplement form.
>sources: poultry, whole grain cereals, brown rice, nuts, soy beans, egg yolks.
Helps the body break down carbohydrates, proteins and fats to produce energy and is needed for growth and overall good health.
>sources: whole-grains, milk, poultry, eggs, cheese, peas
Important for general good health but also can improve cholesterol levels and lower cardiovascular risks.
>sources: protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, yeast, milk, eggs, legumes
B5- Pantothenic Acid
Required to synthesize coenzyme-A (an essential vitamin), proteins, carbohydrates and fats.
>sources: meat, whole grain cereals and legumes
Needed for several functions including the creation of red blood cells and neurotransmitters. Its participation in creating neurotransmitters has also linked it to improving mood, symptoms of depression, and promoting brain health. Too high of levels can cause toxicity.
>sources: yeast, green vegetables, whole grain cereals
B9-Folic Acid- Folic Acid and B12 are linked to the point where a deficiency of either Folic Acid or B12 lead to similar neurologic manifestations one of which is peripheral neuropathy. It is very important to speak with a doctor prior to taking any Folic Acid supplements because too much can cause neurological relapse.
>sources: Citrus fruits, bananas, peas, beans, romaine lettuce, cucumber, asparagus.
Vitamin B12 is an example of a vitamin deficiency which has been linked to neuropathy. Vitamin B12 is present in foods such as fish, meat, poultry, eggs, and diary. Vitamin B12 deficiencies cause damage to the myelin sheath which surrounds and protects nerves.
>sources: meats, egg yolk, poultry, milk
This is an antioxidant that reduces symptoms of neuropathy such as pain and numbness. The usual dose is 200mg per day as per Cancer BC.
Deficiency has been linked to peripheral neuropathy. Has distinctive antioxidant activities which protect cells from free radical damage.
>sources: Nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils.
Eating a Balanced Diet
Diet should be one of the first things addressed when faced with any illness or disorder. This is because how you fuel your body impacts your mood, energy, mental well-being as well as so many other processes essential to overall health and wellness. When it comes to neuropathy, a healthy diet can help prevent or reduce troubling symptoms. A balanced diet can help correct underlying nutritional deficiencies and can manage medical conditions linked to neuropathy such as diabetes. Lastly, certain diets encourage better circulation, healthier cholesterol levels, and better blood sugar and blood pressure levels, all of which should be working at their highest efficiency to keep neuropathy symptoms at bay or heal damaged nerves where possible.
So, what should we be eating? Well, the short of it is that our diet should be rich in fish, nuts, antioxidants, whole grains, and fresh produce.
Antioxidants are compounds produced in the body and found in certain foods. They prevent cell damage that may occur because of oxidative stress from free radicals. Free radicals are molecules that are created within the body and are necessary for certain functions, but when there are not enough antioxidants in a system then free radicals build up and cause oxidative stress which can lead to chronic diseases like cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. For these reasons’ antioxidants should make up a part of the diet of every human despite their health. Antioxidants, are even more important for those suffering from neuropathy because antioxidants do have neuroprotective properties and have been linked to hindering the progression of neuropathic impairments by reducing oxidative stress.
>Sources: Blueberries, Strawberries, Kale, Red Cabbage, Beans, Dark Chocolate, Pecans
Lean protein is another important food source to be consumed. Lean protein does not contain a lot of fat and so when consumed mainly provides protein. Lean protein is important in a neuropathic diet because it allows the body to build muscle tissues and contributes to tissue repair.
>Sources: White meat, poultry, low-fat milk, legumes, tofu, yogurt, fish.
Fruits and Veggies
Fruits and vegetables provide an assortment of dietary fibres, vitamins and minerals all of which help support immune function and maintain healthy nerves, tissues, and muscles. The best vegetables to eat are those which are dark and leafy since they contain the most antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. These are vegetables such as kale, spinach, chard, parsley and broccoli.
As for fruit, similarly we want to stick to fruits which are high in antioxidants like berries and kiwis. Also incorporate citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruit, and lemons because these are sources of folic acid and vitamin C.
Fish is an excellent food for a few reasons. First off, as we discussed previously, vitamin B12 is very important in managing neuropathy and is present in fish. Fish provides us with a source of lean protein, essential for building lean muscle and nerve rebuilding. Lastly, fish are very high in Omega-3 fatty acids, the good fats. Omega-3s play important role in reducing tissue inflammation reducing pain and other neuropathy symptoms. It is important to get Omega-3s in your diet because our body does not produce a enough of them naturally.
