Fighting neuropathy with nutrition

Salmon and black beans, a tasty way to manage neuropathy.

Many of my cancer survivor friends have told me about their struggles with neuropathy, a common side effect of chemotherapy. Knock on wood, I haven’t experienced it, but wanted to share this post to help those of you who do. Today guest blogger Patricia Dean-Escoto, founder and creator of nutritional consulting company Pathways2Healing, shares her experience and expertise about managing this problem.

Shortly after my surgery for breast cancer seven years ago, I noticed I had numbness in a large part of my shoulders and back area.  It was then that I learned that one of the possible lingering side effects of any cancer treatment is neuropathy.

Categorized as a change in sensation (numbness, tingling or pain) in the affected or adjacent area of the body, neuropathy can strike at any time during or after cessation of treatment, in some cases taking years to manifest.  Although the feet and hands are common areas for neuropathy to strike, as in my case, it can also appear in other parts of the body, such as the shoulder or other areas that may have suffered nerve damage.

Cancer treatment side effects brought on by chemotherapy and radiation can cause vomiting and may result in a vitamin deficiency, a major cause of peripheral neuropathy.  Other factors found in our environment, like lead poisoning or pesticides in our food can also put people with cancer at a greater risk for developing neuropathy.  This is why proper nutrition plays such a vital role in alleviating conditions associated with this condition.

Nutrition should be the first line of defense when it comes to maintaining a strong, healthy immune system.  When our immune systems are strong, they gives us the ability to fight off diseases and their side effects on a cellular level.  Eating a diet rich in B vitamins (particularly B1 and B12), folic acid (found in dark, leafy green vegetables), and antioxidants (found in all fruits and vegetables) has been shown to help manage the symptoms associated with peripheral neuropathy.

The primary function of B12 is to form red blood cells, but it’s one of the major influences in the maintenance of our nervous system.  Additionally, B12 helps form myelin, which is a fatty cover that insulates our nerves.

Foods rich in vitamin B12 include:

  • Organic beef liver
  • Wild salmon
  • raw cow’s milk
  • organic chicken or turkey

Foods rich in vitamins B1 include:

  • Yellowfin tuna – This kind of fish has some of the highest levels of vitamin B1 of any kind of food. According to nutritional charts, less than 200 calories worth of this food can provide more than 35 percent of the daily requirement for vitamin B1.
  • Beans – Black beans, pinto beans and navy beans, as well as split peas, all have high levels of vitamin B1.
  • Brussels sprouts – One cup of boiled Brussels sprouts can provide more than 11 percent of the daily recommended value for this vitamin.
  • Nuts – Nuts can be a healthy source of vitamin B1.

Eating a well-balanced diet can help us maintain optimum health, even when neuropathy occurs. Consuming whole, natural foods rather than those processed with chemicals, sweeteners, and excessive amounts of salt can be instrumental in aiding in the support of our immune system.  For supplementation, studies have found that taking  L-glutamine, Acety-L-Carnitine,  Alpha lipoic acid, vitamin D and cayenne pepper.

Patricia Dean-Escoto, founder and creator of Pathways2Healing, a nutritional consulting company, and author of The Top Ten Superfoods for Preventing Breast Cancer. She  has created an interactive tool, My Breast Cancer Advocate, for newly diagnosed or recovering breast cancer patients. For more information, visit

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