Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Diabetes Health Center

Font Size
A
A
A

Peripheral Neuropathy and Diabetes

If you have diabetes and peripheral neuropathy, it's critical that you carefully control your blood sugar levels. High blood sugar levels over time damage the blood vessels and nerves in your legs and feet. Fortunately, a good diet and regular, moderate-intensity exercise can help improve your body's use of insulin.

Adopting healthy eating and exercise habits is "tremendously important," because it keeps blood sugar levels under control, says Tom Elasy, MD, MPH, who holds the Ann and Roscoe R. Robinson Chair of Clinical Research at the Diabetes Center at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

Recommended Related to Diabetes

Medications to Treat Diabetic Nerve Pain

Diabetes is a lifelong companion. Sometimes a complication like diabetic nerve pain takes time to resolve, and you may want to try different treatments and medications before finding one that works for you. First, make sure you're doing the best job you can of controlling your blood sugar, exercising regularly, and keeping your weight normal. If you still have pain, numbness, or discomfort in your feet or hands (called peripheral neuropathy), you may need to turn to medications to soothe your nerve...

Read the Medications to Treat Diabetic Nerve Pain article > >

"There is considerable scientific evidence that lifestyle changes can prevent the development and slow the progression of neuropathy," he says. "In addition, exercise like walking can relieve the pain, probably because it improves circulation."

To change your lifestyle and help peripheral neuropathy:

  • Get regular physical activity. Ask your doctor for an exercise routine that is right for you. Aside from helping you reach and maintain a healthy weight, exercise also improves the body's use of insulin and improves circulation. It also strengthens muscles, which improves coordination and balance. Your doctor can get you started on an exercise program that won't be hard on your feet – such as walking, swimming, biking, or yoga. You may need to limit exercises that are hard on your feet, such as running or aerobics. People with neuropathy -- especially those with bone deformities -- should always wear well-fitted shoes to avoid pressure sores and ulcers on the foot.
  • If you smoke, stop. Smoking makes circulatory problems worse, and it worsens the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy. It also greatly increases the risk of heart disease in people with diabetes. Talk to your doctor about ways to quit smoking. Often, people turn to counseling and drug therapy such as nicotine patches, gum, prescription medication, or other aides. Antidepressants can also help reduce cravings and help control pain from neuropathy at the same time.
  • Carefully limit alcohol. Alcohol can worsen peripheral neuropathy and make it hard to control your blood sugar levels.

 

Diet and Peripheral Neuropathy

To keep blood sugar under control, it's important to follow the right meal plan. A well-balanced diet can make a big difference. You might want to consult with your doctor or a dietitian to learn what foods are best, when to eat, how much to have of each, and what to avoid.

You will need to keep close track of the carbohydrates you eat, because they have the most immediate effect on your blood sugar. Carbohydrates are found in:

  • Breads
  • Pasta
  • Cereal
  • Milk, yogurt, and other dairy products
  • Candy, cake, cookies, ice cream (desserts)
  • Processed foods (most have sweeteners)
  • Fruits
  • Fruit juices
  • Rice/grains
  • Starchy vegetables

You should eat plenty of fiber, because it plays a role in the digestive process and delays sugar absorption. Choose from:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Cooked dried beans and peas
  • Whole-grain breads, cereals, and crackers
  • Brown rice
  • Bran products

It's important to eat foods that are low in fat. Good choices are:

  • Lean meats. Bake, broil, grill, roast, or boil -- never fry
  • Low-fat dairy. That includes cheese, milk, and yogurt
  • Low-fat vegetable cooking spray
  • Low-fat margarines and salad dressings

Avoid high-salt foods, which can cause high blood pressure:

  • Salt
  • Boxed mixes of potatoes, rice, pasta
  • Canned meats
  • Canned soups and vegetables
  • Processed and packaged foods (lunch meat, sausage, bacon, ham)
  • Salty snack foods such as chips and pretzels

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kimball Johnson, MD on September 27, 2012

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

Check Your Blood Sugar Level Now
What type of diabetes do you have?
Your gender:

Get the latest Diabetes newsletter delivered to your inbox!


or
Answer:
Low
0-69
Normal
70-130
High
131+

Your level is currently

If the level is below 70 and you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Did You Know Your Lifestyle Choices
Affect Your Blood Sugar?

Use the Blood Glucose Tracker to monitor
how well you manage your blood sugar over time.

Get Started

This tool is not intended for women who are pregnant.

Start Over

Step:  of 

Today on WebMD

Woman holding cake
Slideshow
feet
Slideshow
 
man organizing pills
Slideshow
Close up of eye
Slideshow
 

Woman serving fast food from window
Video
Can Vinegar Treat Diabetes
Video
 
Middle aged person
Tool
are battery operated toothbrushes really better
Video
 

Prediabetes How to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
Article
type 2 diabetes
Slideshow
 
food fitness planner
Tool
Are You at Risk for Dupuytrens Contracture
Article
 

WebMD Special Sections