Good diet may help peripheral neuropathy

Is there a natural (non-Rx) solution for peripheral neuropathy of the feet and legs? Can any food, such as chocolate, make symptoms worse? — Teddy Hoobler of Albuquerque, N.M.

Medications are often used to relieve pain associated with peripheral neuropathy — a nerve issue that can lead to numbness in the hands and feet. But several alternative remedies, including acupuncture and diet changes, have shown promise, too.

"Start with the fundamentals — nutrition, exercise and stress management," says Dr. Brent A. Bauer, director of the Complementary and Integrative Medicine program at highly rated Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. See a doctor to address potential underlying causes, such as diabetes, vitamin deficiencies or infection, and for guidance on any treatment approach.

Bauer says taking natural supplements, including acetyl-L-carnitine, which may slow or reverse some nerve damage, and alpha lipoic acid, which seems to regenerate nerve fiber clusters, may reduce symptoms such as pain and numbness.

He's seen no evidence that chocolate or other foods worsen peripheral neuropathy symptoms, like burning pain. But, he says, healthy eating can help. Several of his patients have had success cutting back on processed foods, sugar, and other things, such as alcohol, associated with inflammation.

"The science is not well defined, but it is an approach that seems to work for some," Bauer says.

Try a Mediterranean diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, fish and olive oil.

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