Natural Ways to Treat Diabetic Neuropathy
About 50 percent of people with diabetes develop the serious complication known as diabetic neuropathy, a nerve damaging condition that has no cure. However, that does not mean you cannot help prevent diabetic neuropathy as well as get significant relief if it does occur.
Diabetic neuropathy can develop when blood glucose levels are high and not managed adequately. Over time, the excess sugar can damage nerves throughout the body, including internal organ systems, although the most commonly affected areas are the feet and lower legs.
Talk to your healthcare provider about optimal blood glucose levels. Generally, levels before meals should be 70 to 130 mg/dL and two hours after meals it should be less than 180 mg/dL.
While the best way to prevent and treat diabetic neuropathy is to faithfully manage your blood sugar levels (which includes proper diet, regular exercise and weight control), there are other steps you can take along with good glucose management.
Natural treatment of diabetic neuropathy
Alpha lipoic acid. This antioxidant has demonstrated the ability to relieve the burning, tingling, and pain associated with diabetic neuropathy. For example, a recent study set out to evaluate the impact of alpha lipoic acid on symptoms of diabetic neuropathy in 20 patients with type 2 diabetes.
Based on their findings, the authors concluded that alpha lipoic acid was effective in the treatment of diabetic neuropathy and that it was more beneficial among patients who have good glycemic control.
In a previous study (a meta-analysis), 300 to 600 mg of alpha lipoic acid daily given intravenously for 2 to 4 weeks was reported to be effective and safe. Intravenous treatment is not a viable choice for everyone, however.
Fortunately, patients do not need an IV to get symptoms relief. A suggested oral dose of the supplement is 600 to 1,200 mg daily.
Acetyl-L-carnitine. This supplement is a specific form (acetylated) of L-carnitine, which is a derivative of the amino acid lysine. It is believed acetyl-L-carnitine is better absorbed and utilized by the body than L-carnitine.
Acetyl-L-carnitine is a potent antioxidant that has demonstrated an ability to protect nerves. A study appearing in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy, for example, reported that patients treated with acetyl-L-carnitine reported a reduction in pain and that the supplement “should be recommended to patients early in the disease process to provide maximal benefit.”
B vitamins. The B family of vitamins is known for its support of the nervous system and so it make sense to make sure you are providing your body with an adequate amount. In addition, people with diabetic neuropathy frequently are deficient in the B vitamins.
Ask your healthcare provider about taking a B-complex supplement. In particular, be sure to get a suggested dose of 150 mg of vitamin B6 and 1,500 micrograms of vitamin B12.
According to Julian Whitaker, MD, founder of the largest alternative medicine clinic in the United States, another B vitamin for people with diabetic neuropathy is thiamine in the form of benfotiamine, which is highly absorbable. A recommended dose is 150 to 450 mg daily to help reduce pain and improve nerve function.
Gamma linolenic acid (GLA). Some research has shown that use of gamma linolenic acid has prevented development of diabetic neuropathy in animal models while others have shown it to be effective at reducing biochemical indicators of the condition. The University of Maryland Medical Center notes that use of GLA for at least six months may reduce symptoms of nerve pain.
The best sources of GLA are borage oil and evening primrose oil. Suggested starting doses are 500 to 1,500 mg daily.
Micronutrient mix. A study from Iran examined the impact of several different micronutrient mixtures on diabetic neuropathy, and the results were positive. Seventy-five patients were randomly assigned to one of three treatment groups. All the participants took the supplements daily for 4 months.
The MV group included 20 mg zinc, 250 mg magnesium, 200 mg vitamin C, and 100 mg vitamin E. The MVB group included all the MV nutrients plus 10 mg vitamin B1, 10 mg vitamin B2, 10 mg vitamin B6, 200 micrograms biotin, 10 micrograms vitamin B12, and 1 mg folic acid. The third group took placebo.
After 4 months, the authors concluded that “micronutrients supplementation might ameliorate diabetic neuropathy symptoms.”
The bottom line
Currently there are only three medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treatment of painful diabetic neuropathy, and all of them are associated with significant side effects. Natural alternatives are available for anyone who has diabetic neuropathy or who wants to try to prevent this serious complication of type 2 diabetes.
Evans JD et al. Role of acetyl-L-carnitine in the treatment of diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Annals of Pharmacotherapy 2008 Nov; 42(11): 1686-91
Farvid MS et al. Improving neuropathy scores in type 2 diabetic patients using micronutrients supplementation. Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice 2011 Jul; 93(1): 86-94
Ibrahimpasic K. Alpha lipoic acid and glycaemic control in diabetic neuropathies at type 2 diabetes treatment. Med Arh 2013; 67(1): 7-9
Pitel S et al. At low doses, a gamma-inolenic acid-lipoic acid conjugate is more effective than docosahexaenoic acid-enriched phospholipids in preventing neuropathy in diabetic rats. Journal of Nutrition 2007 Feb; 137(2): 368-72
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