Are you among the 20 million people in America with peripheral neuropathy? Any damage to the peripheral nerves can cause pain, numbness, or tingling, usually in the hands and feet. Muscle weakness and loss of coordination and balance are common too. Damage to nerves that lead to your internal organs may also result in problems with sweating, digestion, urination, and sexual function. All this happens because the peripheral nervous system which communicates information between your central nervous system and the rest of your body is impaired.1
Diabetes is the most common cause of peripheral neuropathy. But other factors like an injury to your nerves, excessive alcohol consumption, vitamin B12 deficiency, hypothyroidism, autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus as well as infections like shingles, HIV, and Lyme disease can also cause it.2 Depending on the underlying cause, some cases of peripheral neuropathy may improve, though the damage can be permanent in other cases. For instance, keeping your blood sugar under control may improve diabetic neuropathy or at least stop it from worsening. Therefore, identifying and treating the cause of peripheral neuropathy is important for dealing with this condition. Several natural remedies can help tackle symptoms and reverse damage if you’re suffering from peripheral neuropathy:
1. Keep High Blood Sugar Under Control
Around 60–70 % of people with diabetes suffer from neuropathy in some form. And nerve damage is more common in diabetic people who are overweight, whose blood sugar is not under control, and those with high blood pressure.3 If you have diabetes checking your blood glucose levels regularly, taking medications as directed, regular exercise, and having a healthy diet are important to manage your blood sugar levels.4 Read about lifestyle modifications and natural remedies to curb and reverse your diabetes here.
2. Avoid Alcohol And Smoking
Excessive alcohol consumption can result in peripheral neuropathy. While the exact connection between heavy drinking and nerve damage is not clear, it might be due to the poisoning of your nerves by alcohol or the result of poor nutrition linked to alcoholism. In any event, up to 50% of people who have excessive amounts of alcohol develop nerve damage over a period of time.5 It has also been found that diabetics have a higher risk of peripheral neuropathy if they smoke or regularly have excessive amounts of alcohol.6 Continuing to consume alcohol can worsen nerve damage. Counselling, medication, and support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous can help you gain control over alcoholism.
3. Exercise Regularly
Here’s another reason to get physically active. One study found that a 10-week program of resistance exercise and moderately intense aerobic exercise improved neuropathic symptoms in people with diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Those who participated in the program experienced improvement in nerve fiber branching and a significant reduction in pain.7
So get in at least two and a half hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise such as brisk walking or cycling each week. Also do exercises that work your major muscles groups such as those in your hips, legs, back, abdomen, shoulders, chest, and arms at least a couple of days a week.8
4. Boost Alpha-Lipoic Acid Intake
Oxidative stress plays a part in causing diabetic neuropathy and antioxidants have been found to prevent nerve damage in people with diabetes. Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), an antioxidant produced by your body, has been found to help people with this condition. Research shows that daily supplementation with 600 mg ALA can ease symptoms of diabetic neuropathy and improve insulin sensitivity. Unlike other antioxidants that dissolve either in fatty tissues or water, this potent antioxidant can work in both. This means that it’s able to get to work throughout your body. This powerful antioxidant is present in foods like liver, red meat, and yeast. It can also be taken as a supplement or delivered intravenously.9
Supplementation with ALA is not recommended for those who have a vitamin B1 deficiency. You should also check with your doctor before taking using this antioxidant if you’re taking medication for diabetes. this is because ALA can lower blood sugar and may cause it to drop too low when taken alongside medication for high blood sugar.10 11
5. Apply Capsaicin Ointment For Pain
Capsaicin, a component present in chili peppers, provides relief from pain due to neuropathy when applied topically. It works by depleting a compound called substance P, which is involved in sending pain signals to your brain. Ointments containing capsaicin are available in pharmacies and can be used. Apply a pea-sized amount 3-4 times a day can help ease the pain. But do keep in mind that capsaicin can cause a burning sensation and some irritation in the beginning. So use very little and ensure you are able to tolerate it. Also, do not use this ointment on broken skin.12 13
6. Increase Your Vitamin B12 Intake
Vitamin B12 helps keep your nerve cells healthy and a deficiency in this critical nutrient can cause peripheral neuropathy. Studies have found that treating people with diabetic neuropathy with vitamin B12 can improve symptoms such as pain, numbness, and tingling sensation.14 However, this remedy may not be beneficial for those who don’t suffer from a deficiency.
Adults need 2.4 mcg of vitamin B12 per day. It is naturally present in animal foods such as clams, beef liver, meat, eggs, milk, poultry, and fish. But since some people with a deficiency have trouble absorbing it from foods, they may need to be treated with tablets or injections of vitamin B12 if you have a deficiency.15 Have a word with your doctor to explore this option.
