Nutrition for Neuropathic Pain
Neuropathic pain is unimaginable. It effects 29-79% of people with SCI and compares to no other pain. I learned this after a car accident 25 years ago. The collective pain of breaking my back, shattering my wrists, smashing my skull, puncturing my lungs and lacerating my internal organs didn’t rival the agony of the neuropathic pain I experienced from damaging the nerves in my spinal cord. My neuropathic pain is best described as an ice pick being stabbed into my bones every 30 to 60 seconds. In the months following my accident, as my orthopedic and visceral injuries healed, the daily wrath of excruciating neuropathic pain emotionally, mentally and physically consumed, exhausted and debilitated me. Making matters worse, there wasn’t as much knowledge about neuropathic pain then as there is today. So during my four months in acute care hospital I was told that due to my paralysis it was impossible for me to feel anything below my level of spinal cord injury and refused any kind of pain medication.
When I was transferred to a rehabilitation hospital my pain was finally addressed with medication. While these meds certainly didn’t eliminate my pain, it controlled it allowing me to start participating in my rehabilitation program and rebuilding my life. However I worried about the long term effects of taking daily pain killers a day on my stomach lining, liver and overall health. I knew there had to be a healthier way to address my pain and after 10 years of suffering I found it. I changed my diet.
Good nutrition can help reduce pain impulses within the nerves, limit the brains perception of pain, and decrease tissue inflammation and damage without the negative side effects associated with pain medications. Here’s some nutritional recommendations to help you address your neuropathic pain.
1. Reduce Inflammation
Inflammation of tissues can contribute to the onset and intensity of pain. A diet high in processed foods, such as refined sugar (pop, candy, pastries, cakes, cookies etc.), white breads/pasta/rice and dairy will over time lead to chronic inflammation in the body. Eliminating these kinds of food from your diet will help decrease inflammation.
Additionally, there are certain foods that actively help reduce inflammation such as turmeric (contains a compound called curcumin, which reduces inflammation) and essential fatty acids (natural oils from plants and fish), so start introducing and/or increasing these in your daily diet. If you don’t like fish or don’t eat it 3-4 times a week, consider taking daily fish oil supplement. See side bar for other anti-inflammatory foods.
2. Avoid Food Allergens and Food Additives
It is important to identify and eliminate any food allergies and/or food intolerances from your diet because they can cause inflammation and contribute to pain. Some of the most common food allergens/intolerances are milk, dairy, wheat, gluten, citrus, corn, eggs, sugar, soy, peanuts, pork and yeast.
Food additives such as MSG, artificial sweeteners, colours and flavours can also be toxic to your nerve cells and increase sensitivity to pain. Read food labels carefully and avoid these as much as possible.
2. 6-8 Cups of Fluid a Day
When the body has a build-up of toxins it can irritate the nerves leading to pain. Drinking 6-8 cups of water, diluted juice and/or herbal tea can help flush out excess toxins from your body.
3. Increase B-vitamins
There are 8 B-vitamins and many promote healthy nerves and can provide nerve pain relief. For example, biotin can help in the prevention and management of neuropathy and vitamin B6 plays a critical role in pain management by making pain-inhibiting neurotransmitters.
Many people are deficient in B-vitamins, so include plenty of vitamin B-rich foods in your diet such as avocados, legumes, lentils, quinoa and whole grains. These foods are also high in fibre so they will assist in removing toxins from your body. If you don’t eat these foods on a regular basis consider taking a B-complex supplement.
4. Boost Your Immune System
Maintaining a strong immune system is important because bacterial, yeast and viral infections can cause pain and inflammation. For example, fungal and bacterial infections can produce myotoxins that can cause inflammation and irritate the nerves resulting in pain.
Consume a diet high in fruits/vegetables and nuts/seeds, which are high in immune boosting nutrients. Daily probiotic supplements (minimum 8 billion micro-organisms) also helps support the immune system.
By following all of the recommendations I’ve made here I was able to reduce my daily debilitating bouts of neuropathic pain to just 1or 2 short episodes a month. I also experienced many other benefits such as weight loss, increased energy and reduced headaches. Try this delicious recipe that combines many pain-relieving ingredients!