NUTRITION can help with POLYNEUROPATHY
Nutrition for Polyneuropathy
Having the right diet can make a big difference in polyneuropathy.
However, this is easier said than done, as your diet must suit both you personally as well as your specific circumstances.
If the nerve damage has been caused by diabetes, you obviously need a different diet than if it has been caused by chemotherapy.
There is not one specific type of nutrition that is good for everyone.
Also, there are things that do not help, or that work only under certain circumstances. With this article, I want to help you choose the right diet and supplements for your polyneuropathy.
Great food that can help with polyneuropathy
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS PROTECT AGAINST POLYNEUROPATHY during chemotherapy
Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to have a preventive effect in patients that received chemotherapy. Patients who received omega-3 fatty acids during chemotherapy were less likely to develop symptoms of polyneuropathy.
However, this has only been studied for chemotherapy with Bortezomib and Paclitaxel. It is not yet clear whether omega-3 fatty acids help with other drugs for chemotherapy, too.
An example study with Bortezomib can be found Maschio et al. (2018).
An example study with Paclitaxel can be found Anoushirvani et al. (2018).
However, the few studies that have been carried out on this topic are not a reason to take omega-3 fatty acids with every chemotherapy. It is important to talk to your doctor or other specialists about dietary supplements during chemotherapy. It is quite possible to harm oneself by taking the wrong amounts, especially in combination with other drugs.
Specific exercises can also help with polyneuropathy - if you know how!
Exercises you can do yourself and important information can be found here: Exercise for polyneuropathy
OMEGA 3 FATTY ACIDS might HELP IN DIABETIC POLYNEUROPATHY
It has long been known that omega-3 fatty acids help to protect the blood vessels in the event of illness and thus maintain better blood flow.
This could also benefit diabetics suffering from polyneuropathy. In many diabetics, the smallest blood vessels that supply the nerves are damaged, which causes or aggravates polyneuropathy.
Some smaller studies have shown an improvement in the symptoms of polyneuropathy by taking omega-3 fatty acids in diabetics. Here is an example study: Durán (2019).
In the long term, it is quite possible to at least slow down the deterioration of polyneuropathy by taking omega-3 fatty acids.
BLOOD SUGAR LEVEL IS THE MOST IMPORTANT
If you suffer from diabetes, the first goal of nutrition is of course to reduce blood sugar levels. This is the best protection for the nerves. Eating any additional food is only a supplement and should not be the primary goal.
The right exercise can help to reduce blood sugar levels permanently.
Contact me for advice for or an individualized training plan:
Christian Bitzer, M.A. Sport Science
ONLY POSITIVE SIDE EFFECTS TO BE EXPECTED
Omega-3 fatty acids are now universally recognised as being beneficial to one's health.
Those who take in a lot of omega-3 fatty acids protect themselves from a variety of illnesses. This is especially true of heart attacks and strokes.
In consequence they can be taken without having to worry about any side effects. Nevertheless, if you suffer from a disease such as cancer, it is always advisable to at least inform your doctor in advance. There are sometimes interactions with drugs, so first ask a professional if you want to take omega-3-fatty acids while you take other medication
There are some exercises from which only positive side effects can be expected. Example exercises can be found here:
ONLY CERTAIN OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS HELP WITH POLYNEUROPATHY
Unfortunately, not all omega-3 fatty acids are the same.
Omega-3 fatty acids from plants, such as alpha-linolenic acid hardly help against polyneuropathy. However, the docosahexaenoic acid contained in fish oil as well as the eicosapentaenoic acid are very beneficial. Therefore, oily deep-sea fish, especially fish oil capsules, are highly recommended. If you are worried about the environment, you might prefer oil from algae, that contain the same fatty acids as fish.
As it is hard to eat fish every day, it might help to take a omega-3 fatty acids in capsules to slow down polyneuropathy. As no reliable recommendation about dosage can be made based on the studies available to date, I would recommend following the manufacturer's instructions.
In your selection of fish, please be aware that non-locally sourced products could be harmful to the environment and specifically local ecosystems.
VITAMIN D can be beneficial - IF you have A DEFICIENCY
Vitamin D is the vitamin with the highest rate of defeciency in the population. It is currently one of the most popular dietary supplements. It helps to strengthen bones, keep blood vessels fit and probably protects against autoimmune diseases and possibly even cancer.
This is why millions of people now take it as a pill or drops because it is one of the most difficult vitamins to obtain through food. It is often mentioned as the only vitamin that everyone should take as a supplement (which is, of course, debatable). According to official data, 56% of people in Germany, for example do not have enough vitamin d in their blood (RKI, in German).
It also plays a role in polyneuropathy in the diet: some studies show that people with low levels of vitamin D are more likely to develop polyneuropathy. For example, people who have diabetes and too little vitamin D have an increased risk of nerve damage and polyneuropathy.
