Diabetic neuropathy, a nerve disorder that affects diabetics, impacts about 65 percent of diabetics and can occur in every organ system in the body. Although it can occur at any time, diabetic neuropathy is most common in patients who are unable to control their blood sugar, and the risk rises with age and duration of the disease.
Diabetic neuropathy isn’t reversible but, together with a doctor, patients can manage symptoms and prevent worsening of the condition with the following 10 steps.
1. Get Vitamin D and Vitamin B12.
Researchers at Britain’s University of Sheffield found that patients with diabetic neuropathy who had lower levels of Vitamin D experienced more nerve pain.Vitamin D is often called the sunlight vitamin because the skin produces Vitamin D in response to the sunlight, but it is difficult to get the required daily amount of Vitamin D from sunlight alone. Even eating foods rich in Vitamin D won’t provide the 600-800 IU required daily to ease nerve pain. Studies show that patients who supplement their Vitamin D reported decreased pain associated with diabetic neuropathy after three months.
Many diabetic patients suffer from B12 deficiencies because the high sugar American diet destroys Vitamin B12 in the intestinal tract. A B12 deficiency damages the sheath that protects nerves, causing nerves to function improperly.Ironically, B12 has proven effective at minimizing symptoms of diabetic neuropathy, including the numbness and prickling associated with it. B12 is often lacking in vegetarian diets because the vitamin doesn’t exist in plant sources, so dietary supplements may be prescribed for vegetarians.
2. Supplement with L-carnitine.
A study published in 2005 showed that Acetyl-L-carnitine improves pain and nerve fiber regeneration in patients with diabetic neuropathy. Although the benefits were greatest in patients with a shorter history of diabetes, the amino acid has been shown to have numerous health benefits related to aging and nerve degeneration. The suggested dosage for healthy adults is 1,000 to 2,000 mg daily, although treatment of diabetic neuropathy may require a larger dosage.
3. Control blood sugar.
Since elevated blood glucose levels are the cause of diabetic neuropathy, it stands to reason that controlling glucose levels will impact the symptoms of neuropathy. Better glucose control will slow the development of neuropathy. Additionally, keeping triglycerides, and cholesterol within healthy ranges will also lessen the symptoms of neuropathy.
4. Eat the right foods.
Controlling blood sugars may prevent nerve damage before it occurs since elevated blood glucose levels are a cause of diabetic neuropathy. Controlling carbohydrate intake and portion size will control blood sugar, and prevent worsening of existing nerve damage. A recent study also indicated that patients suffering from pain associated with neuropathy reported less pain when following a vegan, plant-based diet.
5. Exercise regularly.
Studies show that regular exercise alleviates neuropathic pain in diabetic patients by increasing blood flow to the affected areas. Exercise also causes the body to be more sensitive to insulin and it increases muscle, which can absorb glucose without the aid of insulin, reducing the body’s dependence on it. Aerobic exercise, balance exercise, strength training and flexibility training can all benefit neuropathy patients. Doctors recommend 2.5 hours weekly of aerobic exercise and twice weekly strength training. Low-impact exercise like swimming and yoga may be a good choice for neuropathy patients.
6. Practice meditation.
Maintaining calm and relieving stress can alleviate the effects of neuropathy and improve the mental state of patients with diabetic neuropathy. Additionally, yoga has a tourniquet effect on the blood vessels, damming the flow of blood while the pose is held, and forcing a rush of blood to the extremities when the pose is released. The rush of blood opens the capillaries and improves circulation.
7. Control blood pressure.
Patients with type 2 diabetes frequently suffer from high blood pressure, perhaps due to a sedentary lifestyle, a diet high in fat, and obesity. And because both conditions damage to blood vessels and reduce blood flow, keeping blood pressure in the recommended range is an important part of controlling pain.
8. Limit alcohol and stop smoking.
Smoking increases the likelihood of neuropathy in diabetic patients because it hardens and narrows the arteries, reducing blood flow to the extremities. When the coronary arteries (those that supply oxygen to the heart) are affected, the result can be a heart attack. Likewise, when the blood supply to the brain is affected, the risk of stroke increases. And because research has proven smoking to be a risk factor for insulin resistance, it further compounds the diabetic’s effort to maintain health and limit pain due to neuropathy.
Alcohol poses similar challenges to diabetic patients but can be used safely within limits. Alcohol prevents the liver from producing glucose, so patients should always eat food in conjunction with alcohol to avoid dangerous drops in blood sugar levels. Likewise, diabetic patients should choose drinks that have lower carbohydrate counts like dry wines, low carb beers and distilled spirits such as vodka or whiskey (although it is equally important to monitor the sugar content of the mixers as well.)
9. Ask about alternative therapies.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy involves attaching electrodes to the skin near the site of the affected nerves and applying a gentle electrical current. It isn’t clear whether TENS works because the electricity stimulates nerves in a way that blocks normal pain signals, or because the stimulation of nerves causes the body to produce endorphins which act as natural painkillers. Research clearly demonstrates, however, that TENS therapy can successfully aid treatment of neuropathy.
Massage therapy has also been shown to lower blood glucose, perhaps because it decreases hormones related to stress and anxiety. Therapeutic massage also increases circulation, which may improve insulin efficiency and decrease blood glucose levels.
Because pain often affects the feet first, quality socks and shoes can ease symptoms of diabetic neuropathy. Hikers’ socks, made of thick material and without seams, cushion feet and may ease the pain. Together with high-quality walking shoes or support sandals, they may decrease pain levels for neuropathy patients. Additionally, therapeutic shoes or orthotic shoes may be covered by insurance if prescribed by a doctor.
None of the above treatments should be considered effective on their own, and patients should always consult a physician before beginning any treatment.
Additionally, patients should be willing to seek or accept help during challenging times. Interacting with others can take the focus off of the pain, and meeting others who understand your experiences can boost your mood and outlook.
Implementing lifestyle changes can bring relief to symptoms of diabetic neuropathy and slow the progression of the disease.
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