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Nutrition for Diabetic Neuropathy

Diabetes is a complex disease that affects the human body in a range of ways. As foot care nurses, it’s important to be able to understand and educate our patients about the various ways in which they can control the effects of diabetes. In this post, we'll talk about nutrition and the importance of managing a diabetic neuropathy diet.

Both types of diabetes cause damage to nerves and blood vessels in the extremities. In order to fully understand the role of nutrition to control these effects, it's important to have a general understanding of how Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are similar and how they are different.

By providing patients with basic information on nutrition for neuropathy management, we can help them live longer and more productive lives with diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes Nutrition

Not all diabetics ingest foods or drinks leading to excess glucose in the bloodstream. In Type 1 diabetes, excess glucose results from an autoimmune response in which the immune system attacks the pancreas.

Without insulin, glucose simply remains in the bloodstream and causes high blood sugar. This high blood sugar is dangerous to nerves and blood vessels. Over time, exposure to high blood sugar causes inflammation, weakening and irreparable damage to blood vessels, pain and numbness, loss of protective sensation, and heart attacks and strokes. This is part of why diabetes causes neuropathy and why diet is so important.

While Type 1 diabetes isn't the result of a poor diet, diet is an important piece of the puzzle for managing neuropathy. By avoiding foods that spike blood sugars altogether and properly taking insulin to reduce existing glucose levels in the blood in a timely manner, patients can greatly reduce the onset of nerve and blood vessel damage from diabetes. Additionally, incorporating plenty of insoluble fiber into the diet helps to slow down absorption of sugars to keep blood glucose spikes from occurring. Insoluble fiber comes from barley, bran, nuts, seeds, beans, peas, lentils and other whole grains such as brown rice.

Lastly, by controlling the intake of foods and substances associated with heart disease, such as trans fats, excess sodium, alcohol and cigarettes, patients can prevent other common illnesses directly linked to diabetes.

How Type 1 Diabetes Affects Diabetic Neuropathy infographic

Type 2 Diabetes Nutrition

Type 2 diabetes also causes excess sugars to circulate in the bloodstream, but the path toward adult-onset diabetes differs from the Type 1 condition. Unlike diabetics who cannot make insulin, Type 2 diabetics initially make insulin properly all of their lives.

The condition can result from genetic risk as well as lifestyle factors such as obesity. As a patient develops Type 2 diabetes, he or she may first be diagnosed with pre-diabetes. Providing relevant dietary information to patients who are pre-diabetic about what the body undergoes in this state can help them better understand their options. Pre-diabetes is reversible.

At this stage, patients will develop a resistance to the insulin the pancreas produces. Cells that would normally be fed by glucose in the bloodstream are starved just like in a Type 1 diabetic and glucose levels in the blood rise. To compensate, the body produces even more insulin. In the initial stages, the pancreas is able to overcome the cell's resistance to insulin, but over time it won't be able to keep up with this demand. Now, the patient is fully diabetic and at the same risks for blood vessel and nerve damage as a patient with Type 1 diabetes.

It may be more difficult for a patient with Type 2 diabetes to make lifestyle changes, since one of the major risk factors for this disease is inactivity and obesity. Other risk factors include smoking, excess alcohol use, a diet high in carbohydrates and low "good" cholesterol levels.

Proper nutrition is a key component for the prevention and management of all diabetes, and patients should be encouraged to set measurable goals such as consuming fewer sugars and carbohydrates, eating more soluble fiber and incorporating more healthy fats.

How type 2 diabetes affects diabetic neuropathy infographic