Many people suffer from nerve damage caused by illness or accidents, but some nerve pain and numbness can be a result of not getting the right vitamins and minerals in your diet. Your food is meant to provide fuel for your activities, but it should also supply the nutrients you need to do things like repair muscles, support eyesight and digest your food.
Vitamins and minerals are essential to nerve health. Some play a unique role in keeping your nervous system working the way it should. Here are the vitamins and minerals you need to support your nervous system.
Potassium and Sodium
It impossible to talk about potassium without talking about sodium, or vice versa, when it comes to nerve function. Your nerves send signals from your brain to the rest of your body. These signals are electrical, and your nerve cells carry them through their unique shape and abilities.
Every resting nerve cell has a high concentration of potassium ions inside the cell membrane and a higher concentration of sodium ions outside the cell. The cell is positively charged at resting potential, waiting to fire when needed.
When the nerve receives a stimulus, the membrane allows sodium to enter the membrane, and potassium moves to the outside. In order to pass a signal “down the line,” sodium and potassium ions switch positions along the cell membrane. This movement starts a chain reaction down the nerve, allowing for a change in charge that goes from cell to cell.
If you do not have enough sodium or potassium in your diet, the cells have a more difficult time with this process, which is commonly referred to as action potential, or the sodium-potassium pump.
Sodium deficiency is not a problem for most people because you can get it from salt. Potassium deficiency is more common. Even a slight dip in the right levels of potassium can cause muscle cramps and increased blood pressure because of poor neural firing. If you are an athlete, it’s important to stay on top of eating potassium-rich foods.
B vitamins are vital for nerve health. Vitamin B12 is particularly important for nerve health. A deficiency in vitamin B12 can lead to neuropathy, where you experience numbness in your fingers and toes. Persistent deficiency can lead to joint and muscle pain, memory loss and even reduced coordination.
Vitamin B12 is used to make new cells, including nerve cells, because it is an essential component of DNA. Without B12, you are also unable to make as many red blood cells. A vitamin B12 deficiency could cause your nerves to begin to lose their myelin sheath, which is a protective coating that helps to contain nerve impulses and speed them up along the axons of the nerve.
Other B vitamins that support the nervous system are B1, B2, B3, B6, B7 and B9. You might know these vitamins by other names, including niacin, thiamin, folate and riboflavin. Most breakfast cereals are fortified with these vitamins, and many occur naturally in foods that you eat, especially grains, leafy greens and fruits.
However, B12 cannot be obtained from plants. If you do not eat meat, dairy or eggs, you need to talk with your doctor about a good supplement to make sure you don’t suffer any deficiency.
Research is still ongoing about how some vitamins affect the nerves directly. One of the emerging vitamins for nerve health is vitamin E, which has been studied more for its effects on skin and tissue health. Some studies show that early treatment of degenerative nerve disorders with vitamin E can cause some improvement.
Vitamin E deficiency can also cause a person to start exhibiting signs of neurological degeneration. Fortunately, vitamin E is found in many foods, including almonds, spinach, yams and butternut squash.
When people think of calcium, they often think of strong bones and teeth. However, this mineral also plays a strong supporting role for your nervous system and other systems in the body. In the brain, calcium helps to improve cell structure and blood flow. It also helps the brain cells themselves to form pathways to communicate with each other.
Calcium ions bridge the gaps between nerve cells by traveling from one to the next, helping to pass on a nerve impulse to specialized cell receptors. Calcium also has a role in cell repair should a nerve cell become damaged.
Calcium is found in dairy products, but you can also get calcium from dark green vegetables like broccoli, kale, spinach and chard. It is possible to overdose on calcium if you take a supplement, so make sure you speak with your doctor before adding a calcium supplement to your diet because you might already be getting enough from your food.
As you can see, many minerals and vitamins work together to support your nervous system. Without a varied diet that provides these essential nutrients, you might experience increased nerve pain and other troubling symptoms. Speak with us at Southwest Florida Neurosurgical & Rehab Associates for more information on nutrition for nerve health.