>best sources: Wild Salmon, Arctic char, Atlantic Mackerel, Sardines, Anchovies, Farmed Rainbow trout.
Whole Grains and Cereals
Whole grains are important for those suffering with neuropathy because they are high in B vitamins, protein, and antioxidants. In addition, they have the added benefits from fibre and minerals such as zinc, iron, and magnesium.
>Sources: oatmeal, popcorn, quinoa, brown rice, rye, buckwheat, barley.
Nuts are basically a secret weapon when it comes to being packed full of good things. Nuts are full of fibre, protein, vitamins such as folate or B1, minerals, Omega-3s and even antioxidants. They are basically full of everything you could ask for in a food. It is generally recommended to eat raw or dry-roasted nuts as opposed to oil-roasted nuts to reduce calories and fat intake from nuts.
Maintaining an Optimal Weight/ Staying Active
It is so easy to let our weight or activity levels become unregulated as we deal with an illness, especially one that can be so debilitating as neuropathy. This shouldn’t be the case though because excess weight has negative effects on peripheral neuropathy which often worsens the condition.
As previously mentioned, healing occurs most when our bodies are working at their best, and it just so happens that a huge part of this is our body weight. Peripheral neuropathy is caused by many things but is the result of damaged nerves which can be pinched, squished severed, etc. We need to do what we can to reduce any further damage to these nerves and encouraging proper circulation of oxygen and nutrients to these nerves. Unfortunately, excess body weight can damage nerves further from excess weight squishing and constricting nerves even more. A study done in 2016 at the University of Tokyo found overweight patients with neuropathic pain complained of more severe pain than normal-weight patients and they experienced more negative symptoms of neuropathy such as numbness, tingling, or stabbing sensations (Hozumi, et al., 2016). Additional research has demonstrated that obesity causes musculoskeletal degeneration which can worsen symptoms of PN by causing more damage to nerves. Other research has found that motor and sensory action potentials, the electrical change which causes a nerve to fire, in nerves are impaired in obese subjects. Overall, it is evident that excess weight impedes nerve healing.
So, what can we do to manage our weight? Weight maintenance can be done maintaining a healthy diet and regular exercise. Exercise has many benefits for neuropathy as it can deliver more blood, oxygen and nutrients to far-off nerve endings which in turn can improve muscular strength, reduce pain, and prevent muscle loss. Great activities for weight loss and improving neuropathy symptoms are walking or swimming because both exercises involve aspects of cardiovascular health and are easy on our joints. Overall, the take away here is that when we are at an optimal weight, we have better nerve functioning, circulation and so on. It is recommended that patients speak with their physician regarding an optimal weight.
Avoiding Toxic Exposure
We must be mindful that everything we put into or on our body is either healing or damaging it. Our bodies take and use whatever we provide it with, whether that be the lotion we apply every morning, the coffee we have at lunch, or the shampoo and conditioner we use to shower. The following things should be avoided as they have negative effects and can worsen symptoms of neuropathy.
Excess alcohol can worsen certain health conditions that cause neuropathy as well as it can lead to nerve damage. Additionally, heavy alcohol consumption may cause malabsorption, the inability to absorb or digest nutrients from food, of certain nutrients which are necessary for healthy nerves. Lastly, alcohol may poison healthy nerves. Overall alcohol consumption is toxic to the nerves and thus should be limited at best.
Mercury is commonly found in seafood and at high levels can cause central nervous problems. Seafood accumulate mercury through absorption from surrounding environment and from the food they eat. According to Canada Health Services, fish such as tuna, shark, swordfish and marlin have the highest mercury levels whereas canned tuna, anchovy, char, herring, Pollock, salmon, and trout have lower mercury levels and thus are better choices.
As far as things like nail polish and lotions, we should try to avoid drying agents like formaldehyde in nail polishes and things like Oxybenzones, Octinoxate, and Homosalate in lotions and sunscreens.
Last, but definitely not least, we should avoid smoking. Smoking is a toxic habit that constricts blood vessels which supply nutrients to the peripheral nerves and can worsen symptoms and hinder the healing process.
The things we do in our daily lives have so much impact on how we feel mentally and physical and how our body functions. For our body to heal, we must treat it in a way which facilitates healing. Don’t ever forget that we have the power to take control of our own health even if it is in ways which seem small such as by eating more fruits and veggies, going for a walk daily, avoiding alcohol or any of the other ways we went over.
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Sabrina Martini is a student entering the 4th year of her Bachelors of Science, majoring in Neuroscience at the University of Lethbridge.