Sponsored by Nerve Renew – By Dr. Don Kennedy
If you’re dealing with stabbing pains, burning, tingling, or numbness in your hands and feet – you might be shocked to discover some of the things that are making it worse.
During my 40+ years as a family physician in Florida, I saw firsthand how everyday habits often led to increased sensitivity and discomfort in my patients with neuropathy.
While some things are obvious, there are many hidden threats to your nerves. If these threats aren’t addressed – nerve damage can spread faster and symptoms can become more intense.
Based on my years of experience, I’ve made a list of the most common things people do (or neglect to do) that can make neuropathy worse. If you or someone you love is dealing with discomfort caused by neuropathy, read the list below to see if you’re guilty of any of them:
#1: Nutritional Deficiencies
Are you getting enough of the right vitamins and nutrients to keep your nerves healthy? There’s a chance you may not be.
One of the most important vitamins for your nerves is vitamin B12. B12 helps support and maintain a healthy nervous system, including building up and repairing the myelin sheath (the protective coating around your nerves). If you go too long without getting enough B12, your nerves are at a higher risk of being damaged and developing neuropathy.
Unfortunately, vitamin B12 is known for having a hard time properly absorbing into your system.
In fact, one study from the School of Medicine in Southern California showed that your digestive system must be in near perfect health to properly absorb sufficient levels of B12 from food. And unless you have zero nutritional deficiencies (it requires just the right amount of calcium to work properly), you absorb 1% or less of normal B12.
Which is why – if you’re dealing with sensitive nerves – I recommend taking a daily Vitamin B12 supplement to boost B12 levels in the bloodstream.
But there’s a catch.
Most B12 supplements at the grocery store use B12 as cyanocobalamin. This is a synthetic form of B12, which is easier and cheaper to produce. But due to its structure, it is also poorly absorbed.
Instead, look for a quality supplement with Vitamin B12 as methylcobalamin. This form of B12 is more easily absorbed into your bloodstream – and has been shown in studies to regenerate the myelin sheath and reduce discomfort.
#2: Eating Certain Foods
Another common threat to your nerves is your diet.
Certain foods can heighten your sensitivity to pain and while simultaneously depriving your nerves of the key vitamins and nutrients they need to stay healthy.
According to the Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy, these are the most common foods that can aggravate your neuropathy:
- Gluten: If you have a gluten allergy, celiac disease, consuming gluten can trigger and worsen your symptoms. Common sources include all food containing white, wheat, cake or baking flour. Look for products labeled ‘gluten free’.
- Refined grains: these are highly glycemic meaning they have a dramatic impact on your blood sugar. Being able to control your blood sugar is the number one strategy to prevent neuropathy associated with diabetes. To improve the glycemic impact of your diet, replace refined grains with whole grains.
- Added sugars: Sugars add flavor but few nutrients. Nutritional deficiencies can lead to neuropathy symptoms. Choose nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Saturated fats: prevalent in fatty meats and dairy products, saturated fats can cause inflammation and an increased risk for type 2 diabetes. For enhanced wellness, replace fatty protein sources with lean alternatives and eat moderate amounts of healthy fat sources.
Bonus: I recommend keeping a food diary, which can help you pinpoint any foods that may be aggravating your neuropathy.
#3: Not Managing Your Blood Sugar
Did you know the number one way to slow the spread of diabetic neuropathy (and potentially even reverse some of the damage) is to manage your blood sugar?
A systematic review of enhanced glucose control, studied at the University of Michigan and reported in The Cochrane Library, concluded that “enhanced glucose control significantly prevents the development of clinical neuropathy and reduces nerve conduction and vibration threshold abnormalities in type 1 diabetes mellitus. In type 2 diabetes mellitus, enhanced glucose control reduces the incidence of clinical neuropathy.”
And even for those whose neuropathy is not related to diabetes, controlling blood sugar from huge spikes helps protect the nerves from becoming cracked and less pliable.
#4: Sitting for Too Long
Study after study has shown how detrimental sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day can be. Unfortunately, many of us have to do so for work.
When it comes to neuropathy, remaining sedentary for long periods of time without getting up and moving cuts of circulation to the feet. This starves the nerves of fresh, oxygenated blood – which carries essential oxygen and nutrients to the nerves.
Over time, this can lead to further degeneration of the nerve axons and the myelin sheath as they’re deprived of the nutrients they need to function properly.
Yet another problem with sitting too much is that it can pinch nerves and put them under constant strain – which can lead to further discomfort.
When possible, try to stand up and stretch every 20 mins or so to get your blood circulating. I also recommend a good pair of compression massage boots for your feet – which you can wear while watching your favorite show. These provide a compression massage to get the blood flowing in and out of the lower legs and feet.
#5: Not Coping With Stress in a Healthy Way
Stress is one of those unavoidable things in life – but what you do with it can make a big difference.
If left unmanaged, stress releases chemicals that heighten your sensitivity to pain. It also triggers the body to produce more glucose as part of the stress response, increasing your risk of diabetes.
To prevent stress from negatively impacting your health and your nerves, find ways to relieve stress daily. Exercise, mindfulness, meditation, going out with friends, or even just picking up a new hobby are very effective ways to reduce stress.
Drinking too much alcohol hurts the nerves in two ways. First, toxins within alcohol can damage your nerves. Second, alcohol blocks the absorption of important nerve-boosting vitamins and nutrients.
While a drink here and there won’t hurt – avoid drinking excessively or daily.
We all know smoking is bad for you – but what you may not have realized is that it can damage your nerves and worsen your neuropathy. Smoking constricts your blood vessels, choking off the supply of fresh oxygen and nutrients to your nerves.
#8: Not seeking treatment
One of the biggest myths about neuropathy is that because there isn’t a cure, you shouldn’t waste your time trying to do anything about it. While most forms of neuropathy may not have a cure, there are things you can do to slow or stop it from spreading and even significantly reduce the pain, tingling, burning, or numbness.
So, you can do nothing and risk allowing the damage to spread – resulting in more pain and discomfort. Or you can take steps to slow down and contain the damage, which can prevent you from suffering even more than you already do.
From the foods you eat to lifestyle you live – there are many factors that can contribute to worsening discomfort from neuropathy. If you’re dealing with nerve pain or numbness, I hope this list motivates you to make the small changes that can have a big impact on your quality of life.