Diabetes Self-Management Blog

Roughly 60% to 70% of people with diabetes have some form of neuropathy (nerve damage); the risk for the condition increases the longer you’ve had diabetes. In fact, folks who have had diabetes for 25 years or more have the highest rate of neuropathy. Neuropathy is also more common in people who have difficulty controlling their blood sugar levels, are overweight, or who have high blood pressure or high levels of blood fat.

What causes neuropathy?
There are many factors that can lead to nerve damage, but in people with diabetes, it’s the constant exposure to high blood glucose levels that is likely the main culprit. Nerve fibers are very delicate. High glucose levels can interfere with nerve signal transmission, damage the nerves themselves, and also weaken the blood vessels that supply nerves with nutrients and oxygen.

Besides high blood glucose, other things like inflammation, genetics, injury, smoking, and alcohol use are thought to contribute to neuropathy.

What are symptoms of neuropathy?
The symptoms of neuropathy depend on what type it is. For example, symptoms of peripheral neuropathy — the most common type of neuropathy cause by diabetes, affecting the hands, feet, arms, or legs — include numbness, tingling, pain, weakness, and loss of sensation. Other types of neuropathy can cause symptoms such as dizziness or fainting upon standing, nausea, problems with urination, diarrhea or constipation, erectile dysfunction, and increased or decreased sweating. Always report any of these symptoms to your doctor.

How is neuropathy treated?
There’s no cure for neuropathy. Treatment includes lifestyle measures to slow the progression of nerve damage: blood glucose control, stopping smoking, increasing physical activity, and losing weight. In many cases, medicine may be needed to help manage symptoms such as pain or nausea.

How can nutrition help neuropathy?
Not surprisingly, good nutrition can go a long way in helping both to prevent and manage neuropathy.

Healthful eating. It should come as no surprise that following a healthful eating plan is a mainstay of preventing nerve damage in the first place. By controlling your portions and your carbohydrate intake, you’ll help better control your blood sugars, which, in turn, helps to limit or even prevent nerve damage. Make sure your eating plan includes a variety of foods. A dietitian can help you get on track with your eating if you’re not sure what to eat.

Vitamin B12. B12 deficiency is common among people who take metformin and among older adults. A lack of this vitamin may worsen peripheral neuropathy. Talk to your doctor about getting your B12 levels checked. If they’re low, you may need to take a supplement. In the meantime, include foods high in B12 in your diet, such as poultry, fish, lean meat, eggs, and fortified cereals.

Go vegan. If you have neuropathy and pain is a concern, you might consider trying a plant-based diet. In a recent study called DINE (Dietary Intervention for Chronic Diabetic Neuropathy Pain), people with Type 2 diabetes and neuropathy were assigned to either a low-fat, vegan (no animal products) diet with B12 supplements or B12 supplements alone (control group). The people following the vegan diet reported less pain and other neuropathy symptoms and improvements in A1C, cholesterol, and quality of life compared to the control group.

Go easy with alcohol. Alcohol may worsen neuropathy symptoms, such as numbness and pain. Drinking too much alcohol may also make it harder to control your blood sugar levels.

Ask about supplements. Certain dietary supplements may be helpful for easing symptoms of neuropathy. For example, alpha-lipoic acid, an antioxidant, has been used in Europe for years to treat peripheral neuropathy. Fish oil supplements may help improve blood flow and reduce inflammation. Curcumin (found in the spice turmeric) and evening primrose oil are other supplements that may help. Talk to your doctor about any supplement before you take it.

In addition to nutrition-related steps, explore other avenues for managing neuropathy, such as acupuncture, biofeedback, meditation, and relaxation techniques. While neuropathy may not go away, today there are newer and better ways for managing this complication.

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Comments
  1. I was diagnosed in 2005 as being Type 2 Diabetic. I was then prescribed Lisinopril, DiaBeta, Lipitor, and Glucofage. A week or so earlier I had felled my DOT physical by the way. About three days after I started taking above mentioned meds I was out walking and my feet started hurting real bad. This did not look good considering I was about 20 minutes walk from the house. Just making it back home I got on the computer and started doing research and figured I would stop taking the meds until my feet stopped hurting. Once my feet stopped hurting I started back to taking the meds one by one for three days to see if my would hurt again. I started with Glucofage for three days and my feet were OK. Then the Lisinopril the same way. Then the Lipitor. My feet did not hurt! It had to be the DiaBeta! Guess what I’m not taking any more? To this day I refuse to take DiaBeta and every doctor I get I tell them so. But now since I’m off all diabetes medications and keep doing what I have been doing I don’t have to worry about that.

    Through my readings of books, web sites, magazines, etc. I decided to go natural. I make a ‘tea’ one to three times a day of cinnamon, ginger, turmeric and apple cider vinegar. My blood glucose readings average from the high 80’s to low 100’s. I also walk one to one and a half miles every other day. If I don’t walk it’s yard work. Oh, my weight at one time was 250 pounds on a five feet seven inch frame. Now it is under 200. I did manage to get down to 180 last year after bypass surgery. Not too shabby for a truck driver I think considering the life style we lead.

    Posted by Donot Need |
  2. hello i was told i would need insulin about 2 years ago but have lowered my a1c and my wifes with a mediction i came up with i had tigling fireand knumbness in the great toes and dorsem of both feet. i am now in much better health and have been trying to get drug companys intrested in my discovery but as it is simple and more like a holestic med i have been completly ignored even though my patent is amost done. thanks and good health to all and all a good night. 71 years old and still kiking around ken

    Posted by ken tibbs |

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