Peripheral neuropathy refers to a condition where nerves are damaged and are characterized by numbness, pain, and tingling of the nerves.
Neuropathy is caused by a wide variety of factors including illnesses such as diabetes, chemotherapy treatments, certain medications, vitamin deficiency, injury, and infection.
Around half of people suffering from neuropathy are actually diabetic. The damaged nerves can cause misfiring messages which transfer pain signals to the brain despite there being no physical reason for pain.
Neuropathy has proven a very difficult condition for the medical profession to tackle and with that in mind, many sufferers are looking towards alternative remedies to improve or at least control their symptoms.
Certain vitamins and supplements may be able to play a significant role in the treatment of diabetic and peripheral neuropathy and this article will examine the evidence to date.
What is Neuropathy?
- Neuropathy is a relatively common complication associated with a number of different medical conditions but can also be caused by trauma and several other factors.
- Neuropathy may affect the motor nerves, the sensory nerves or the autonomic nerves, the symptoms vary depending on which nerves are affected.
- Sometimes neuropathy only affects one nerve or a single nerve set. One example is Bell’s Palsy which only affects the facial nerve.
- Neuropathy is linked strongly to diabetes. Over half of all diabetics will suffer from some kind of neuropathy.
- Infection, repetitive strain and physical injury are all potential causes of neuropathy.
- Diet is important. Neuropathy has been linked with a deficiency in vitamin B-12 and other members of the B vitamin family.
Neuropathy is a common and painful condition which occurs after damage to the peripheral nerves. The peripheral nervous system runs through the entire body connecting the nerves in the central nervous system with the rest of your body which includes the limbs, face, mouth, skin, muscles and organs. The peripheral nerves are responsible for relaying messages about any physical sensation you experience to the brain.
When these nerves are damaged or destroyed, they fail to perform their job effectively which results in the condition we know as neuropathy. As a result, people with the condition may not feel pain when they should or experience feelings of pain when there is no physical reason for it.
Symptoms of Neuropathy
The symptoms of neuropathy will vary depending on which nerves are affected. The following are some of the most common symptoms..
- numbness and tingling which often begins in the toes and fingers but can spread into the limbs.
- hypersensitivity to touch
- pins and needles
- feeling pain when there is no physical reason or feeling no pain when you should
- an inability to feel changes in temperature
- stabbing or shooting pains which often feel worse at night
This type of neuropathy affects the muscles and causes the following symptoms:
- muscle weakness
- difficulties with coordination
- falling and stumbling
- muscle wasting
- muscle twitching
If a person’s autonomic nerves are damaged, they may experience palpitations, heat intolerance, sweating problems, blood pressure issues and dizziness as well as problems with digestion and the bladder.
Vitamins and Supplements for Neuropathy
Alpha Lipoic Acid
An essential fatty acid known as Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is a compound produced in the body which is present in all of our cells.
ALA plays a vital role in the performance of many of our body’s functions especially with regard to the metabolism of glucose; it is both a powerful antioxidant and helps produce energy from blood sugar.
Alpha lipoic acid is already used to treat diabetic neuropathy in Germany and is an approved treatment in that country.
According to research, it can help those suffering from diabetic neuropathy by positively influencing the metabolism of glucose. (1)
Research has also demonstrated that lipoic acid improves the flow of blood to the nerves allowing them to use energy efficiently. (2)
The results of clinical trials have been promising so far. One particular trial demonstrated that alpha lipoic acid taken at doses of 600 mg 3 times daily for a 3 week period led to very significant improvements in neuropathic symptoms.
Both the sensations of burning and pain were significantly reduced after around a week. (2)
Another trial published in 2011 found that a dose of just 600 mg a day taken for 4 years improved symptoms and slowed down the progression of neuropathy. (3)
The results seem very promising especially with regards to diabetic neuropathy and alpha lipoic supplements are readily available online if you cannot find them locally.
The B vitamins are a group of vitamins that play many vital roles in the body including nerve function and generating cellular energy.
Thiamine and Benfotiamine
According to research, a thiamine deficiency can directly lead to neuropathy and there is some evidence that thiamine supplements can help treat the condition, especially diabetic neuropathy.
Benfotiamine is a derivative of thiamine which is fat-soluble and more easily absorbed into the digestive system.
According to the research so far, benfotiamine modulates the pathways that cause neuropathy.
It regulates cellular damage caused by high levels of glucose and prevents vascular problems that also contribute to neuropathy.
Several trials have demonstrated that benfotiamine taken at doses between 300 and 600 mg a day can significantly relieve the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy. (4) (5)
Vitamin B12 and Vitamin B6
Vitamin B12 is absolutely crucial to a well-functioning nerve system and a deficiency can lead directly to peripheral neuropathy.
