Neuropathy: New Ways to Get Pain Relief
At first you have just a little burning in the toes or the ball of the foot. Then the tingling starts, soft at first, and only at night. The burning, deep itching, and pins and needles build to a crescendo preventing sleep, so you take sleeping pills. The doctor may give you pain medication or a nerve stabilizer, but it doesn’t help, you still have almost constant discomfort. Over a period of several years, it gradually diminishes as numbness sets in. It’s hard to say what is worse, pain, or numbness.
At its most extreme, neuropathy can lead to difficulty standing or walking, as well as nonstop agony from dying nerves. Now, your feet get injured and you don’t even know it. If an infection starts, it can become devastating before you even realize it’s there, or you don’t consult your doctor because it doesn’t hurt. By the time you get to the doctor it’s too late, the infection is in the bone, and months of antibiotics don’t clear it so they amputate your foot to save your life.
There are over 20 million people in the United States with neuropathy, and the numbers are increasing. The scenario above happens all too often, and the most common reason for amputation is neuropathy. Nerves are very important for the function of every tissue in the body. When the nerves don’t work, the blood vessels don’t work either and tissues don’t heal properly, so the body cannot fight infection. Like a forest with lots of dry underbrush, an infection spreads through the tissues like wildfire. Since the circulation is poor, antibiotics don’t get where they need to be, and the infection can’t be stopped, the only solution is amputation.
Modern research, however, has shown that this is preventable. Neuropathy can be stopped, and even reversed, but first we must find the cause.
- Cancer Chemotherapy – 7%
- HIV – 10%
- Diabetes type 2 – 30%
- Idiopathic – 52%
- Other – 0.1%
Those things that cause damage to the nerves cause neuropathy. This would seem to be obvious, but, as you can see, most of the causes are “idiopathic.” One of my professors at UCLA told us, “that means we’re idiots.” Actually, it means “unknown cause” or the cause remains mysterious. Idiopathic neuropathy would require further testing to look for:
- Heavy metals
- Nutrient deficiency
- Malabsorption/Leaky gut/Celiac disease
- Allergies and sensitivities
- Other infections such as Epstein-Barr Virus, or Lyme disease
- Autoimmune disorders
- Nerve impingement (pinched nerves)
Finding the cause of neuropathy is so complex that most doctors just label it “idiopathic” and give medications to try to relieve the pain. Treating the pain without finding the cause, however, can allow the disease to progress, leading to severe consequences – disability and death. In the long run, it’s so crucial to find the cause so the problem can be reversed. Today, our technology has advanced to the point that we can easily find most causes of neuropathy.
By far the most common single cause of neuropathy is diabetes. The reason the nerves die is fascinating!
Nerves are in constant communication with our central nervous system. Communication signals are transmitted to and from the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) to the distant (peripheral) parts of the body, such as the hands and feet.
Neuropathy occurs when the peripheral nerves become damaged—as a result of diabetes…or a less commonly recognized issue (see above). A person with diabetes has high blood sugar, which damages cells lining the blood vessels that transport nutrients and oxygen to body cells, which in turn harms nerves. Those impaired nerves send pain or pins-and-needles tingling sensations…or they can fail to transmit physical signals altogether, leading to numbness or muscle weakness. There’s also the risk for injury when damaged nerves prevent you from feeling pain in dangerous situations.
Insulin resistance weakens the walls of the small blood vessels (capillaries) that supply the nerves with oxygen and nutrients, thus preventing sugar from getting into cells. Nerve cells are especially sensitive to a lack of sugar because they need a constant supply to function. The fact is the nerves are STARVING for sugar. Even if the blood has ten times the normal amount, diabetes prevents all that sugar from getting into the cells. Without sugar those cells can’t make energy, so there is a structural breakdown of nerves, producing neuropathy.
Drugs don’t decrease insulin resistance. In fact, most diabetes drugs increase the insulin causing more insulin resistance. Thus, drug treatments, including injections of insulin, increase the problem of neuropathy! If you use drugs to treat diabetes you will need more drugs to treat neuropathy, and then more drugs to treat the infections and problems of neuropathy. We can easily see how people come to take so many drugs for one illness, because the drugs don’t address the cause.
The answer to diabetic neuropathy is simple. We know the cause to be insulin resistance so all we need to do is improve insulin sensitivity and we can avoid, or reverse, diabetic neuropathy. There are several possible reasons for being insulin resistant, and since the ways of reversing it are all good for you, it isn’t necessary to know which you have. I recommend simply doing all of them.