Diabetes has reached epidemic proportions in the Western world. In the United States, 30 million individuals have been diagnosed with diabetes, almost ten percent of our population, according to a 2017 CDC report.
About half of all patients with diabetes develop neuropathy which is a progressive deterioration of nerves. It negatively affects the feeling in the legs and arms and also the function of many organs.
As a result, diabetic neuropathy is the most common cause of amputations unrelated to injury. In his or her lifetime, a diabetic patient with neuropathy has a 15 percent chance of undergoing one or more amputations.
Diabetic neuropathy is the leading cause of renal failure in the United States, accounting for 40% of new cases each year.
Currently, there are few specific treatments for diabetic neuropathy other than treating the diabetic condition of high blood glucose to try to prevent further damage and controlling the pain.
I frequently am asked if neuropathy caused by diabetes is reversible.
Some experts are now classifying neuropathy into three categories: reversible, partially reversible and nearly impossible to reverse.
The good news is that what we eat and how we live are beginning to be proven through reliable research to show promise as modes of repairing and reversing what is reversible.
Diets high in antioxidants, found mostly in fruits, vegetables and dried beans are being found to be helpful. Promoting good blood flow to the damaged areas is also part of the reversal. This happens when heart disease is controlled if it is present. Achieving good blood glucose control through diet and exercise are of course crucial to stopping the damage. All these lifestyle changes decrease inflammation in the damaged areas, a large player in nerve damage. Stress management and increasing the quality of our social support are also on the list, surprisingly.
It is very difficult if not impossible to treat diabetes with medication alone. Effective treatment has always included these lifestyle changes. Now the reversal of major complications seems to also be in reach through these changes. The best news is these changes don’t come with long lists of negative side effects.
If lifestyle can help to slow, stop and even reverse some conditions we used to think of as irreversible, this may be extra motivation for those of us in the Western world to use these tools effectively against the diabetes epidemic and its devastating costs.
Debbie Coblentz is a registred dietician. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.