Several studies on animals and humans have offered promising results so far.
Several studies on animals have demonstrated that Vitamin B12 can extenuate nerve damage caused by neuropathy by activating a chemical signal, which helps nerves to regenerate. (6)
Clinical trials have also demonstrated how significant ViaminsB12 and B6 are in the treatment of neuropathic symptoms.
Combinations of Vitamin B12 and B6 (methylcobalamin, folic acid, and pyridoxal) have been found to improve symptoms and maintain the health of nerves in the extremities. (7)
Another study found that a combination of the same B-Vitamins reduced periods of hospitalization and medical costs in those with diabetic neuropathy.
Research into the effects of methylcobalamin (a type of Vitamin B-12) has been promising too. Taken orally at 1500 mcg a day, research has found that it improves symptoms including numbness, pain, and gait and it also proved more effective than nortriptyline, a commonly prescribed antidepressant to treat neuropathic pain. (8)
This vitamin is especially significant to diabetic neuropathy because research shows that most diabetics have a lack of Vitamin C as a result of their illness rather than diet.
Those suffering from diabetic neuropathy have an elevated level of vitamin c which the body has already used known as reduced Vitamin C. This implies that neuropathy places an extra strain on the body’s Vitamin C stores. As a result, it is important for diabetics to get sufficient levels of this vitamin through supplementation or diet.
Lower levels of Vitamin E can also be seen in people suffering from diabetic neuropathy.
Research has shown that supplementing with Vitamin E alone can improve peripheral neuropathy symptoms and improve nerve function and health in those with type 2 diabetes. (9)
A deficiency in Vitamin D may be a risk factor in peripheral diabetic neuropathy. A deficiency is typically present in those with type 1 and 2 diabetes and is even more common in those suffering neuropathy symptoms.
One study published in 2008 was carried out on 51 patients and found that supplementing with Vitamin D reduced pain levels by up to 50%. (10)
This is an amino acid which is often used to treat a range of illnesses including Alzheimer’s disease, diabetic neuropathy and other forms of neuropathy.
Because carnitine is often lacking in those with diabetic neuropathy, there has been some research to evaluate the role of supplementation.
According to research, supplementing with carnitine might help increase insulin resistance, allow the cells to utilize glucose effectively and boost nerve regeneration. (11)
Several studies into the effects of Acetyl l-carnitine have discovered that it helps reduce pain, improves the sensation of vibration in the limbs and helps nerves to regenerate. (11) (12)
Note: People taking blood thinning medications like warfarin should not use Acetyl l-carnitine. the combination increases the effects of warfarin and can increase the risks of bleeding.
N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)
Supplementing with NAC might help treat the symptoms of neuropathy; it functions as a potent antioxidant as well as increasing the potential of naturally occurring antioxidants in the body like glutathione.
According to research, NAC protects the nerves from oxidative stress and damage.
Curcumin is a yellow colored pigment extracted from a plant called Curcuma longa. There is a great deal of hoe that curcumin could be used as a supplement for those suffering from neuropathy.
It is an excellent anti-inflammatory and according to research might be able to reduce pain signals caused by damaged nerves as well as prevent oxidative damage of the nerves. (14)
Resveratrol is a phytochemical available in a supplementary form and also present in grapes and red wine. Animal studies have shown that it protects against neuropathy because of its ability to fight inflammation and oxidative stress. One study demonstrated that resveratrol combined with insulin reduced sensitivity to pains. (15)
Research suggests that the majority of us in the West are deficient in magnesium. It performs many vital functions including clotting the blood and allowing proper muscle and nerve function..
According to research, diabetic neuropathy symptoms are exacerbated by magnesium deficiencies and it is recommended that supplements are used because we do not get enough from our diets.
The recommended dose of magnesium is 400 mg taken twice daily.
For people suffering with neuropathy, certain lifestyle changes can have a very positive effect. Eating well is very important while getting plenty of exercise can also make a difference.
- Eat a Healthy Diet : While research into the link between neuropathy and dietary supplements is ongoing, most experts agree that eating a good healthy diet is critical. This is especially true of people suffering from diabetic neuropathy. Diabetics should try to eat a diet rich in essential nutrients while low in calories and fat. Try to eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as whole grains and legumes. Neuropathy has also been linked to a deficiency in vitamin B-12. Foods rich in B-12 include poultry, lean meaty, fish and eggs.
- Get Plenty of Exercise : Exercise can play an important role in managing blood sugar levels in people with diabetic neuropathy but it can also help ease the symptoms in of neuropathy in non-diabetics. If you have not done much exercise lately, do not overdo it. Start with some gentle exercises like brisk walking or swimming. Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise each day.