As we wrap up our section on nutrition, I want to talk at some length about trace elements.
By definition, trace elements are those essential nutrients, which are necessary for life and health but only in the tiniest amounts.
As with most nutrients, too much is not better. Neither is consuming large amounts of a single nutrient unless there is a genetic or other bona fide medical reason to do so.
So today let’s talk about the nutrient chromium. If you’ve ever seen stainless steel or shiny car parts, you probably know what chromium is. Just like copper and manganese, it is a metal. What you may not know is that most human beings in modern cultures probably get the majority of their chromium diet intake through cooking with stainless steel!
Part of this of course is because most people do not consume a diet that is naturally high in chromium.
The safest forms for human nutrition (trivalent) come from whole foods and are found in things such as broccoli (one of the highest sources) as well as coffee, potato and apple skins and nuts.
As we talk about all the time, having a large component of your diet from whole foods, which contain things like peels and skins provide some significant insurance against trace mineral deficiencies including chromium deficiency.
What you may not know however is, chromium appears to be essential for our bodies handling of blood sugar. In one particular form, that is GTF, which is short for glucose tolerance factor, this trace element may help to improve insulin (the hormone which lowers blood sugar) efficiency and potentiate insulin.
Now there is conflicting scientific evidence here, however enough research indicates that GTF is probably the safest supplement form and best included in supplementation in relatively low amounts on the order of not more than 100 µg per day.
In other words trivalent chromium helps us to process energy, particular carbohydrates and sugars from our food efficiently.
If you’ve read my other books you also understand that poor blood sugar control in the form of either diabetes or metabolic syndrome can cause peripheral neuropathy and a whole host of health disorders.
So by now the impact of chromium nutrition should be rather obvious. Without adequate amounts in our diet we are at risk for developing health risks related to blood sugar management yes and perhaps ultimately even peripheral neuropathy!
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With neuropathy, if you lack vitamin E, it will be impossible for your nerves to heal and function properly.
Vitamin E is an essential nutrient for all of us, especially those who suffer from many forms of peripheral neuropathy.
As a member of the fat-soluble vitamin family that includes vitamins A, D, E and K, it is also lacking in many modern diets.
This is also one key nutrient that occurs in eight different forms; two are the most biologically active. The most common are gamma and alpha. In your diet this will be found primarily in nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant, which basically means it helps prevent cells from damage due to “free radicals”, or cell destruction generated by some biochemical reactions.
Although Vitamin E is best known for its role as an antioxidant, it does have some profound roles in protecting the nervous system. Vitamin E is essential to helping healthy nerve function, as it helps us repair and protect myelin, the sheath that insulates our large nerves.
Healthy myelin is largely responsible for normal nerve conduction.
In fact, studies suggest that Vitamin E, when given to diabetics can improve nerve conduction significantly1.
But there are some precautions: First, there are no overnight miracles. Supplementation for months may be necessary to see a significant effect. Too much Vitamin E can cause the blood to thin; this has an additive effect for anyone who takes Coumadin and other anticoagulant medications, including aspirin. Be especially careful here!
In addition to seeds and nuts (almonds and sunflower in particular), there are some other good dietary sources of Vitamin E, such as palm oil, the principal ingredient in “Earth Balance”, a butter substitute and line of products we recommend. To a lesser extent, leafy green vegetables and avocadoes will provide some active vitamin E.
Generally, safe supplementation is in the range of 2 to 400 international units of mixed tocopherols for most patients.
There maybe other occasions where your physician may want to prescribe larger amounts of the d-alpha tocopherol form. This is sometimes done in other neurologic conditions including multiple sclerosis.
As we say all the time, there is no one single magic nutrient. But if you lack vitamin E, it will be impossible for your nerves to heal and function properly.
This is another reason why multiple nutrient components are necessary for effective health maintenance and treatment of disease; this is not a short-term proposition.
As always, with neuropathy it is important to work very carefully with your physicians and therapists and make sure that your progress is monitored.
