If you or someone you know is living with neuropathy, you know that it is not an easy condition. In some cases, the pain is so severe that there have been reports of patients wanting to end their lives rather than live with this condition. While that may sound disheartening, the good news is that if the cause is found and treated, it can be cured.
What is Neuropathy?
Neuropathy is a condition in which an individual is experiencing nerve disease or nerve damage. The centralized form means that it is coming from the brain or spinal cord, while peripheral neuropathies manifest outside of the brain and spinal cord in areas like the hands, legs, and feet. This condition is usually characterized by numbness, tingling, loss of motor control, weakness of muscles, and burning pain.
Neuropathy may be caused by conditions like environmental, chemical or nutritional factors, as well as, physical factors or conditions.
Physical Causes of Neuropathy
A physical condition may include a herniated disc putting pressure on the nerve leading to damage and the common neuropathy symptoms. This could result from physical activity, a tumor, or a space-occupying lesion.
Another physical cause relates to trauma. If a person were to get into an accident, he or she may sustain injuries to muscles, deep tissue, or a plexus of nerves, all affecting the nerves and causing pain.
Chemical or Environmental Causes
Another cause of nerve pain may be chemical or environmental. Exposure to items like pesticides, specifically organophosphates, heavy metals (mercury), lead, arsenic, and thallium can create nerve damage and common neuropathic symptoms. While most think they are safe from exposure to these, they can actually be found in things like dental fillings, vaccines, and even the fish being served for dinner.
Nutritional Causes of Neuropathy
Another common cause of neuropathy is nutritional deficiencies. Along with chemical exposure, it can be commonly overlooked leaving doctors and patients searching for answers. Nutritional deficiencies causing nerve damage and pain include the following:
- B1 (wet beriberi) – A deficiency in this affects the production of acetylcholine which is a neurotransmitter that allows the nervous system to communicate with muscles, organs, and tissues.
- B2 – A lack of this can cause demobilization and demyelination of the nervous system. It is also needed to produce glutathione, an antioxidant that helps protect and preserve nerve tissue.
- B3 – Without Vitamin B3, there can be central neuropathy which includes cognitive decline, memory and recall issues.
- B5 – Being deficient in B5 can cause burning feet neuropathy or a literal burning sensation within the feet.
- B6 – B6 is unique in that deficiency and toxicity can lead to nerve damage. Tingling in the hands and feet, mood swings, agitation, and numbness may all occur.
- B12 – Vitamin B12 helps with myelin sheathing or the covering of nerves that acts as an insulator. Without it, the nerves can’t transmit energy or electrical impulses. Therefore, a deficiency can cause degradation of the brain and spinal cord and can manifest as Muscular Sclerosis (MS).
- Folate – Folate is a common deficiency and can mimic that of B12. Deficiencies are so prevalent with folate that the government has required many foods to be fortified with folic acid.
Nutritional neuropathy can also be caused by the following deficiencies:
- Vitamin E – When lacking in this potent antioxidant, some nerve damage can be caused by pro-oxidation or damage and inflammation that causes oxidation.
- Copper – Copper helps to produce myelin sheathing and is an antioxidant. It also helps run superoxide dismutase which is an antioxidant system preserving the integrity of nerve tissue.
- CoQ10 – A deficiency in this is not as common, unless on medication; however if one arises, it can cause nerve damage.
To test for deficiencies, most doctors will simply run a serum test. However, for some vitamins, like B12, this could actually provide a false negative because serum levels could look normal even if the body is lacking. While better tests would be the methylmalonic acid or a homocysteine test, the best way to test for deficiency is the lymphocyte proliferation test.
This is a specialized white blood cell test that will actually look at the composition of vitamins and nutrients within the cell. However, if looking for Vitamin B6 toxicity levels, serum testing is sufficient.
The Effect of Medication
While most think of medication as helpful and healing, in some cases it can damage the nerves directly or cause nutritional deficiencies leading to neuropathy. These medications include:
- Statens – While used to lower cholesterol, they can cause a CoQ10 deficiency
- Metformin – Used for diabetes, but can cause deficiencies in CoQ10, Vitamin B12, and folate.
- Blood Pressure Medication – These can impact the levels of CoQ10, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and Vitamin B1.
- Antacids – Medications like Nexium, Prilosec, Tagamet, and Zantac can all deplete B6, B12, calcium, magnesium, and copper.
- Anti-Seizure Medications – Though seizures are a type of neuropathy, the medication used to treat them can block B1 and B12 leading to chronic nutritional neuropathies.
- Antibiotics – This type of medication, taken over a long period of time, can destroy the gut flora which is responsible for producing many of the B-vitamins. The antibiotic Ciprofloxacin is especially potent and can lead to tendinopathy, or the damage or rupturing of the Achilles tendon.
- Chemotherapeutic Agents – Chemo treatments can cause neurological symptoms and affects the levels of B12 and folate. Patients undergoing this may need to supplement in extremely high doses under medical supervision.
Take a Stand
Unfortunately, if there is not a physical indication of what is causing your neuropathy, most doctors are likely to prescribe pain medication and send you on your way. However, pain management is not enough. Not only can pain medicine cause several side effects, but it also doesn’t get to the root of the problem.
Before long, you’ve tried a variety of pain medication cocktails and maybe worse off than when you started. To avoid this, do your research, find a doctor that is familiar with how nutrition impacts the body, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Be your own advocate and fight for the right to feel your best every day!