7. Take Evening Primrose Oil
Evening primrose oil is extracted from the seeds of evening primrose. It contains omega-6 fatty acids like gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and linoleic acid (LA) which can be beneficial for those with diabetic peripheral neuropathy.16 One study found that patients who took 360 mg gamma-linolenic acid for 6 months experienced significant improvement in neuropathy symptoms.17
Evening primrose oil is available as capsules but should be taken with your doctor’s go-ahead. Do keep in mind that evening primrose oil is not advisable for those with seizure or blood disorders.
8. Apply Lavender, Chamomile, Or Neroli Essential Oil
Many essential oils have pain-relieving properties. One study found that pain due to peripheral neuropathy was eased in children with HIV when diluted lavender, chamomile, or neroli essential oil was applied topically. These oils even had a beneficial effect when their fragrance was inhaled.18
9. Get A Massage
Getting a relaxing massage may give you relief from the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy. One case study found that a patient who had peripheral neuropathy due to chemotherapy experienced almost complete relief from tingling, pain, and numbness after massage therapy. Light massage strokes, as well as deep tissue work using the techniques of effleurage (gliding strokes) and petrissage (kneading movements), were employed. Massage has also been found to improve the quality of life and lessen symptoms in people with diabetic peripheral neuropathy. It is thought to work by improving blood circulation.19
10. Explore Acupuncture
Acupuncture, the ancient Chinese treatment, where fine needles are inserted at specific body sites, can help people with peripheral neuropathy. Research has found that it can improve symptoms and nerve conduction. Acupuncture is based on the belief that the life force known as “Qi” flows through your body along pathways called meridians. An obstruction in the flow of this energy is thought to lie at the root of disease and acupuncture is meant to reinstate the proper flow of Qi.20 Make sure you go to a qualified practitioner for your treatment.
|↑1||Peripheral Neuropathy Fact Sheet. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑2||Peripheral neuropathy. National Health Service.|
|↑3||Nerve Damage (Diabetic Neuropathies). National Institutes of Health.|
|↑4||Diabetes. National Health Service.|
|↑5||Alcoholic neuropathy. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑6||Causes. National Health Service.|
|↑7||Kluding, Patricia M., Mamatha Pasnoor, Rupali Singh, Stephen Jernigan, Kevin Farmer, Jason Rucker, Neena K. Sharma, and Douglas E. Wright. “The effect of exercise on neuropathic symptoms, nerve function, and cutaneous innervation in people with diabetic peripheral neuropathy.” Journal of Diabetes and its Complications 26, no. 5 (2012): 424-429.|
|↑8||Treatment. National Health Service.|
|↑9||Ziegler, D., M. Hanefeld, K. J. Ruhnau, H. P. Mei, M. Lobisch, K. Schütte, F. A. Gries, and ALADIN Study Group. “Treatment of symptomatic diabetic peripheral neuropathy with the anti-oxidant α-lipoic acid.” Diabetologia 38, no. 12 (1995): 1425-1433.|
|↑10||Alpha-lipoic acid. University of Maryland.|
|↑11||Alpha Lipoic Acid. University of Michigan.|
|↑12||Capsaicin. Arthritis Research UK.|
|↑13||Peripheral neuropathy. National Health Service.|
|↑14||“Effectiveness of vitamin B12 on diabetic neuropathy: systematic review of clinical controlled trials.” Acta Neurologica Taiwanica 14, no. 2 (2005): 48-54.|
|↑15||Vitamin B12. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑16||Evening primrose oil (EPO). University of Maryland.|
|↑17||Jamal, G. A., and H. Carmichael. “The Effect of γ‐Linolenic Acid on Human Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy: A Double‐blind Placebo‐controlled Trial.” Diabetic Medicine 7, no. 4 (1990): 319-323.|
|↑18||Freeman, Lyn. Mosby’s Complementary & Alternative Medicine – E-Book. Elsevier Health Sciences, 2008.|
|↑19||Cunningham, Joan Elizabeth, Teresa Kelechi, Katherine Sterba, Nikki Barthelemy, Paul Falkowski, and Steve H. Chin. “Case report of a patient with chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy treated with manual therapy (massage).” Supportive Care in Cancer 19, no. 9 (2011): 1473.|
|↑20||Schröder, S., J. Liepert, A. Remppis, and J. H. Greten. “Acupuncture treatment improves nerve conduction in peripheral neuropathy.” European journal of neurology 14, no. 3 (2007): 276-281.|