What is Peripheral Neuropathy?
To understand peripheral neuropathy, it is helpful to understand what the peripheral nervous system (PNS) is, first. The peripheral nervous system is one part of the nervous system – the other being the central nervous system. The PNS consists of the nerves and ganglia that reside outside of the brain and the spinal cord, and the arms and legs, for example.
Therefore, peripheral neuropathy is a disease in which parts of the PNS are not functioning as they should. Nerves that normally control our reaction to temperature, pressure, vibration, or pain, or that control muscle movements may be impaired. PNS dysfunction also causes nerves which control the blood pressure, heart rate, digestion and bladder to be compromised.
Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include:
- Heat intolerance
- Swelling of the arms legs, hands or feet
- Changes in blood pressure
- Muscle wasting (shrinking)
- Muscle twitching or cramps
- An inability to complete small tasks, like buttoning a shirt
- Bowel problems
- Bladder problems (incontinence)
- Lack of coordination
- Sharp, jabbing, or freezing sensations in the limbs
- Digestive problems
- Gradual onset of numbness, prickling or tingling in the hands or feet, sometimes spreading into the arms and legs
- Heat intolerance or profuse sweating
What Causes Peripheral Neuropathy?
Some causes of peripheral neuropathy are unknown, but largely, this condition is linked to diabetes. Blood sugar levels become so high that they cause damage to the nerves in the PNS.
Other underlying medical conditions can also contribute to peripheral neuropathy, such as Bell’s Palsy, Shingles, HIV, rheumatoid arthritis, stroke, alcoholism, or folate deficiencies, chemotherapy, Lyme disease, cancer, lymphoma, exposure to toxins like insecticides, broken bones with a tight plaster cast which impinges on the nerves, and chronic kidney disease.
100 types of peripheral neuropathy have been documented.
Allopathic Cures for Peripheral Neuropathy
Allopathic cures for peripheral neuropathy include prescription drugs, and minimal advice on prevention. Here are a few types of drugs often prescribed:
- Drugs normally used for epilepsy, such as carbamazepine
- Antidepressants, such as venlafaxine
- Opioid painkillers, for example, oxycodone or tramadol
- Duloxetine for those who suffer from chemo-induced neuropathy
- Skin patches such as Libodern which contains a local anesthetic
- Insulin drugs for diabetics to prevent sugar spikes which cause nerve damage
Harmful side effects of opiod painkillers, among other medications used for peripheral neuropathy are well documented.
Among the side effects that opiods can cause are:
- Suicidal thoughts
- Liver damage
- Impaired memory and cognitive functioning
Natural Cures for Peripheral Neuropathy
There are many natural cures for neuropathy. We’ll discuss these options, as an alternative to pharmaceutical medications, in that they do not cause harmful side effects.
Stress-relief and other complementary therapies include meditation, relaxation techniques, massage, and acupuncture.
Diet changes, exercise, and the reduction of chronic inflammation can also reduce the incidence of peripheral neuropathy, both by limiting the development of the underlying disease which contribute to this ailment – like diabetes, and simply boosting the overall communication between the nervous system and the brain.
The Importance of Reducing Stress
The reason why stress-reduction modalities like meditation and massage are often prescribed for peripheral neuropathy by alternative and functional medicine practitioners for good reason.
Stress causes havoc in our bodies in more ways than most of us realize. Chronic stress causes the depletion of our organs, and from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), depletes our life force, or qi, a vital essence that is responsible for keeping us alive and healthy.
TCM also sees peripheral neuropathy as a condition caused by dampness moving into the limbs. This dampness obstructs the flow of qi and healthy blood. Acupuncture is often used to address this underlying dampness, and to encourage qi to flow in areas that are affected by nerve damage.
However, constant stress can cause the qi to stagnate again and make even alternative treatments like acupuncture short-lived.
When we are in a constant state of “fight-or-flight” certain proteins called cytokines are triggered to begin the process of inflammation. Normally, this would be a good thing – when we cut our finger or become infected with a foreign pathogen or virus, we want the body’s inflammatory response to be triggered, so that healing can begin or the pathogen can be eliminated.
When we are chronically stressed, though, this inflammatory response doesn’t turn off once the cut is healed or the pathogen has been eliminated. It keeps going – and eventually starts attacking our body’s own tissues, mistakenly thinking that they are pathogens.
