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Diabetic neuropathy is the damage to nerves caused due to improperly-managed diabetes. It happens to almost 50 percent of diabetics. The complications of diabetes are especially rampant in those over the age of 40 who have poor blood sugar control and are overweight. Nerves are wires that connect different parts of the body. They have a protective sheath, an insulation of sorts. When this insulation is damaged by excess blood sugar, classic symptoms of neuropathy, like tingling and numbness in the hands and feet, are felt. At times, sufferers may not be able to tell the difference between hot/cold and room temperature objects. When nerves of the digestive tract are damaged, diarrhea or constipation could occur. Diabetic neuropathy treatment, when done on time, could save years of suffering.
There are four types of neuropathies classified according to the organs and systems it affects.
Feet and legs are affected in this type of neuropathy. In rare cases, arms, abdomen and back are also affected. Tingling, numbness, burning sensation and pain are the chief symptoms.
The digestive system (especially the stomach) is affected. Blood vessels, sex organs and the urinary system can also be affected. Bloating, diarrhea, constipation, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, low blood pressure, fungal infections of the sex organs, incontinence, burning sensation while passing urine, etc. are symptoms of this type of neuropathy.
Pain (usually on one side) in hips, thighs and buttocks and weakness in the legs is usually caused due to this type of neuropathy.
Thus type of neuropathy can appear suddenly and affect specific nerves in the head, legs and torso. It causes pain and weakness of muscles. Symptoms may include Bell’s palsy (paralysis on one side of the face), eye pain, double vision, severe pain in certain areas of the body, pain in the chest or belly (this might lead one to think that the pain is due to another condition, like a heart attack).
The current standard treatment for diabetic nerve pain includes:
Some doctors use anti-epileptic or seizure medications. The following drugs are used to prevent seizures, but are also prescribed for nerve pain.
The side effects of these drugs are quite serious in the case of long term use.
Antidepressants like Imipramine (brand name – Tofranil) and Desipramine (brand name – Norpramin) are, also, used to interfere with the pain signal from the nerves to the brain. Once again, they have several unpleasant side effects, including causing a dry mouth, constipation, weight gain and balance issues. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors or the infamous SSRIs (including brand names like Prozac, Celexa and Zoloft), which are used for clinical depression, are also given to patients with diabetic nerve pain. The same side effects of nausea, appetite suppression, dullness and brain fog could be a result of medicating with them.
Your doctor may suggest different drugs depending on which organ system the nerve damage has occurred in. They include:
Alpha Lipoic Acid, found in spinach, broccoli and potatoes, has been shown to slow the progression of diabetic neuropathy in humans. It works in the hands, feet and in other places. Alpha Lipoic Acid has been successfully used in studies to treat constipation caused by diabetic nerve damage to the autonomous nervous system.
Vitamin B12 deficiency causes nerve damage in non-diabetics too. However, with diabetics, both, the underlying disease and the medicines prescribed for it (Metformin) are known to eventually lead to B12 deficiency. It is hardly surprising that diabetics show fantastic improvement in diabetic neuropathy symptoms when they are given Vitamin B12 in the right doses in research studies. Experts prefer to administer intramuscular injections, if patients are found to be highly deficient, as per blood tests. Oral supplementation is also effective, especially if Methylcobalamin or Hydroxycobalamin, the more absorbable forms of Vitamin B12, are used.
Vitamin D deficiency is quite often found in patients with diabetes. The mechanisms through which Vitamin D positively influences diabetic nerve issues is not clear. But, in studies when patients found to be deficient with Vitamin D were given Vitamin D supplements, they had substantial improvements in their diabetic nerve pain too.
Another factor that is associated with diabetic neuropathy is a low level of magnesium in the blood. Studies show that most diabetics have reduced magnesium levels in their blood. Found in dark, leafy green veggies and whole grains, magnesium improves insulin resistance and helps influence the course of neuropathy.
Found in eggs, organ meats and legumes, biotin induces an enzyme called glucokinase, which plays an important role in the metabolism of glucose. When combined with chromium (600 micrograms per day), it significantly reduces blood sugar levels. It is not clear why diabetics are unable to use the Biotin made available to them from their diet. However, when they were given biotin through intramuscular injections, followed by oral Biotin supplements, they reported substantial improvement in nerve-related symptoms.
Due to its ability to regenerate damaged nerves, as well as the fact that it is often found to be deficient in diabetics, Acetyl-L-Carnitine has been successfully used on people with diabetic neuropathy, in research studies. In a year-long study, patients receiving supplementation reported substantial relief from nerve pains. Carnitine also helps reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. This is an added benefit for diabetics who have a greater risk of suffering from the dreaded cognitive disease.
Finally, diabetes is a metabolic and dietary disorder. The real solution lies in metabolic changes, achieved by eating the right LCHF diet and by losing weight. Research is increasingly showing that merely using prescription medications (that come with side effects) is not the right way to deal with your diabetes. If you’re facing diabetic complications, including issues like diabetic kidney damage and hypoglycaemia, it’s time to consider finding a functional medical practitioner you can work with. There are M.D.s that work with patients to reverse Type 2 Diabetes. So, don’t lose hope. Take back charge of your health and stay strong!