Diet and Neuropathy Go Hand-in-Hand

Dr. Robert Parker
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Dr. Parker is a podiatrist and surgeon in Houston, TX who has been helping patients for more than 40 years.

Just about everybody with personal experience in the matter—themselves, a family member, a friend—knows that diabetes and neuropathy are closely linked conditions.

But here’s something you might not know:

You don’t have to have diabetes—diagnosed or undiagnosed—to develop a devastating and even deadly case of peripheral neuropathy.

The diagnosis isn’t the poison. It’s the sugar.

Yes, that sweet white stuff that we, as a society, have spent the last several decades getting addicted to is wreaking havoc on our peripheral nerves. Diabetes or not, what you eat can have monumental implications for your health—for good or for ill.

Unfortunately, you probably have already internalized a lifetime of bad health advice from parents and governments, and are living within a system where carbs rule over most of what you can buy in the grocery store. So making a change won’t always be easy.

But here’s the flipside:

Change what you eat, and most mild to moderate cases of peripheral neuropathy will either go away or recede, their progression greatly slowed or halted. No need for a lifetime of prescription drugs or desperate, ineffective treatment measures.

But now, let’s talk a bit about how we got here.

A “Crush” of Sugar

Here’s a shocking fact for you: The average American eats 160 pounds of processed sugar each year. No, not 160 pounds of junk food. Just the sugar itself.

To put that in perspective, as recently as about a hundred years ago, the average was only about 25 pounds per year. And, before about 1800 or so, processed sugar was really a luxury good—only accessible to people with means.

In other words, refined sugar is what we might call “genetically unfamiliar” as part of the human diet. For the vast majority of our history as a species, we ate almost none of it. But in a relatively short timeframe, sugar has become a cornerstone of the processed food industry and the American diet.

The simple truth of the matter is that our bodies just weren’t built to handle that kind of onslaught. Our biology is not meant to process that amount of sugar. Our ancient genetic code is being assaulted with unfamiliar, unhealthy, unexpected modern processed foods, with disastrous results for a sizeable percentage of the population.

And unfortunately, agribusiness and government health guidelines haven’t always steered us in the right direction, either. During the 1930s and 40s, well meaning experts believed (incorrectly, as it turned out) that high-fat diets were to blame for increasing health problems, which pushed us toward low-fat, high-carb diets that were actually more dangerous than the ones they replaced.

The “food pyramid” you remember from the early 90s? If you follow those guidelines, you’ll end up eating way too much refined carbohydrates—and not nearly enough healthy fats.

And of course, further developments in food processing and selling have tilted the scales even further toward a diet that’s dangerously high in sugar.

So What Actually Happens When You Eat Sugar?

Now, to be clear, glucose is an important chemical that your body does need some amount of to supply quick energy and operate efficiently. The problem is that refined sugar is really something your body has no use for. And we’re getting way too much of it.

Remember, we talked about the clash of “old” genes versus modern foods.

Historically, humans got their glucose in small quantities from natural dietary sources (especially in-season veggies and fruits), which released that glucose slowly in to the bloodstream. And that worked great.

But when you overload the system with processed food, the amount of glucose released into the bloodstream reaches toxic levels. Your body responds by producing a ton of insulin to counteract the sugar spike—but this forces the pancreas basically into overdrive, and over time the organ basically wears out, and can’t respond nearly as effectively to future spikes.

Meanwhile, when sugar levels stay elevated in the bloodstream, they cause all sorts of damage across the body. As we said, it’s the sugar that’s toxic, not diabetes per se. You may already be well on your way to a diagnosis, but the real damage starts years or even decades before your conditions reaches the point of a medical diagnosis.

Specifically, all that sugar causes chronic inflammation to develop in the tissues, with leads to tons of bad news for your circulation and nerves. For example:

  • Nerves and blood vessels get compressed in spots where they have to navigate through tight spaces (in and around joints, bones, etc.)
  • As your body tries to fight the inflammation, scarring (fibrosis) leads to further compression of blood vessels and nerves—in ways that may remain even if the initial inflammation itself is eliminated.
  • The interior of blood vessels become “sticky,” which means that plaques can build up on the artery walls and cut off healthy circulation.

These and other physiological changes poison, pinch, and impair healthy nerve function. Over time, that leads to increased pain, tingling, and loss of sensation. The nerves can’t carry out their essential functions, and start to fray and die.

What Should You Be Eating?

In general, we’d encourage you to talk with us in person first to discuss a more specific dietary plan, along with a dietician.

In general, though, a ketogenic diet—zero to very low sugar, medium protein, and high in healthy fats from grass-fed sources—is what we would typically recommend as the optimal. This sort of diet essentially forces your body to burn off excess fats instead of carbs.

That said, we won’t lie. While this is absolutely an achievable goal and many people have done it, it can be very difficult to quit so much of the food you love cold turkey. Many patients struggle to stick with it.

And ultimately, the goal here is wean you off sugar and processed foods to the greatest extent possible, and get the amount of sugars your body has to process more in line with what they were designed to handle. The most important thing is that you’re able to develop a healthy diet that you can sustain.

To that end, we cannot encourage you enough to pick up a copy of Sugar Crush, written (with Dr. Parker’s hearty encouragement!) by close friend, colleague, and peripheral nerve surgeon Dr. Richard Jacoby.

In addition to going into even more details about the links between sugar and peripheral neuropathy, he dedicates the final chapters of the book to providing sensible, understandable meal planning and dietary advice for anyone who wants to cut sugar out of their life and needs help figuring out how to do it successfully.

If you know you have an unhealthy diet—or you’ve already started to notice some of the telltale signs of peripheral neuropathy (tingling, pain, strange sensations, loss of sensation), do not put this off any longer. In addition to dietary advice, our office provides some of the most advanced neuropathy treatment options available, including our own breakthrough program (which includes a copy of Dr. Jacoby’s book as a bonus!).

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Parker, Houston’s “high-tech podiatrist” and peripheral nerve specialist, please call our Houston office today at (281) 497-2850.

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