I was starving.
I wasn’t convinced that the naturopathic doctor knew anything about treating peripheral neuropathy, especially when he put me on a semi-vegan version of a Paleo diet. This was the ultimate anti-inflammatory diet, he assured me, perfect for autoimmune disorders.
Nearly every food on the planet was forbidden to me except for sweet potatoes, a few root vegetables, and possibly an apple now and then. No rice, bread, pasta, potatoes, oatmeal, peanuts, tomatoes, cheese, chocolate, beer…arghh! What was left to eat? Sawdust?
“I don’t see sawdust on the list of approved foods, Larry, so I’m afraid that’s off limits, too,” he replied in an e-mail.
This was too extreme. He didn’t know what he was talking about.
Further investigation proved that he did. A lot of neuropathy sufferers recommend a similar anti-inflammatory diet. Well, if this was going to contribute to my cure, I was going to go all the way. The problem was not that I had to give up the finest pleasures of the palate. The problem was, with such narrow food choices, how do I put together a proper balanced diet? I couldn’t just improvise at every meal. This required planning.
I made it my goal to create a morning meal that would take care of most of my nutritional needs for the day, while also battling the onslaught against my peripheral nerves. Combining all the produce, powders, seeds, and oils into consumable form meant it had to be made in a blender.
My Neuropathy Smoothie would abide by three principles:
- Every ingredient must have either nutritional or therapeutic purpose.
- No cheating.
- Not a principle, but a plea: Please don’t let it taste like liquid dirt!
(Note that I did not say it must taste like a gooey chocolate fudge milkshake).
I hunkered down, did the research and gauged my body’s reactions. I tweaked, added, and subtracted until I settled on a formula that seemed just right: a nutrient-saturated cocktail packed full of nerve, brain, and body boosters, which fills me so I’m not hungry for half the day.
And tastes like…um…well…it’s no caramel frappuccino.
WARNING! I am about to describe a smoothie which does not taste anything like a sugary chocolate milkshake. Nothing in this recipe is there simply to make your taste buds go into overdrive or trick you into thinking that this is not a health drink. If you can’t swallow a protein shake unless it’s loaded with flavorings and sweeteners, artificial or allegedly natural, perhaps you have to ask yourself whether the compulsion for sweets might be part of the problem which brought you to your present condition in the first place. Does submitting to your taste buds take priority over your sincere desire to cure yourself of this soul-destroying condition?
In short, this smoothie is not something you would serve at an ice cream party. It isn’t horrible, either. In fact, it’s pretty bland. Bland is do-able for you, right?
The purpose of this smoothie
This is not a magic, medicinal elixir intended to compensate for poor dietary choices the rest of the day. I’ll write about the neuropathy food list in a later post. In the meantime, look up anti-inflammatory diets and consider incorporating a similar smoothie into your daily meal plan.
This is also not a one-size-fits-all treatment for peripheral neuropathy. It is meant to nourish while at the same time letting the immune system calm down and set the stage for self-healing. It is intended to start each day with a rich concoction of protein, minerals, vitamins, fiber, and other necessary nutrients, while at the same time having a remedial effect. That’s why it is not only important what I put into the blender, but what I do not put there.
The fact that one year later I am cured of neuropathy tells me that something worked. This smoothie is just one part of my self-made cure, which involves:
- Strenuous daily exercise
- A strict diet (no cheating!), including this daily smoothie
- Natural supplements
- Lots of water
And I should emphasize…
- No drugs. None. Zero.
- I am not a medical professional. This article is not medical advice. I am not responsible for any unwanted reactions you may experience by consuming any of these ingredients.
- THIS RECIPE WORKS FOR ME. In no way do I imply that the same will cure or improve your condition.
- I am not taking any painkillers or other medications. Therefore I have done no investigation as to interactions between any of these ingredients and any other medications. Many of the substances on this list may have interactions with your own medications. For example, some may have blood-thinning properties or will lower blood sugar levels.
- Don’t take my word for it. Do your own research. Consult a naturopath or other open-minded health care provider you trust.
The main ingredients
Every item in this recipe has a nutritional or therapeutic purpose. I’ll start with a brief description of each, and list the full recipe at the end. Several home-grown ingredients are featured in my list, but you can find organic non-GMO sources for all of them. Some are truly easy to grow, so depending on your climate, you may wish to try raising them, even if you live in an apartment.
