How Is Sugar Linked to Peripheral Neuropathy?

Fruits & baked goods

Neuropathy is a common complication of diabetes, with symptoms that range from mildly annoying to completely debilitating. Regardless of which stage of neuropathy you're experiencing, one thing is for sure: you don't want to make it worse.

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with diabetic neuropathy, you may be wondering, does sugar affect peripheral neuropathy in the same way it does diabetes? Let's look at how your diet may be impacting your neuropathy.

Can low blood sugar cause peripheral neuropathy?

First of all, what is neuropathy?

Neuropathy can be defined simply as nerve damage, but from there, it gets much more complicated. There are a variety of events that can trigger neuropathy, from sustaining a traumatic injury to undergoing chemotherapy. One of the most common causes of neuropathy, however, is diabetes.

Diabetes is a chronic condition characterized by abnormal blood glucose levels. There is some overlap in diabetic neuropathy symptoms and symptoms caused by blood glucose levels that are too high or too low.

High blood sugar, or hyperglycemia, can result in complications such as vision problems, kidney damage, heart disease, and neuropathy (as well as neuropathy symptoms). On the other end of the spectrum, low blood sugar levels or hypoglycemia don't cause neuropathy. Still, they can result in problems such as dizziness, headaches, anxiety, sleep disturbances, balance issues, and more.

So, while low blood sugar may share a few symptoms with neuropathy, it does not cause it. High blood sugar, on the other hand, is a much stronger indicator of peripheral neuropathy.

How does sugar affect peripheral neuropathy?

Now that we understand the interaction between high blood sugar levels and neuropathy, it's easy to see how high-sugar diets can affect peripheral neuropathy.

When you consume sugar or carbs, your digestive system begins to break it down, and it is absorbed into your bloodstream. This causes your blood sugar levels to rise. Normally, your pancreas would then release insulin to help combat the increase in sugar — but if you're diabetic, that doesn't happen. Instead, the excess sugar stays in your body, causing issues and increasing your risk of certain health conditions.

In other words, the more sugar you take in, the higher your blood sugar levels. The higher your blood sugar levels are, the more likely you are to develop neuropathy.

In addition to increasing your risk of developing neuropathy, sugar can exacerbate neuropathic symptoms. No wonder sugar and nerve inflammation have a strong correlation with each other. When you eat sugar or other highly processed carbohydrates, the sugar floods your blood and can cause nerve damage and pain. Consistently high exposure to sugar can damage your nerves in the long run.

Skip the sugar, stay healthy

Reducing the intake of overtly sugary foods like sweets, baked goods, and frozen desserts is a well-known health strategy. However, sugar often hides in less obvious foods, making it important to be vigilant about your choices even when it seems you're eating healthy. When planning your grocery list or choosing menu items at a restaurant, it's wise to consider the sugar content in seemingly innocuous foods.

  • Breakfast Foods to Watch: Many breakfast staples are surprisingly high in sugar. Cold cereals, instant oatmeal, and granola bars often contain added sugars that can contribute to your daily intake. Similarly, bagels and English muffins, especially those made from refined flour, can also have a high glycemic index, leading to spikes in blood sugar.
  • Lunch and Dinner Hidden Sugars: It's not just the sweet foods that add sugar to your diet. Savory sauces like barbecue sauce and ketchup are typically rich in sugar. Additionally, some prepared soups, white bread, and even pasta can have sugars added during manufacturing, contributing to increased sugar consumption without you realizing it.
  • Snacks and Their Sugary Surprises: Many snacks, including commercial candies and chocolates, are high in sugar. However, other snacks, such as flavored yogurt and canned fruits, are also culprits, often laden with added sugars to enhance flavor.
  • Beverages as Major Sugar Sources: Drinks are one of the most significant sources of hidden sugars. Fruit juices, milkshakes, sodas, sports drinks, chocolate milk, coffee, and smoothies can be loaded with sugars. Opting for water, herbal teas, or freshly squeezed juices with no added sugars can be healthier alternatives.

Being mindful of these hidden sources can help you make healthier dietary choices and manage your sugar intake more effectively, contributing to overall better health and a reduced risk of diseases associated with high sugar consumption, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Revising your diet to limit sugar doesn't mean you must give up on taste or treats. Making mindful choices about what you eat can still satisfy your sweet tooth while adhering to a healthier lifestyle. While it's true that this approach cuts out many staples of the typical Western diet, many nutritious alternatives are both delicious and satisfying. Here are some healthier options to consider when you're craving something sweet:

  1. Fruit: Nature's candy, fruit is a great alternative to processed sweets. Full of natural sugars, fruits also provide essential nutrients and fibers, which help regulate blood sugar levels. Opt for a variety of colors and types—berries, apples, oranges, and mangoes are all excellent choices.
  2. Dark Chocolate: For those who can't resist chocolate, choose dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 70% or higher. Dark chocolate contains less sugar than milk chocolate and is rich in antioxidants, known as flavonoids, which can improve heart health and reduce inflammation.
  3. Greek Yogurt: Greek yogurt is a fantastic substitute for more sugary desserts. It's high in protein, which can help keep you feeling full longer, and it has a creamy texture that's very satisfying. Look for plain varieties and add a touch of honey or fresh fruit for a hint of sweetness.
  4. Energy Bites: These are small, ball-shaped snacks made from a blend of ingredients like oats, nut butter, seeds, and dried fruits. Energy bites can be homemade, allowing you to control the amount of sugar and include only natural sweeteners like dates or a bit of maple syrup.
  5. Cottage Cheese: Often overlooked as a sweet treat, cottage cheese is high in protein and can be paired with fruits or a drizzle of honey for a satisfying and healthy dessert or snack.
  6. Some Trail Mixes: While you need to watch out for trail mixes that are high in added sugars and chocolates, many on the market focus on nuts, seeds, and unsweetened dried fruits. These mixes can provide a good source of fiber, protein, and healthy fats.

Additionally, experimenting with spices such as cinnamon, vanilla, or nutmeg can add a sweet note to your meals without the need for added sugars. These spices enhance flavor and offer their health benefits, including anti-inflammatory properties and blood sugar regulation.

By choosing these healthier alternatives, you can indulge in sweet flavors while nourishing your body and avoiding the negative effects of excessive sugar intake. This balanced approach to eating can contribute to better overall health and a more sustainable lifestyle.

Take another step in the right direction

Controlling your sugar intake and monitoring your blood glucose levels are both fantastic ways to manage your diabetes or neuropathy, but they aren't the only things that you can — or should — be doing. In fact, if you have neuropathy, taking care of your feet is another important health consideration.

Neuropathy often targets your feet and legs, meaning good foot care is essential to avoid dangerous or painful foot problems and other neuropathy complications. In addition to checking your feet every day, exercising consistently, and having annual checkups.

A good pair of diabetic compression socks or non-binding socks can help support your feet, keep them safe from injury and infection, and encourage better blood flow to combat neuropathy pain. And if you're looking for a good pair of socks, there's no better place to go than Viasox.

When you shop online with us, you'll gain access to a huge selection of some of the most fun and funky diabetic socks in the nation. Choose from a range of patterns, styles, and colors to find something that brings life to your wardrobe and relief to your feet.

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