Of all the medicines and remedies you’ve considered for your neuropathy treatment – I’ll bet food wasn’t high on the list (if it was even on the list at all). Believe it or not though – emerging research is showing that the types of foods we consume can have a powerful effect on our nerves – and may even help heal or repair damaged nerves.
Foods can have a positive or negative effect on your neuropathy. Some foods can actually weaken or damage the nerves further – leading to exacerbated symptoms. Knowing what these foods are and avoiding them at all costs can go a long way in preventing the spread or worsening of your nerve pain, numbness or tingling.
Other foods can strengthen your nerves – helping to guard against further damage and boosting the health of your peripheral nervous system. In some cases, the foods you eat may even help repair damaged nerves, resulting in relief from the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy. These nerve-boosting foods are the topic of today’s blog post.
Let’s take a look at 10 foods you should include in your diet to both boosts nerve health and promote the healing of damaged nerves:
Vitamin B12 rich foods
Of all the vitamins and nutrients for nerve health – B12 is one of the most important. Vitamin B12 helps build, sustain and repair the layer of protective fat around the nerves. This protective coating, known as the Myelin Sheath, is an essential defense against harmful substances that could damage or destroy nerves. Without enough vitamin B12, the myelin sheath weakens, leaving your nerves more vulnerable to damage. In fact, a deficiency of vitamin B12 is one of the leading causes of neuropathy.
You may be thinking “well, my nerves have already been damaged – so what use is it now?”. In some studies, ultra-high doses of vitamin B12 have been shown to actually rebuild and repair damaged nerves. Also, even if you already have neuropathy, vitamin B12 can help protect your undamaged nerves and help slow or prevent the spread of your symptoms to other areas.
Top food sources of Vitamin B12:
- Fortified cereals
One of the primary sources of fuel for your nervous and muscular systems is vitamin B1. This critical vitamin has two important roles to help fuel your nervous system. First, it helps convert carbohydrates into energy so the nervous system can use it. Second, it helps in the creation of ATP – which is a molecule used by every single cell in the body to transfer chemical energy between cells for metabolism.
The biggest problem with vitamin B1 is that it has difficulty absorbing into our systems – so when we consume it through food sources only a small fraction makes it in. For that reason, we typically suggest taking a daily vitamin B1 supplement in addition to eating B1-rich foods.
Top food sources of Vitamin B1:
- Sunflower Seeds
- Navy Beans
- Black Beans
- Green Peas
Vitamin B6 – but not too much!
Often when we recommend vitamin B6 we get responses that it can actually hurt your nerves and cause neuropathy. This is true – but only if you get too much of it. According to the National Academies Institute of Medicine, the tolerable upper intake levels (UL) for adults (both men and women) is 100 milligrams. Anything above 100 milligrams a day could potentially result in harmful side effects – including sensory neuropathy. They also report that no cases of vitamin B6 excess have been reported from getting too much B6 from food sources. Typically, excessive use of B6 supplements is the culprit.
So, why do we recommend eating foods with vitamin B6? It’s simple. The key reason is that your body needs B6 in order to properly absorb vitamin B12 into your system. Remember vitamin B12 from earlier? It’s one of the most important vitamins for nerve health – so without B6, the body cannot absorb it.
A few more key functions of B6 is that it helps produce neurotransmitters for carrying signals between nerve cells, helps maintain normal blood sugar levels and contributes to energy metabolism to help keep your various systems alive and well.
Top food sources of Vitamin B6:
- Fortified cereals
Just as vitamin B6 is needed for the body to be able to use B12, vitamin B2 is needed to for the body to make use of B6! It’s as if each vitamin is a link in a chain – if a link is missing the chain becomes less effective. In this case, the last link in the chain – Vitamin B12 – is also the most important for your nerves. Without vitamin B2 and B6, your body’s ability to properly absorb and make use of these vitamins for the benefit of your nerves becomes significantly handicapped.
Top food sources of Vitamin B2:
- Beet Greens
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Don’t let the name fool you – Omega-3 fatty acids won’t cause weight gain. Instead, they can help provide a wealth of health benefits – many of which are highly beneficial to those of us with nerve pain.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of Omega-3 fatty acids is that they can promote faster recovery of damaged nerves. Various important studies have shown that Omega-3 helps promote quicker recovery from sciatic nerve pain as well as reducing pain in neuropathy patients by repairing the myelin sheath (the protective coating around your nerves). In one study of chronic pain patients – those who were given 2,400-7,200 mg/day of Omega-3 fatty acids reported a significant reduction in neuropathic pain, even as long as 19 months after the study!
Top food sources of Omega-3 fatty acids:
- Flax seeds
Among the foods that can help relieve the pain associated with nerve damage, Ginger ranks right up there among the best. Its healing powers can be attributed to its compounds known as gingerols. Gingerols are anti-inflammatory compounds that can are particularly effective in reducing pain levels and increasing mobility among those with chronic pain.
Potassium & Magnesium
Potassium and magnesium are both essential for proper nerve function. Potassium helps generate energy so that the nerves can transmit messages. The way it does this is called the sodium-potassium pump. Essentially, there is more potassium inside your cells and more sodium outside. When the gate that allows one or the other to leave or enter the cell opens – potassium shoots out and sodium floods in. This “pump” generates the energy for your nerves to transmit messages.
Magnesium helps relax the nervous system – calming overactive nerves and relaxing your muscles. This calming effect on the nerves and muscles helps reduce pain and improve mobility. Low levels of potassium and magnesium may result in fatigue, cramping, and weakness – among other symptoms.
Top food sources of potassium & magnesium:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Beans and peas
- Fresh fruits
Did you know that right now in your body there are molecules known as free radicals that are attacking your nerves? They’re trying to break down the protective coating around your nerves (the myelin sheath) and destroy the nerve cells. Scary, right?
These free radicals actually have a functional role in helping the body digest food and turn it into energy – but when too many are produced they become a hazard to your body and health. That’s where antioxidants come in. Antioxidants seek out and neutralize excess free radicals in the body – thereby protecting your nerves and various other cellular systems from damage or destruction. Antioxidants like acetyl-l-carnitine and coenzyme Q10 are particularly effective at helping fight nerve damage and relieve neuropathic pain.
Top food sources of antioxidants:
- Dark green vegetables
Didn’t think you’d see water on the list, did you? While water may not possess any miraculous healing powers to cure neuropathy, it can help prevent pain from worsening due to inflammation. A lack of water can lead to muscle spasms and blood thickening – which can cause inflammation and disturb areas that are already more susceptible to pain. Staying adequately hydrated helps your body’s various organisms and systems perform their roles more effectively and can create a better sense of well-being.
So there you have – those are 10 things you can incorporate into your diet today to help relieve some of the symptoms of your neuropathy and give your nerves their best chance at fighting back and healing. What foods has your doctor recommended as part of a holistic approach to fighting neuropathy? Share your answers with us below or leave a comment on our Facebook page! We’d love to hear from you.