Chia and black sesame seeds
Chia seeds are a good source of Alpha-lineolic acid, which has powerful neuroprotective qualities. They are also rich in protein, iron, phosphorus, and calcium. What’s more, the gelatinous coating they develop when wet keeps you feeling full for longer than many foods. I buy organic Peruvian chia seeds in bulk from our local bakery. They are not expensive.
Black sesame seeds–yes, I said black–are common in Asian cooking. They have anti-inflammatory and liver cleansing properties. As a side benefit, Traditional Chinese Medicine considers them one of the best anti-aging foods. And as every Chinese housewife knows, they’re good for the battle against greying hair! Eating black sesame seeds will stimulate the scalp to produce melanin, the pigment responsible for hair and skin color. You’ll find them cheap in an Asian food market.
Fruits and vegetables
It’s essential to include high-fiber foods, especially at breakfast. Lately I stick with carrots, beet roots, and apples or pears, or both. Other times I add celery, for its anti-inflammatory properties. This part of the recipe is for fiber and basic nutrients: vitamin A, iron, potassium, and so on.
But but but…vegetables…for breakfast???
Yes. Get over it.
I prefer to include fruits and vegetables which are truly in season and are tree- or ground-ripened, not things that are picked unripe and sit in CO2-filled warehouses for six months before they appear in the supermarket. There are many benefits to consuming seasonal, locally-grown foods, which I won’t elaborate here.
The best source for naturally ripe, organic, seasonal produce is from your own garden. Otherwise, almost every fresh item you find in a local farmer’s market fits these criteria–as long as they’re organic! It is essential in a neuropathy diet to omit all chemical input, such as pesticides, herbicides, and synthetic fertilizers.
Today I included a papaya plucked moments earlier from the tree outside our kitchen window (see the title image).
Papayas contain Pyrroloquinoline quinone, which helps to repair mitochondria in our cells and may in turn reverse damage to the nervous system. Papaya is excellent for digestion, and is rich in numerous vitamins and minerals.
I know, you’re rolling your eyes, thinking, “Yeah, right. Like I have a papaya tree in my dark, puny living room in Detroit or Glasgow!” Your seasonal produce might include raspberries, peaches, cherries, or cucumbers.
Speaking of which, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and other berries are dripping with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Definitely include a handful. I don’t add them to my smoothie because they are shockingly expensive here in Hong Kong, and even then I don’t trust their freshness or purity.
What about bananas?
The only reason bananas are not on my list is because I can’t stand them. That sounds hypocritical coming from someone who is telling you to make a not-very-tasty smoothie. But I literally can’t stand them. Since childhood, the slightest banana flavor makes me nauseous. If it weren’t for this, I’d absolutely include bananas in this smoothie, for their rich flavor (if you can tolerate it), their potassium, fiber, and texture. By all means, drop half a banana into your daily drink!
Green leafy vegetables
I eat a lot of green veggies at every meal, so I don’t include them in my smoothie. If you’re not a big vegetable person at other meals, then you might want to add some to the morning mix. Kale, rocket (a.k.a. arugula), or watercress are teeming with nutrients.
Yes, I said onion skins: the papery outer layer that most people throw away. They are a generous source of quercetin, a natural antihistamine which is wonderful for itchy legs (a common side effect of neuropathy) and as a general immune system balancer.
They are practically tasteless and do not add an onion flavor to your smoothie.
For a full discussion of quercetin and onion skins, please read The onion skin cure.
Moringa, the latest trendy “super food” has been known in Eastern medicine for centuries. It has been subject to numerous scientific studies in the Philippines, Thailand, and India for its proven cancer-fighting properties, yet it has been almost unknown in the West until recently.
Moringa leaves are rich in iron, protein, amino acids, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, including many which are important in treating neuropathy, such as niacin, and vitamins A and E.
Moringa has also been proven to be as effective as statin drugs in lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and shows promise as a treatment for hyperglycemia, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s Disease.
But the real treat for neuropathy sufferers are moringa’s potent effects on the nervous system. First, moringa has been shown to have analgesic properties in reducing neuropathic pain. Other studies describe it as having powerful neuroprotective factors. Finally, several studies describe moringa as slowing and preventing neuron cell death, in the brain at least.