HOW SUPPLEMENTING VITAMIN D CAN IMPROVE POLYNEUROPATHY
Vitamin D and its uses in aiding those suffering from polyneuropathy with a vitamin D deficiency have already been tried and tested.
In a randomised, controlled trial, patients suffering from polyneuropathy caused by diabetes and who had such a deficiency were injected with vitamin D in order to reach normal blood vitamin D levels.
In the following weeks, the patients showed significant improvements in pain and were also able to better keep their balance.
(You can read the whole study here: Sari et al. (2020)
LARGE QUANTITIES ARE not necessary
Based on such results, it was tested whether polyneuropathy could be cured by taking large amounts of vitamin D.
Some patients that I know have tried improving their polyneuropathy by taking huge doses of vitamin D. At the same time they had to keep a very strict diet that was necessary to prevent the side effects of the large amounts of vitamin D. After all, it is quite possible to overdose on vitamin D which is extremely harmful.
Unfortunately however, all these attempts have not been successful. Consequently the rule of thumb that applies to all vitamins is:
Taking more than your daily need is not beneficial but can be potentially harmful.
IN THE CASE OF VITAMIN D AND POLYNEUROPATHY, IT IS better to measure than to just pop pills
If you suffer from polyneuropathy, it may make sense to take additional vitamin D as a supplement.
However, you should have a measurement taken beforehand to determine whether there is a deficiency. If you already have enough vitamin D, there is no point in taking more.
The vitamin D level in the blood is now measured by many doctors and in many pharmacies. Do not hesitate to ask.
If you decide to take vitmamin D without having it tested first, stick to the dosage recommendation on the packaging.
ALPHA-LIPOIC ACID AS A DIETARY SUPPLEMENT FOR POLYNEUROPATHY
Another promising food supplement is alpha lipoic acid.
It also seems to protect the nerves to some extent, and in some patients, it even leads to a significant improvement in the symptoms of polyneuropathy.
However, the scientific studies I know have only investigated this in diabetic polyneuropathy. Here, a strong effect was only shown when alpha-lipoic acid was given as an infusion. However, I think it is quite likely that the alpha-lipoic acid in capsules also has a soothing effect when taken over a longer period of time.
A detailed assessment of the use of from the American Family Physician magazine can be found here.
Vitamin B only helps if you have a defeciency
People who DO suffer from vitamin B deficiency are more susceptible to develop polyneuropathy. In such cases, it is of course essential to compensate for this deficiency in order to stop the disease.
It is therefore advisable to check whether such a deficiency is present when the symptoms of polyneuropathy are present.
IF YOU DO NOT HAVE A VITAMIN DEFICIENCY, YOU DO NOT NEED ADDITIONAL VITAMINS!
Common sense dictates that if there is a vitamin B deficiency, one should take a supplement of this vitamin even if the polyneuropathy has not been caused by said deficiency.
Unfortunately, this assumption has not been confirmed. It does not improve polyneuropathy. The same applies to vitamins as to all nutrients:
Ingesting more than you need has not been shown to provide any additional benefit.
This means that if you do not have a vitamin B deficiency, you do not need to take additional supplements.
A DEFICIENCY IN COPPER CAN ALSO CAUSE NERVE DAMAGE
As a trace element, copper contributes to the normal functioning of the organism. As a rule, one intakes enough of it from a normal diet and therefore does not need to take supplements.
Potential reasons for a Copper Deficiency can be from operations on the gastro-intestinal tract. In particular, gastric bypass operations can lead to insufficient copper being absorbed, and in the long term, polyneuropathy can develop. Copper deficiency can also occur in some diseases of the digestive system. For example in the case of coeliac disease.
A large intake of zinc can also lead to insufficient copper being absorbed as large quantities of zinc in the digestive system can prevent the absorption of copper. Therefore, as with all other nutrients, one should not exaggerate the additional intake of zinc in tablet form.
If you suffer from a chronic disease of the digestive system, or if you have taken large amounts of zinc over a long period of time, it is therefore advisable to have your copper level checked.
What to avoid with Polyneuropathy
AVOID ALCOHOL! IT DAMAGES NERVES AND LEADS TO VITAMIN DEFICIENCY
Anyone suffering from polyneuropathy should avoid alcohol if possible - especially in large quantities.
Not only does alcohol damage the cells themselves, it can also lead to a lack of B vitamins, which can aggravate or trigger polyneuropathy.
If, on the other hand, you like to drink beer, it may be advisable to drink non-alcoholic Wheat Beer. It contains B vitamins, so this type of beer can contribute to a healthy supply of these. However, as I said before, it is no use drinking it in large quantities, normal amounts are sufficient to cover normal requirements.
Avoid an extreme diet!
