Ask anyone with nerve pain what the cause of his or her neuropathy is and there’s a good chance their answer will be “diabetes”. While there are various causes of neuropathy – including chemotherapy, vitamin B12 deficiency, physical trauma, surgery, alcohol, toxins and more – the leading cause is diabetes.
According to the most recent statistics, approximately 70% of diabetes patients develop symptoms of neuropathy. This is because the high blood sugar associated with diabetes wreaks havoc on the nerves – damaging the nerve cells and their protecting coating known as the myelin sheath. While consuming sugar in and of itself does not cause diabetes – it can contribute to the destruction of nerve cells as well as cause a number of other health problems.
If you’ve ever spent any time checking food labels in almost any grocery aisle – you’ve likely seen that sugar is everywhere. While there are plenty of foods without added sugars and sweeteners – many of the foods we eat are packed with them. According to Dr. Richard Jacoby, author of the new book Sugar Crush, about 80% of the food supply in America contains high fructose corn syrup and the average American consumes 150 lbs. of sugar every year.
Sugar & Your Nerves
From sugary sodas to artificially sweetened foods – the threat these sugar-rich foods pose to our nerves and overall health is something we should all be aware of – especially those with diabetes. You may be wondering, “how does sugar hurt my nerves?” Dr. Jacoby explains the role of sugar and artificial sweeteners play in nerve damage in the video below:
As Dr. Jacoby points out, there is a three-step process by which sugar harms the nerves:
1. Excessive sugar pulls water into the nerves – causing them to swell
2. At the same time, sugar makes the nerve’s protective covering (Myelin Sheath) less pliable – making it less able to accommodate the swelling nerve
3. The combination of swelling and a less pliable nerve result in damage to the nerve. Less blood and oxygen are able to get to the nerves and eventually symptoms of neuropathy such as pain, numbness or tingling set in
While a single “overdose” of sugar isn’t enough to cause lasting harm, repeated consumption of excessive amounts of sugar over many years can. As we saw in an earlier graph, the average American consumes approximately 186 grams of sugar a day. That is 161 grams OVER the recommended daily allowance! With nearly 80% of the food supply in America containing high fructose corn syrup (which chemically resembles table sugar) – it takes a conscious effort to not exceed the recommended daily allowance of 25 grams of sugar per day.
Other Harmful Effects
Sugar poses a threat to more than just your nerves. In fact, a number of negative health outcomes have been linked to excessive sugar consumption. Here are a few of the health problems that sugar has been linked to:
- Tooth decay
- Kidney problems
- Heart disease
- Reproductive issues
- Increased levels of bad cholesterol
- Memory loss
- Lack of focus or concentration
- Mood problems
So who are the biggest sugar culprits lurking in the aisles of your favorite grocery store? Here are a few potential culprits:
Are there healthy substitutes?
While there are a number of both artificial and natural substitutes for sugar – they not all of them are necessarily good for you. Artificial sweeteners, in particular, can be damaging to the nerves. Check out this video from EveryDayHealth.com for some recommendations on what to look for when considering healthier alternatives to sugar:
If you’re anything like me – those afternoon sugar cravings usually spell the end of any attempt to cut sugar out of your diet. Sugar cravings have been the Achilles heel of many determined and well-intentioned dieters. So what can you do to curb the cravings and eliminate sugar from your diet? Dr. Josh Axe from DrAxe.com offers three simple tips for overcoming a sugar addiction naturally:
Regardless of the cause of your neuropathy, one thing is clear: sugar will make it worse. Knowing the danger sugar presents to your nerves can help motivate you to make the necessary changes to help limit your intake or cut it out of your diet entirely. For those suffering from diabetic neuropathy, regulating your blood sugar levels is the most important thing you can do to help slow and potentially even reverse your neuropathic symptoms.
What tips or tricks have been most helpful for you as you’ve tried to limit or cut sugar out of your diet? Share your experiences with us on our Facebook Page!