A super food indeed! I pick a handful of leaves daily from the moringa trees in our garden. You can buy moringa leaves, either whole dried or powdered, from various sources. Use the untreated leaves, not expensive extracts.
Nuts and seeds
Regarded for centuries as “brain food”, walnuts not only resemble miniature brains, but contain numerous micro-nutrients which are important for the nervous system.
Almonds are a rich source of protein, healthy fats, and calcium. Beware: almonds must be soaked in water for several hours before use! The brown peel contains tannin, which inhibits nutrient absorption. Soaking almonds dissolves the tannin and releases the enzyme lipase, which aids digestion of fats.
Pumpkin seeds are high in magnesium, which helps to improve recovery and regeneration of damaged nerves.
Also known as wolfberries, they have gained a reputation for promoting longevity, though some people are rightfully skeptical. Goji berries are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine as an immune system booster and general tonic, which is why I include them here.
Turmeric is the superfood to beat all others, used in Asia for millennia, and one of the most studied medicinal plants in the West. Among its numerous benefits, turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory and immune booster, which has been shown to reduce neuropathy symptoms. Many people take a concentrated extract of Curcumin, one component of turmeric, but there are at least 34 other essential oils contained in turmeric, several of which are more easily absorbed into the bloodstream than Curcumin and have similar or additional positive effects. Therefore, the whole root is most effective for treating neuropathy. That means, the lovely turmeric powder you can buy at Asian groceries is much better for you than an expensive extract.
It also brightens up your smoothie with its cheerful color.
Cinnamon has been shown to reduce blood glucose and protect against diabetic neuropathy. It’s also good for memory, cognition, and as a mood enhancer. Beware: most of the cinnamon you find in supermarket spice racks is a type called Cassia cinnamon, which has very little therapeutic effect, and can even be mildly toxic in regular doses. The variety known as Ceylon cinnamon is the good stuff. How to tell the difference? Cassia cinnamon tastes a little bit “spicy”, while Ceylon cinnamon tastes subtly sweet and clove-like. The safest bet is to buy it from a South Asian market. But if in doubt, leave it out.
Ginger is just plain good for boosting your blood circulation all the way into those tiny capillaries that feed your nerve endings. I’m not talking about ginger powder, or eating gingerbread cookies. Fresh ginger root, peeled and cut into chunks, is a necessary addition to the daily drink. Put it in your other foods as well.
Whew, so many ingredients! Well, we’re not done yet. Time to add…
Controversy abounds about whether coconut oil is helpful or harmful, due to its high content of saturated fats. I am on the side that accepts coconut oil as a wonderfully healthy fat, but this is not the place to set out the arguments. The fact that coconut oil is a source of different cholesterol compounds is beneficial in my case. My neuropathy was caused by statin drugs, whose reason for existence is to prevent the formation of cholesterol in the body. Well, guess what your nerves are coated with? Myelin, which is almost entirely pure cholesterol. If your body is starved of cholesterol, the myelin sheath will no longer be able to maintain itself, the nerves become exposed, and are attacked by the immune system. Even if you’re not a victim of statins, if you have neuropathy, your nerves’ myelin sheaths need support, which coconut oil offers. Several studies suggest that coconut oil’s high concentrations of medium-chain triglycerides are useful in treating brain, and therefore nervous system, disorders.
Ours is hand-pressed by friends in the Philippines from their own coconuts. We pour the raw oil into pans and refrigerate it, then cut it into squares like you see above. You can find organic cold-pressed coconut oil from many health food stores. Or, again, check an Asian market.
Pepper contains piperine, the substance that makes it spicy. Piperine protects certain nutrients on their journey through the acid swamp in our stomachs. It therefore increases the absorption rate for such things as turmeric, making them up to ten times as potent. You absolutely must include fresh peppercorns or ground pepper whenever you take turmeric, such as in this smoothie.
Other peppers work just as well. In fact, I often use spicy red chili peppers from our garden. Other spicy peppers like cayenne work too. But most people reading this would balk at drinking a fiery hot smoothie for breakfast. So stick with black pepper, which you’ll hardly taste.
High in Omega-3, excellent for brain health, a tremendous source of dietary fiber, ground flax seeds make a wonderful, nutty flavored addition to the smoothie.
