According to the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, around 20 million people in the United States suffer from some form of peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral Neuropathy consists of damage to nerves in the peripheral nervous system – resulting in pain, numbness, tingling or burning in the affected area (most commonly the hands or feet). Diabetes is the leading cause of neuropathy – though it isn’t the only cause. Other common causes include chemotherapy, medications, toxins, heavy alcohol consumption, damage to nerves during surgery, or traumatic injury.
Whether we realize it or not – we all have habits or things we do that can make our neuropathy worse. Being aware of these potential threats is an important step to making the necessary lifestyle changes to mitigate the danger they pose. We’ve put together a list of four bad habits and various other life factors that can make your neuropathy worse. Let’s take a look…
#1 – Skipping Sleep
Lack of sleep is a major problem across the United States and the world. As the pace of modern life has picked up – the number of hours of sleep we get has been on the decline. In 2014 the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention called insufficient sleep a public health epidemic in the United States.
So why is sleep important for those with neuropathy? For starters – adequate sleep allows for the body to recover. During our sleep state, the cells work to repair damage and rejuvenate our organisms. Important nutrients and oxygen are carried through the bloodstream and delivered to our nerves – supplying them with the essentials they need to repair and recover.
A lack of sleep robs the body of this important recovery time. Additionally, insufficient sleep has been associated with various other negative health outcomes – such as an increased risk of type 2 diabetes – which can induce or exacerbate neuropathic pain.
#2 – Sitting too Much
Whether it’s for eight hours behind a desk at the office for four hours watching television in the evening – American’s are spending more time than ever before sitting down. According to a survey conducted by Ergotron, 86% of Americans spend the majority of their day sitting. When they do stand up, 56% of respondents indicated it was to get food.
So what effect can all of this sitting have on your nerves? Sitting for prolonged periods can have a number of damaging effects on the nerves and lead to increased nerve pain. Some of the biggest threats sitting poses to your nerves are:
1. Increase in Blood Sugar
An increase in blood sugar draws excess water into the nerves, causing them to swell while simultaneously making them less pliable. As the nerves swell, the less-pliable coating weakens and cracks, exposing the nerve cells to damage.
2. Pinched Nerves
Pinched nerves can occur after an extended period of pressure of the nerve. Sitting is one of the primary culprits of pinched nerves – especially for those with poor posture or who cross their legs while sitting.
3. Poor Circulation
Sitting cuts off circulation to certain parts of the body – primarily the legs and feet. Without proper circulation, blood can pool up in the legs and feet and the lack of fresh blood and oxygen being delivered weakens or damages the nerve cells. This can exacerbate your nerve pain if you already have neuropathy, or lead to neuropathic pain if you don’t.
Besides posing a threat to just the nerves, sitting has been linked to a number of other negative health problems:
#3 – Consuming Sweeteners & Added Sugars
There are a number of potential causes of peripheral neuropathy, but the most common cause is diabetes. Managing blood sugar levels is especially important for people with nerve pain – especially those with diabetic neuropathy. Added sugars are high glycemic, which complicates blood sugar management and can wreak havoc on your nerves.
Additionally, added sugars offer little nutritional value. A diet high in sugar may lead to nutritional deficiencies that can cause or aggravate the symptoms of neuropathy. Some common foods with added sugars included soda, candy, sweetened cereals, cookies and more.
While artificial sweeteners are a healthier alternative to sugar, they too can pose a threat to your nerves. Sweeteners like aspartame and MSG activate neurons that heighten our sensitivity to pain. In most cases, you are probably better off avoid sweeteners and sugars altogether.
#4 – Stress
Stress is a part of everyone’s life – and in fact, is a biological tool that can help us survive. When we’re stressed, our awareness is heightened and our heart/breathing rates increase as we go into “fight or flight” mode. In situations where we are being threatened, this response increases our chances of responding quickly and appropriately to remove ourselves from the threat. These types of situations are usually temporary and our bodies should return to normal shortly afterward. In today’s hectic world, however, chronic stress is on the rise.
Someone suffering from chronic stress is in a constant “heightened” state. In this heightened state of anxiety, the body and mind remain tense and unable to come back down to normal levels. Among other things, this leaves the body more vulnerable to pain. For those already dealing with debilitating nerve pain, stress often makes it worse.
Aside from aggravating the pain, one of the biggest problems stress can cause for those dealing with nerve pain is an increased risk of diabetes. As part of our stress response, the body produces more glucose. Excess glucose is then absorbed back into our system. Under constant, stress our bodies may fail to break down or use the excess glucose – which can eventually result in type 2 diabetes (one of the biggest causes of nerve damage).
While you won’t always be able to drastically alter our habits or lifestyle, knowing what habits or lifestyle factors are having a negative effect on your nerves affords you the opportunity to make minor, but meaningful, changes. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve made to help cope with your neuropathy? Share your experiences with us on our Facebook Page!