The name of the condition tells you a bit about what it is:
Peripheral: Beyond (in this case, beyond the brain and the spinal cord.)
Neuro-: Related to the nerves
Neuro-: Related to the nerves
Peripheral neuropathy refers to the conditions that result when nerves that carry messages to and from the brain and spinal cord from and to the rest of the body are damaged or diseased.
Types of Peripheral Neuropathy
There are several different kinds of peripheral neuropathies that stem from a variety of causes. They range from carpal tunnel syndrome (a traumatic injury common after chronic repetitive use of the hands and wrists, such as with computer use) to nerve damage linked to diabetes.
As a group, peripheral neuropathies are common, especially among people over the age of 55. All together, the conditions affect 3% to 4% of people in this group.
Neuropathies are typically classified according to the problems they cause or what is at the root of the damage. There also are terms that express how extensively the nerves have been damaged.
Damage to a single peripheral nerve is called mononeuropathy. Physical injury or trauma such as from an accident is the most common cause.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common type of mononeuropathy. It is called an overuse strain injury, which occurs when the nerve that travels through the wrist is compressed.
Understanding Peripheral Neuropathy - The Basics
Polyneuropathy accounts for the greatest number of peripheral neuropathy cases. It occurs when multiple peripheral nerves throughout the body malfunction at the same time. Polyneuropathy can have a wide variety of causes, including exposure to certain toxins such as with alcohol abuse, poor nutrition (particularly vitamin B deficiency), and complications from diseases such as cancer or kidney failure.
One of the most common forms of chronic polyneuropathy is diabetic neuropathy, a condition that occurs in people with diabetes. It is more severe in people with poorly controlled blood sugar levels. Though less common, diabetes can also cause a mononeuropathy.
The most common symptoms of polyneuropathy are:
· Loss of sensation in the arms and legs
· A burning sensation in the feet or hands
Because people with chronic polyneuropathy often lose their ability to sense temperature and pain, they can burn themselves and develop open sores as the result of injury or prolonged pressure. If the nerves serving the organs are involved, diarrhoea or constipation may result, as well as loss of bowel or bladder control. Sexual dysfunction and abnormally low blood pressure also can occur.
One of the most serious polyneuropathies is Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disease that strikes suddenly when the body's immune system attacks nerves in the body just as they leave the spinal cord. Symptoms tend to appear quickly and worsen rapidly, sometimes leading to paralysis. Early symptoms include weakness and tingling that eventually may spread upward into the arms. Blood pressure problems, heart rhythm problems, and breathing difficulty may occur in the more severe cases. However, despite the severity of the disease, recovery rates are good when patients receive treatment early.
What Causes Peripheral Neuropathy?
There are many factors that can cause peripheral neuropathies, so it is often difficult to pinpoint the origin. Neuropathies occur by one of three methods:
· Acquired neuropathies are caused by environmental factors such as toxins, trauma, illness, or infection. Known causes of acquired neuropathies include:
· Several rare inherited diseases
· Poor nutrition or vitamin deficiency
· Certain kinds of cancer and chemotherapy used to treat them
· Conditions where nerves are mistakenly attacked by the body’s own immune system or damaged by an overaggressive response to injury
· Certain medications
· Kidney or thyroid disease
· Infections such as Lyme disease, shingles, or AIDS
· Hereditary neuropathies are not as common. Hereditary neuropathies are diseases of the peripheral nerves that are genetically passed from parent to child. The most common of these is Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease type 1. It is characterized by weakness in the legs and, to a lesser degree, the arms -- symptoms that usually appear between mid-childhood and age 30. This disease is caused by degeneration of the insulation that normally surrounds the nerves and helps them conduct the electrical impulses needed for them to trigger muscle movement.
· Idiopathic neuropathies are from an unknown cause. As many as one-third of all neuropathies are classified in this way.
Symptoms of Peripheral Neuropathy
Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy range from numbness, tingling and weakness to paralysis and bullet-biting pain. The causes of peripheral neuropathy are numerous and include viruses, environmental toxicity, chemotherapy, nutritional deficiencies, and—the most common cause—diabetes. Because this is such a difficult problem to treat, many people with peripheral neuropathy have turned to natural medicines for relief. Let’s discuss some of these treatment options.
First of all, if you have diabetes, please, please, please control your blood sugars! In this instance, an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure. (Take a look at part one and part two in my series on diabetes for a refresher.)
Toxicity from medications, alcohol, heavy metals, organic solvents, pesticides and herbicides play a role in many of the root causes of peripheral neuropathy. The liver, kidneys, lungs, skin, and digestive tract are all exit routes for toxins. Here are some ideas how you can support these organs and reduce the toxic burden in your body:
· Try a castor oil pack treatment. Better yet, do this daily for a month. (Next month, I’ll explain this amazing treatment in detail.)
· Take 100 deep belly-moving breaths per day.
· Drink a lot of water. The general rule is to calculate half your body’s weight and drink that many ounces of water a day. For example, a 120-lb. woman should drink 60 ounces.
· Stay active. Move your body every day, even if it’s a simple activity such as going for a walk.
· Make healthy choices. Eat a diet rich in organic food.
· Try N-Acetyl Cysteine. This supplement helps your body produce glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that helps detoxify the body.
In addition to reducing toxicity in the body, it’s essential to address other root causes of peripheral neuropathy such as inflammation, viruses, and oxidation. The following natural treatments are helpful:
· Forever Daily - If you are diabetic or have had chemotherapy, you may also want to consider taking alpha lipoic acid. You can find this powerful antioxidant at your local health food store. Studies show that 600 mg per day can be beneficial in reducing the symptoms of PN. (Remember to always monitor your blood sugars if you are diabetic. Sometimes these natural medicines can drop your blood glucose levels.)
· Forever Cardo-health with CoQ10 - can be effective in managing the symptoms of PN. It is also good for heart and brain.
· Arctic Sea Super Omega-3 - Omega-3 fatty acids found in cold water fish and flaxseed are “food” for the nervous system. When our nerve cells are well nourished, they are more capable of transmitting healthy nerve signals. In addition, Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation in all tissues of the body.
· Forever Garcinia Plus - St. John’s wort is an herb which is good for nerve injuries, especially to the fingers and toes. It can reduce burning or shooting pain. It has also been shown to be effective for mild depression. (Do not use if you are taking antidepressant medication.) Big bonus: it is anti-viral.
· Vitolize – Women’s – Passion flower is an herb which can be useful for restlessness, agitation, and muscle twitching, and spasms. It helps with nervousness as well. It is not appropriate for pregnant women.
· Absorbent C - Oat seed has been beneficial for some people with numbness and weakness of their limbs. It is a mineral-rich herb and very safe.
· Aloe Vera gel - Nettle is a nourishing herb that is rich in minerals. It is particularly good for PN with a “stinging” sensation. Be patient. It takes a couple weeks to work. It is also anti-inflammatory and effective in reducing for hayfever and allergies.
· Ginkgo Plus - Ginkgo biloba is useful for PN symptoms due to poor circulation. Use caution with medications which increase bleeding like aspirin or ibuprofen. Never take ginkgo with the drug Coumadin (warfarin.)
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The statements contained herein have not been evaluated by the FDA. The products discussed are not intended to diagnose, mitigate, treat, cure or prevent a specific disease or class of diseases. You should consult your family physician if you are experiencing a medical problem.