As The American Psychological Association (APA) explains,
“The body shifts all of its energy resources toward fighting off a life threat, or fleeing from an enemy. The SNS signals the adrenal glands to release hormones called adrenalin and cortisol. These hormones cause the heart to beat faster, respiration rate to increase, blood vessels in the arms and legs to dilate, digestive process to change and glucose levels (sugar energy) in the bloodstream to increase to deal with the emergency.”
This means that less energy is available to repair strained or damaged nerve fibers, and peripheral neuropathy is more likely to develop.
Stress reduction is absolutely key in reducing pain associated with peripheral neuropathy that has already begun and to reduce its development.
The Importance of Glutathione – the Master Antioxidant
One promising way to treat symptoms of peripheral neuropathy, and perhaps even to prevent its development is through the antioxidant, glutathione.
Glutathione is the body’s master antioxidant, or the “mother of all antioxidants.” It is a peptide which contains three important amino acids that the body needs to carry out thousands of vital functions – including the way our muscles, and nerves respond to commands form the brain, and vice versa.
Though the body creates this antioxidant within the cell itself, from L-cysteine, L-glutamic acid, and glycine, we can boost levels of glutathione to improve nerve functioning, along with a bevy of other benefits.
117,000 peer-reviewed scientific articles have researched this powerhouse molecule extensively, proving that it can:
- Reduce the speed of aging
- Help us to deal with chronic stress
- Reduce the body’s inflammatory response
- Help to kill cancer cells
- Help the liver to detox fat, which takes pressure off the gallbladder
- Protects us from oxidative damage
- Promotes a healthy immune system by increasing the creation of killer T cells.
- Helps prevent drug resistance (as in antibiotics overuse)
- Reduces the overall toxic burden in the body which leads to chronic inflammation, and eventually conditions like peripheral neuropathy
In clinical studies with mice, glutathione removed peripheral neuropathy by interfacing with the carcinogenic agents and toxins which were induced to cause peripheral nerve pain and deterioration.
Herbs that boost our body’s ability to create more of this “mother of all antioxidants” are:
- Milk thistle
- Whey protein (by replenishing glutathione and boosting cysteine)
- Food containing high levels of sulfurous compounds like broccoli, Bok Choy, arugula, cabbage, kale, mustard greens, radishes, turnips, and watercress
- N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), as it is a precursor to GSH
- A-Lipolic acid
- Vitamins B6, B9, B12, and biotin which can be found in foods like garbanzo beans, lentils, asparagus, beets, black eyed peas, and broccoli
- Vitamins C and E
The Importance of Exercise
The way that pain develops in the body is a very complex chemical process. In people who suffer from peripheral neuropathy it may be that the nerves are damaged, that they simply aren’t communicating with the brain well, or that they have an exaggerated response to stimuli. Exercise has proven to help all these underlying causes, and to reduce pain caused by the condition.
Clinical studies show that exercise:
- Results in better endothelial function
- Reduces vasoconstriction and enhances blood flow
- Reduces risk of hypertension, atherosclerosis and numerous cardiovascular diseases associated with poor nerve functioning
- Decreases production of ROS and increased anti-oxidant defenses
- Reduces risks of certain types of cancer
- Increases muscle strength and cardiorespiratory endurance
- Boosts our mood and reduces stress hormones like cortisol (linked to the inflammatory response)
- Reduces insulin resistance, and obesity, two factors which contribute to the development of diabetes type 2.
Peripheral neuropathy is a complex disease, with many different types detailed by allopathic medicine, however, many lifestyle changes that are entirely within our capacity to change, can improve or prevent this condition.
Especially in cases of peripheral neuropathy being caused by diabetes, and obesity, we can pay attention to our diets, reduce our toxin exposure and make sure that we exercise at least 30 minutes 5 days a week.
There are also powerful supplemental herbs and antioxidants found in many foods that can boost our nervous system functioning, and improve communication between the nerves and the brain. Stress reduction, diet, and activity can go a long way in mitigating nerve pain, as well as preventing peripheral neuropathy from getting worse. Moreover, these remedies benefit the body as a whole, cause no side effects, and result in a happier, healthier person.