Alternatives for this Painful Nerve Condition
Authors: Yi Chan, DPM, LAc, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
Mark Stengler, ND, La Jolla Whole Health Clinic
Peripheral neuropathy may be one of the most common conditions you’ve never heard of — and it is indeed common. Estimates are that it affects as many as two-thirds of people with diabetes, 10% to 20% of people with cancer and 8% of all people over age 55. One reason may be that neuropathy is not an isolated medical condition. Rather, it results from other medical problems including vitamin deficiencies, autoimmune disorders and heavy metal exposure, in addition to diabetes and cancer. Symptoms generally come on gradually over a period of weeks or even months, starting in the toes and sometimes the fingers. They include burning and tingling sensations, numbness, and occasional sharp, sudden pains similar to electrical shocks. Intensity of symptoms varies widely, from mild annoyance… to numbness severe enough to impair function… to debilitating pain.
Mainstream medical doctors often treat peripheral neuropathy with pharmaceutical drugs, but they all have serious side effects, including dizziness, sleepiness, dry mouth, blurred vision, weight gain, nausea, headache and in serious cases, allergic reaction and confusion, among others.
Given the problems with pharmaceuticals, I called Mark Stengler, ND, a regular contributor to Daily Health News, to find out about natural approaches to the problem. Dr. Stengler says that, as always, the first step is to find the root cause and correct it as much as possible. For example, people with diabetes must control blood sugar levels to help slow further peripheral neuropathy development. People who suspect vitamin deficiencies should see a holistic physician for blood level tests and to help them establish a healthy diet and vitamin protocol. They must also avoid or greatly reduce alcohol consumption. Those having chemotherapy should alert the supervising doctor immediately if numbness or tingling starts in their feet or hands. The doctor may be able to alter the drugs somewhat to keep the neuropathy from escalating. However, when chemo-related peripheral neuropathy begins weeks or even months after completion of chemotherapy — as is often the case — the next step is to seek treatment to alleviate the discomfort and possibly help reduce or even heal it. This advice holds true for other causes of peripheral neuropathy as well, although you should check with your doctor to be sure it is appropriate for you.
Dr. Stengler says the natural substance with the longest record for helping both diabetic peripheral neuropathy and chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy is alpha lipoic acid, a powerful antioxidant that scavenges many harmful free radicals. (Note: Alpha lipoic acid can reduce blood sugar levels so your doctor should monitor your medication and blood sugar for the duration.) It’s not a quick solution however — Dr. Stengler says to wait eight to 12 weeks before assessing results. The other natural substance he recommends is acetyl-L-carnitine, which he says has a regenerative effect on the nerves. Again, stay on acetyl-L-carnitine therapy for eight to 12 weeks to assess its efficacy. To further reduce nerve irritation, Dr. Stengler often prescribes a B vitamins including B-12.