Bee pollen has a calming effect on your immune system if you use locally-produced pollen. Ingesting bee pollen made from flowers in your region is like vaccinating your system against allergies, while also giving you a good dose of (what else?) “B” vitamins. Commercially-sold bee pollen probably isn’t from your area, so the immune benefits are lacking. Best place to get bee pollen is from a local beekeeper.
High doses of Vitamin D3 over a limited period help to repair nerve damage caused by neuropathy.
The best source of D3 is to get some sunlight on your skin for thirty minutes a day. Step outside to eat lunch and roll up your sleeves.
But on overcast days, or if your lifestyle confines you indoors all day, splash a couple drops of D3 oil into the blender.
Kefir or yogurt
The probiotics in fermented milk have long been known to help digestion. Good gut bacteria are directly linked to brain and nervous system health.
Kefir is superior to yogurt for several reasons: its particular probiotics boost the immune system, it doesn’t need refrigeration, and it is extraordinarily easy to make at home. Ingredients: a carton of milk, yesterday’s kefir grain, and a jar.
We started with a cup of kefir grain several years ago, and have been re-using the grain from each batch to make tomorrow’s kefir. Goat milk is better than cow milk for human digestion. But for our purposes, it’s the probiotic bacteria that is most important, so making it from cow’s milk is acceptable.
Vegans often make it with coconut milk, which I have not yet tried.
Mine is a mix of unflavored sprouted brown rice powder and sprouted pea powder, providing most of the amino acid building blocks of full protein.
These are marketed to body builders, so the recommended servings are way too high, in my opinion. I stick to less than one full scoop.
Acetyl L-Carnitine is often used by body builders to supercharge mental focus and for muscle pain relief. For us, it’s a powerful neuroprotector, which shields nerves from further damage. Most promising of all, studies suggest it works to actually regenerate nerves. It’s cheaper to buy in bulk powder form than in pills.
Sulfur, as Methyl-Sulfonyl-Methane (MSM) helps to normalize collagen, which strengthens the skin layers where the tiniest nerve endings reside. Low levels of collagen expose and weaken those tiny nerve extremities, whereas a boost in collagen promotes healing of impaired nerves and increases tactile sense in the fingertips. So, my guess–and it’s only a guess–is that MSM may benefit neuropathy.
It’s also good for your hair and fingernails.
Dates are high in potassium and magnesium. Laboratory studies have found dates to be helpful for lowering inflammation in the brain and reducing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases. They are also the sweetest known fruit on earth, so beware. I allow myself a single seeded date because more than one adds more sugar than I’m comfortable with.
What not to include
This smoothie is bland. But as it glides over my tongue I know it’s helping to cure me of the worst illness I’ve ever faced in my life, and that’s the best taste in the world. Please resist the temptation to jazz it up with things like chocolate powder or sweeteners.
Remember what I said at the start: every item in this smoothie has a nutritional or therapeutic purpose. Sweeteners and flavorings have neither. But they do have negative effects.
You shouldn’t be drinking fruit juices of any kind, much less adding them to this smoothie. Unless you drink a juice within seconds of it coming from the juicer, its sugars are already oxidizing and decomposing into high concentrations of fructose, glucose, or even sucrose, all of which are massively harmful to your neuropathy. That carton of “all natural fresh squeezed orange juice” at the supermarket? It was made as long as a year ago, kept in storage, and is now little more than colored sugar water. Keep it out of your blender!
But fruits are healthy, right? The sugar in them is harmless in moderation.
Very sweet fruits, like grapes, mangoes, watermelons, and pineapples, contain more sugar than is healthy for your ailing nerves and immune system. Even bananas, which I endorsed above, come in some very sweet varieties, so consume them in moderation.
The smoothie already contains one date, the sweetest fruit on earth. For the rest, stick with less sweet fruits that also contribute fiber, like apples, pears, berries, and oranges.
Grapefruits contain enzymes which, even in small amounts, interfere with the absorption of many common medications and supplements. If you’re taking any drugs or supplements for any condition, you’re advised to stay away from grapefruits entirely (I say with sadness, because I love grapefruit).
Forget all those “natural” sweeteners, like agave, maple syrup, and so on. They may be less harmful than refined white sugar, but they still have the same unwanted effect on your immune system and nerves.
