Author: Milton Hammerly, M.D.
Source: The New Integrative Approach to Diabetes
An estimated 60 percent of all people with diabetes have some form of diabetic neuropathy, the nerve damage caused by long-term effects of diabetes. Symptoms can include numbness, tingling, prickling, and sometimes pain (burning, cramping, or extreme sensitivity to touch). These symptoms usually start in the feet or legs, but sometimes also affect the hands or other body parts. Only about half of affected individuals will be aware of symptoms due to decreased sensitivity of the affected nerves. On the other hand, sometimes neuropathy may cause both pain and insensitivity to pain in the same individual.
Scientists are not entirely sure what causes the nerve damage, but there are probably several contributing factors. These may include impaired oxygen supply to the nerves due to damage to the small blood vessels, as well as chemical changes that impair the ability of the nerves to transmit signals. Researchers are focusing on whether glucose inhibits the nitric oxide supply (nitric oxide dilates blood vessels), which would, in turn, limit the supply of blood to the nerves. Nerve damage may occur when glucose attaches to and alters the structure of proteins, which affects vascular (blood vessel) function.