Neuropathy: The Sugar Connection
By Nutritional Weight & Wellness Staff
August 18, 2015
One of the most common calls I get as a nutritionist is, “Help! What do I do to stop the tingling in my hands and feet? Are there supplements that will help?” These clients are experiencing symptoms of neuropathy, or nerve damage. They are looking for a solution for the pain, maybe a medication or a supplement. For this problem, the solution may lie in what you put in your grocery cart, pack in your lunch or plan to order at dinner tonight.
What is neuropathy?
Technically speaking, neuropathy is a result of damage to a nerve or set of nerves. Your nerves send out messages from your brain and spinal cord to the rest of your body. If they become damaged, that message does not make it to its destination. This can often lead to weakness, numbness, unpleasant and often painful sensations, usually in hands and feet. Damage to nerves can also manifest in restless leg syndrome, plantar fasciitis, carpal tunnel, migraine headaches and even Alzheimer’s. So, what is causing this nerve damage?
Neuropathy on the rise as your blood sugar rises
Damage to the nerves can be a result of several factors such as chemotherapy, exposure to toxins, alcoholism, traumatic injuries or a deficiency in B vitamins, but the most common cause of neuropathy is high blood sugars, often experienced by diabetic patients. Neuropathy affects up to 50 percent of patients with diabetes; so we know there is a strong correlation between high blood sugars and neuropathy. Whether you’re a diabetic or you’re simply eating cereal every morning for breakfast, your nerves are being damaged by the excess sugar in your blood stream.
When you eat carbohydrates, especially in processed forms (like bread, pasta, cereal and crackers), the carbohydrates break down into sugar (or glucose) which rushes into the blood stream and then to your nerves and causes your nerves to swell. When the nerve swells it cuts off the blood supply to the nerve and damages it, which can result in tingling, burning or numbness in the hands and feet. But as already mentioned, nerve damage can also cause migraine headaches, restless leg syndrome, carpal tunnel and Alzheimer’s.
Many people will say, “I’m not eating sugar for breakfast, I eat Raisin Bran cereal with skim milk and an apple.” As a nutritionist, when I hear this my brain is thinking: SUGAR! A breakfast like this turns into roughly 32 teaspoons of sugar which is almost ¾ cup!
Imagine what is happening in your nerves after a high-sugar breakfast like this: swelling and nerve damage. The average American today consumes 53 teaspoons of sugar daily compared to the 1900’s when Americans consumed only two teaspoons per day! When we constantly expose our bodies to sugar on a daily basis, we are damaging our nerves little by little.
Dr. Richard P. Jacoby, author of Sugar Crush, explains how sugar impacts the nerves this way: “When you eat a diet heavy in processed foods full of wheat and refined sugar, your body is put on a glucose roller coaster. Because fiber has been stripped out of these products, the sugar inherent in all carbohydrates literally enters the blood stream in a rush. As your blood sugar spikes, most of the excess gets carried away to be stored as abdominal fat. While that’s happening, excess glucose still circulates throughout your body, attaching itself to protein and building up sorbitol in the cells, causing them to swell and compress the nerves.”
To relieve neuropathy, remove processed carbohydrates from your grocery cart
Man-made carbohydrates come in all shapes and sizes. What is confusing is that we don’t recognize many of them as high-sugar foods. To keep your nerves healthy, remove these items from your cart:
- Cereal, cereal bars, and instant oatmeal
- Popcorn, cookies, chips and crackers (including whole grain varieties)
- Soda, juice, sweetened coffee beverages and energy drinks
- Pasta, bread, bagels and English muffins (including whole grain varieties)
- Ice cream, candy, cakes and brownies
I know what you’re thinking…What am I supposed to eat? Keep on reading! We would never leave you without ideas on what to eat.
Eat these foods instead of sugars
Real carbohydrates from vegetables and small amounts fruit, real fats and proteins will keep your nerves strong and healthy. Here is what to add to your cart:
- Vegetables in all shapes, sizes and colors (organic if possible)
- Small amounts of fruit
- Healthy fats including butter, heavy cream, avocado, nuts, seeds, olives and olive oil
- Grass-fed beef, organic turkey, chicken, pork, eggs and wild-caught fish
- Small amounts of whole grain wild rice, brown rice and quinoa
Start tomorrow with breakfast! To prevent nerve damage, make our Crustless Spinach Quiche instead of eating a bowl of cereal and fruit. A serving of this quiche turns into only two teaspoons of sugar in your blood stream instead of the 32 teaspoons you’d get from eating cereal and fruit.
Even though you may be experiencing nerve damage symptoms (migraines, restless leg syndrome, carpal tunnel, plantar fasciitis), changing your diet can help to reduce your symptoms. Change your diet; change your pain level.
We love to hear from you! How have you changed your diet to experience less pain?
Learn more about the sugar connection to your health with these resources:
- Class: Breaking the Sugar Habit
- Listen: The Sugar Connection to Neuropathy
- Read: 6 Strategies to Kick Your Sugar Habit
- Inspiration: “It got to the point where I was in so much pain, that I couldn’t even walk … and six months later, I am up to a mile and a half walking.” Melissa’s Story, Pain Gone
DIABETES/METABOLISM RESEARCH AND REVIEWS: Diabetes Metabolism Research Review 2012; 28(1): 8–14. Jacoby, R. P. (2015). Sugar Crush. New York City, NY: Harper Wave.