Artificial sweeteners are the worst. These chemicals will inflame your body even more than pure white sugar. There is nothing remotely “healthy” or harmless about artificial sweeteners.
But honey is healthy, right? Has all those trace minerals and other benefits. That’s true and untrue. And I say this as a beekeeper. We have several hives in our garden and we do “borrow” honey from our hard-working “daughters” a few times a year.
At its base, honey is almost entirely sugar. It has enzymes and trace minerals, and certainly boasts of therapeutic benefits. I take a tiny portion every day with other complementary ingredients as part of my therapy. But not in my smoothie.
By the way, honey becomes toxic when combined with soy bean products. The combination produces a carcinogen called 5-hydroxymethylfurfual. According to Ayurvedic medicine, soy milk with honey can damage your hearing and vision. So if you’re adding soy milk (unsweetened, unflavored, and without thickeners or preservatives, of course) to your smoothie, don’t even dream of including honey!
Admit it: if your motivation for using honey is primarily to sweeten things up, and rationalize it by saying, “But it’s healthy,” then you’re thinking backwards. Take the word of a beekeeper: leave it out.
This may surprise you. Stevia, after all, has no sugar of any kind. It fools your tongue into thinking it’s sweet. So it should be great to liven up your food, right?
The truth is: what is sold as “Stevia” in supermarkets, and even health food stores, is a chemically synthesized extract from the plant. Real stevia doesn’t crystallize or dissolve in water, so imagine the synthetic processes it goes through to turn it into those convenient little packets of powder that resembles white sugar and dissolves like it too. In short, commercial stevia products are a scam. And check the ingredients. Often what is labeled as “stevia” is packed with synthetic sweeteners as well.
Unless you get unprocessed, organic stevia leaves, or unrefined powder of 100 percent pure stevia leaves, then what you’re getting is harmful, chemically refined garbage.
The Neuropathy Smoothie recipe
- filtered water: 350 ml (1.5 cups)
- chia seeds: 1 heaping teaspoon
- black sesame seeds: 1 heaping teaspoon
- apple: half or one-third, cut into pieces
- carrot: whole or half, cut into pieces
- banana or papaya: ½ fruit
- other fruit or vegetable: berries, seasonal produce
- onion skin: skin of one large onion
- moringa: 5 grams
- walnuts: 2 or 3 whole nuts, shelled
- almonds: small handful (9 or 10)
- pumpkin seeds: small handful
- goji berries: 10 berries
- turmeric: ½ teaspoon
- cinnamon: ¼ teaspoon
- ginger root: thumb-sized chunk, peeled
- coconut oil: 1 tablespoon
- black pepper: 3 or 4 peppercorns; or 1 small chili pepper
- flax seed meal: 3 tablespoons
- bee pollen: ½ teaspoon
- vitamin D3: 2000 iu
- kefir: 60-120 ml (¼ to ½ cup)
- unflavored protein powder (sprouted rice and/or pea): 60 cc (¼ cup)
- Acetyl L-Carnitine powder: 500 mg
- MSM sulfur: 500 mg
- date: 1 whole date, stone/seed removed
- Pour the filtered water into the blender.
- Add chia seeds and black sesame seeds into the blender, let them soak for a while.
- In a separate bowl, soak the walnuts, almonds, and pumpkin seeds in plain water (not the water used in the smoothie) for 15 minutes, while preparing other ingredients.
- Lightly rinse the onion skins. This is to remove dirt. Do not soak or rinse them very long, because that will also wash away some of the good nutrients. Then put into the blender.
- Add all other ingredients, except the nuts and kefir.
- Rinse the walnuts, almonds, and pumpkin seeds, then add into blender.
- Pour the kefir on top (helps stop smaller items from flying around and sticking to the side when starting the blender).
- Blend on high setting for one or two minutes, until fully smooth. If necessary, add more filtered water.
No added sugar, but I confess to using a heavy duty Coca-Cola® glass. Reminds me of ice cream parlors when I was a kid, so it adds a little bit of fun to my morning drink.
I enjoy learning. If you have any corrections, disagreements, experiences with these or other ingredients, or additional information about any of the above, please please please tell me in the comments below. Be aware: as a writer and sometimes editor, I reserve the right to correct any errors in spelling or punctuation in your message. Please no advertisements or insults.
I wish you a speedy recovery from the torment of peripheral neuropathy.