Nerve damage can lead to unpleasant consequences if not treated right away. Changing your diet to include foods that heal nerve damage is beneficial.
Untreated nerve damage can result in foot ulcers and sometimes amputations. This is why good foot care, eating the right foods, and exercise is important.
Below is a review of what nerve damage is, the symptoms of nerve damage, a list of foods that heal nerve damage and foods that worsen nerve damage. If any of this concerns you or you are struggling with nerve damage then please continue reading.
What is Nerve Damage
For people with diabetes, nerve damage occurs when blood sugars are elevated >180mg/dL. Elevated blood sugars over time disrupts the nerves from properly relaying their intended message.
The nerves are supposed to send a signal from its terminal to its targeted destination such as to the spinal cord or to an organ, i.e. liver, kidney, ect. The specific molecules that help the nerves send these messages do not function properly.
Also, the nerve has a protective barrier, myelin, around it that helps the messages get to its destination. When this protective barrier is damaged that also limits the ability of the nerves to function properly.
Symptoms of Nerve Damage
Neuropathy is the official terminology when a person with diabetes has nerve damage. They can experience symptoms such as burning, tingling, and numbness in their hands and feet.
The symptoms vary depending on the severity of the neuropathy. A lack of sensation is a cause for concern due to the risk of foot ulcers, cuts and bruises that if unnoticed, could lead to a foot infection or amputation.
It is important for a person with diabetes to get their feet checked by their doctor at least once a year.
Foods that Heal Nerve Damage
Thankfully there are foods that can help heal nerve damage which include foods high in Omega 3’s, foods high in magnesium, foods high in potassium, B12, ALA and anti inflammatory herbs.
1. Omega 3’s
Omega 3 fatty acids can repair the damage to the nerve barrier. The nerve barrier conducts the messages the nerve is delivering to other parts of our body. Vegan foods high in omega 3’s include:
- Flax seeds
- Chia Seeds
- Hemp Seeds
- Algae based omega 3 supplement
Magnesium also plays a role in the transmission of the nerve signal. A deficiency can cause a delayed response to the central nervous system. Vegan foods high in magnesium include:
- Pinto Beans
Potassium also plays a role in the transmission of the nerve signal to other body parts. Vegan foods high in potassium include:
B12 maintains the protective barrier around the nerves and promotes the growth of the barrier. This vitamin is not found in plant based products but is fortified in other products. Vegan foods high in B12 include:
- Nutritional yeast
- Fortified orange juice
- Fortified nut, coconut, and oat milks
- B12 Supplements
Alpha Lipoic Acid is a vitamin like substance that has been shown to improve nerve damage by improving the speed of the transmission of nerve signals, nerve blood flow and reduces inflammation. Vegan foods high in ALA include:
- Green Peas
- Brussel Sprouts
Certain herbs can reduce inflammation in the body that can help reduce the pain caused by nerve damage. These herbs include:
What Foods Worsen Nerve Damage
Now that we have talked about foods that can heal nerve damage let’s discuss which foods will worsen nerve damage and should be limited in your diet.
Foods high in processed sugars, high in saturated fats, alcohol, and preservatives can disrupt the way our nerves function. It also does not give the nerves the right foods needed to function properly.
Therefore, be careful of processed vegan foods as they can be high in fats, sugars and preservatives and instead try to focus on whole foods which includes fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, and grains such as brown rice and quinoa.
Be aware that there are other concerns to be aware of such as metformin and the importance of foot care.
Metformin is a diabetes medication that can lower B12 levels. Anyone on this medication needs to be very diligent to either eat foods fortified with B12 or supplement. It is beneficial to get lab work to make sure a person with diabetes on metformin is not deficient in B12.
Nerve damage can affect how much sensation a person with diabetes feels in their feet. If there is little to no sensation then a person with diabetes can easily get a cut, which can worsen into a foot ulcer. Good foot care tips include:
- Annual feet check up by the doctor
- Feet checked daily
- Wear shoes all the time even indoors
- Keep the feet clean
- Moisturize the feet
- Trim toenails
- Avoid sharp instruments when removing dead skin cells
Also, avoid smoking which reduces the size of the blood vessels making it harder for blood to flow and delaying the healing of a foot ulcer injury
Maintain good blood sugar control by exercising. Good blood sugar control can help to relieve pain from nerve damage.
Nerve damage can be potentially fatal which is why good feet care and eating the right foods is important. Eating the right foods can also aid in better blood sugar control, which is important in reducing symptoms of nerve damage, neuropathy.
Focus on eating more vegan sources of omega 3’s, magnesium foods, potassium foods, fortified foods with B12, foods with ALA and herbs. At the same time, limit the amount of processed foods consumed.
Remember metformin can lower B12 levels, which is already a concern for vegan people with diabetes. And taking care of your feet is also important to prevent foot ulcers which can lead to severe consequences if not treated right away.
Track the foods that you eat and start to incorporate at least 1-2 of these foods into your diet each week. Then after you have incorporated all 6 food categories that help to heal nerve damage then you can work to decrease the processed foods from your diet.
- Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists & Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists. (2020). ADCES Diabetes Care and Education Curriculum (Third Edition ed.). Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists.
- Rolfes, S. R., Pinna, K., & Whitney, E. (2008). Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition (Eighth Edition ed.). Cengage Learning.