GOING VEGAN IS RISKY FOR PEOPLE WITH POLYNEUROPATHY
Veganism has become increasingly fashionable and is often promoted as an all-purpose remedy. It is now also recommended for polyneuropathy. I, however, do not recommend it.
A lack of B-vitamins is relatively common in vegan nutrition. Of course, this is to be absolutely avoided in polyneuropathy and can lead to a significant worsening of the symptoms.
With a normal, non-vegan diet, on the other hand, you automatically take in sufficient vitamin B. If you still want to eat a vegan diet, you should plan this carefully and consult a nutritionist or doctor.
A GLUTEN-FREE DIET ALSO HAS ITS RISKS
A gluten-free diet is also becoming increasingly popular. Gluten can actually trigger polyneuropathy in people with gluten intolerance. These patients must then of course adhere strictly to a gluten-free diet. However, if you do not suffer from coeliac disease or gluten hypersensitivity as diagnosed by a doctor, you should avoid this type of diet.
Gluten has not been shown to cause any damage to the nerves. Instead, it is possible to make life difficult for oneself with a gluten-free diet without any actual benefit.
There are reports of cases in which a gluten-free diet has caused a vitamin B deficiency, which in turn has led to polyneuropathy. So stick to the normal diet if you can tolerate gluten.
AVOID A DIET LOW IN SALT
It is often recommended to eat a low-salt diet. In the case of polyneuropathy, however, there is a risk. At least in animal experiments, a high-salt diet has always been shown to protect against polyneuropathy (see here). The same was shown in an epidemiological study (see here).
It is not enough to use a lot of salt in the diet for polyneuropathy. However, it is an indication that salt should not be avoided either. So here too, the rule is: just eat normally.
FASTING CAN BE USEFUL FOR DIABETICS
If you suffer from type 2 diabetes, fasting is a way to regulate your blood sugar levels and lose weight, which helps to reduce blood sugar in the long term. This can help to slow down polyneuropathy or even stop its progression.
It is important in therapeutic fasting to do muscle training at the same time. If one does not train, the proteins from the muscles are burned to produce energy. One loses strength and performance, which later makes the diabetes worse again and causes the famous 'yoyo' effect.
For this reason, therapeutic fasting for polyneuropathy should be supervised by specialists, who will give appropriate and professional recommendations.
THERAPEUTIC FASTING FOR CHEMOTHERAPY SHOULD BE DONE WITH CAUTION
Increasingly one reads of positive effects of therapeutic fasting in the treatment of cancer, and further, of its positive effects on chemotherapy-induced polyneuropathy.
Great caution is required here. What very few people know is that malnutrition is a common cause of death in cancer patients and that too little food additionally weakens their bodies in both cancer and chemotherapy.
In many cases it is even better to eat as much as possible and try to gain weight. Therapeutic fasting should therefore only be considered with medical supervision if you are suffering from cancer.
THERE IS NO NEED TO GIVE UP COFFEE
Once again, one reads that patients with polyneruopathy have to do without coffee. However, there are no reliable sources to prove this. On the contrary, coffee in moderate quantities is actually healthy. If polyneuropathy is caused by diabetes, coffee can even help to lower blood sugar levels. In this case, coffee can even slow down the worsening of nerve damage.
If you like coffee, you can continue drinking it.
If you would like to know more about coffee and polyneuropathy, you will find a complete article on the subject here.
GOOD NUTRITION IS NOT A MIRACLE CURE, BUT IT CAN HELP
As you have seen in the article, unfortunately, there is no specific ''diet for polyneuropathy". However, there are definitely mistakes that can be avoided. For further information you should consult with experts.
It is particularly important for people who suffer from polyneuropathy due to diabetes to have the right diet as it has a very high potential to improve or at least slow down the symptoms of polyneuropathy.
For everyone else, it is more important to avoid dietary mistakes, as a polyneuropathy patient, than to consume a certain food in large quantities.
In brief: The dos and don'ts of nutrition in polyneuropathy
WHAT YOU SHOULD ADD TO YOUR DIET
Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil
Vitamin D (ideally after your level has been measured)
Alpha lipoic acid
If a defect has been found, also:
copper and vitamin B
WHAT TO AVOID
Alcohol should never be consumed in large quantities in case of nerve damage.
If your polyneuropathy is caused by diabetes, you should of course avoid sugar and carbohydrates.
All extreme forms of nutrition are risky and should be avoided.
This is especially true for:
Diets that are extremely low in salt
A vegan diet
A Gluten-free diet (unless there is a medical reason for this)
Therapeutic fasting can be useful in polyneuropathy under certain circumstances, especially if diabetes is the cause of the nerve damage. However, it should be discussed with specialists. This is especially important if your polyneuropathy has been caused by chemotherapy.
Lastly, you can continue drinking coffee without any problems.