1. 10.2337/diacare.21.11.1915 Diabetes Care November 1998 vol. 21 no. 11 1915-1918
Dietary antioxidant interventions in type 2 diabetes patients: a meta-analysis The British Journal of Diabetes & Vascular Disease March 1, 2011 11:62-68
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Eat like the NeuropathyDR Diet says to—lots of vegetables, nuts, and lean protein like fish, using animal products sparingly.
Calcium is an element which is essential to life and health. Like potassium and chloride, too much or too little of this key element can literally kill us! Your body has some aging mechanisms built in to keep calcium levels in our blood nearly constant. So much so that, if we consume too little, our parathyroid glands send hormone messengers that break down bone to release more usable calcium.
Calcium is necessary for proper heartbeat and normal nerve function. A disturbance in blood calcium can cause fatal arrhythmia of our heart, and “tetany”, which is a severe disabling contraction of our muscles!
Now, if you live in the USA, you probably have been lead to believe that dairy consumption is the only way to get adequate calcium. You might even have been told that calcium consumption alone can prevent or treat osteoporosis.
Neither of these assumptions, by themselves, are true.
For example, John Robbins was one of the first to point out in the ’90s that in cultures where daily physical activity and plant-based diets are the norm, osteoporosis was virtually non-existent. These cultures do NOT consume any dairy at all.
Instead, they eat like the NeuropathyDR Diet says to—lots of vegetables, nuts, and lean protein like fish, using animal products sparingly. This diet is far healthier than the typical sugar, fat, and soda consumption of the average modern diet!
These cultures also have higher levels of active Vitamin D, secondary to sunlight exposure. Vitamin D helps us absorb calcium in our gut, and among many other things, helps us build stronger bones, ward off infections, and a whole host of diseases.
Calcium is a key player in your health! Unless you have a disease which requires careful monitoring, eating healthy and getting enough vitamin D and exercise are probably all we need.
Most of the time, large amounts of calcium supplementation may actually be dangerous, and could actually contribute to other disease risks.
In nature, calcium often occurs with magnesium. Effective supplementation delivers calcium and magnesium in near-equal concentrations.
Magnesium is another crucial nutrient—in fact, the most commonly deficient in the so-called modern diet. Next, we’ll explore this in detail!
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In almost every illness, including neuropathy, consuming a carbohydrate-controlled diet, low in sugar and animal products, can go a long way toward helping us feel and function better.
Last time, we spoke about the importance of knowing as much as possible about your underlying condition that may be contributing to or causing your neuropathy and related symptoms.
Regardless of your underlying diagnosis, there are a few basic principles that can help us all be healthier and happier.
For example carpal tunnel syndrome, shingles, and chemotherapy-induced neuropathy are all conditions that are drastically different–but are forms of neuropathy. This is important to know because it will allow you to seek the best care possible.
But, regardless of your underlying diagnosis, there are a few basic principles that can help us all be healthier and happier.
This revolves around our own lifestyle and diet.
For example, we know that in almost every illness consuming a carbohydrate-controlled diet, low in sugar and animal products, can go a long way toward helping us feel and function better.
It makes sense, doesn’t it? You know that your car performs the best when all preventive maintenance services are done and is provided with the best possible fuel.
Our bodies are no different.
Of course, your health conditions—things like insulin-dependent diabetes—may require very specific diet changes.
With all that said, we do know there are some specific things that can be done to will help almost anybody with neuropathy and chronic pain.
Here are my big three:
- Eliminate milk and dairy products from your diet.
- Go gluten-free wherever possible, minimize grains, and limit or eliminate meats.
- Make the bulk of your diet plant (vegetable) based. Be very careful with fruit and starchy vegetables, aiming for approximately 15 g of carbs per meal. The only exception to increased carbohydrates could be during times of heavy exercise.
A typical day may start with a shake with added protein powder or a small amount of gluten-free granola with coconut/almond/rice milk. Three hours later, a small snack, like half an apple and a few nuts.
Lunch is a salad with some lean protein (fish, chicken, or tofu) and added olive oil. Snack again in 3 hours.
Finally, dinner may be some grilled veggies with another serving of lean, low fat protein.
Many patients ask us, “Can my neuropathy diet really be this simple?”
The answer is an emphatic YES!
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