Overview of Neuropathy
Neuropathy is a common term used to refer to nerve damage that most commonly happens in people with diabetes or as a side effect of chemotherapy.(1,2,3,4) Neuropathy affects the nerves and causes painful symptoms. There are several conventional treatments available for treating neuropathy, but there is a lot of research investigating the use of supplements in neuropathy. You will find that taking supplements is a preferable option to the other treatments since there are fewer side effects associated with supplements.(5,6) At the same time, supplements will also benefit your overall health and well-being. The most common type of neuropathy is peripheral neuropathy. The common symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include:
- A burning sensation
- Tingling sensation in the affected part of the body
- Experiencing extreme changes in temperature, commonly in the feet
- Feeling pain even from a light touch
- Having other unusual sensations throughout the body
Although it is possible for any of the body’s peripheral nerves can develop neuropathy, it is most common to experience the symptoms in your hands or feet.
As with taking any medication, you should first discuss the risks and benefits with your doctor. At the same time, if you start to experience any severe side effects after taking the supplements, you should seek immediate medical assistance at the earliest.
Here are some of the best supplements and vitamins for neuropathy that may help reduce the symptoms and prevent them from occurring, while in some cases, they may even reverse the nerve damage.(7)
10 Best Supplements for Neuropathy
Acetyl-l-carnitine is an antioxidant and an amino acid. It is commonly used for increasing energy levels, creating healthy nerve cells, and reducing pain in people with neuropathy.
Acetyl-l-carnitine (ALC) is a commonly used supplement for the treatment of various symptoms, including for neuropathy. Your kidneys and liver produce acetyl-l-carnitine naturally.
People undergoing chemotherapy can find relief from neuropathy after taking acetyl-l-carnitine supplements. However, the research findings remain mixed. Some small studies have shown promising results with the supplement, but other data shows that acetyl-l-carnitine does not work.(8)
A 2016 study found that acetyl-l-carnitine dramatically improved the following:(9)
- Overall physical conditions
- Cancer-related fatigue
- Chemotherapy-induced peripheral sensory neuropathy
Participants of this study received either 3 grams of acetyl-l-carnitine or a placebo for eight weeks. Dramatic differences between the groups were observed at the end of 12 weeks.
Some foods rich in acetyl-l-carnitine include:
- Dairy products
2. B-complex Vitamins
B-complex vitamins are composed of eight B vitamins, including:
- B-1: Thiamine
- B-2: Riboflavin
- B-3: Niacin
- B-5: Pantothenic acid
- B-6: Pyridoxine
- B-7: Biotin
- B-9: Folic acid
- B-12: Cobalamin
Each of these B complex vitamins is essential for your body to function properly.
B vitamins can help treat neuropathy as they help support the proper functioning of your nervous system. In fact, peripheral neuropathy is sometimes caused by a vitamin B deficiency.
If you want to take supplements of B complex vitamins for neuropathy, you need to ensure that you take vitamin B1 (which is thiamine and benfotiamine), B6, and B12. You can either take one B complex supplement or take these separately.(12)
Benfotiamine is a type of vitamin B1, thiamine, and it is believed to help reduce pain and inflammation and also prevent cellular damage.(13)
A vitamin B12 deficiency is one of the causes of peripheral neuropathy, and if left untreated, it can lead to permanent nerve damage.(14)
Taking vitamin B6 supplementation can help maintain the covering on the nerve endings. It is essential, though, that you do not take more than 200 milligrams (mg) of B6 per day as taking higher amounts than that can cause nerve damage and more symptoms of neuropathy.(15)
A 2017 review found that supplementing with B complex vitamins has the potential of promoting nerve repair since B vitamins have the capability to speed up the regeneration of nerve tissue and also improves overall nerve function.(16) B vitamins are also helpful in relieving inflammation and pain, which are common neuropathy symptoms.
A 2008 study found that benfotiamine has a positive impact on diabetic neuropathy. It reduced pain and also improved the overall condition.(17)
However, a smaller 2012 study found that people with type 1 diabetes who were given 300 mg a day of benfotiamine did not show much improvement in nerve function or inflammation.(18) The participants of the study took the supplements for 24 months.
Further studies are needed to confirm the findings of just how much B complex vitamin supplementation can help in neuropathy.
If you want to supplement B group vitamins naturally, you can include the following foods in your diet:
- Meat, fish, poultry
- Low-fat dairy foods
- Fortified cereals
3. Alpha-lipoic Acid
Alpha-lipoic acid is an antioxidant that may help reverse the damage caused inside the body by free radicals. It is also helpful in treating diabetes-associated or chemotherapy-related neuropathy. It helps reduce the levels of blood sugar, improve nerve function, and also alleviate the discomfort caused by neuropathy in the legs and arms.
Alpha-lipoic acid helps reduce neuropathy-related symptoms in the extremities like:
Alpha-lipoic acid can either be administered intravenously or taken in a supplement form. You should take between 600 to 1200 mg per day of alpha-lipoic acid in capsule form. At the same time, there are many foods you can have that include trace amounts of alpha-lipoic acid, such as:
- Red meat
- Brewer’s yeast
- Brussels sprouts
Alpha-lipoic acid has been found to have a positive impact on nerve conduction and significantly reduce neuropathic pain.
A small study in 2017 found that alpha-lipoic acid is effective in protecting the body against oxidative damage in people who have diabetic neuropathy.(19)
A 2006 study looked at the symptoms of neuropathy in participants taking oral doses of alpha-lipoic acid once a day after five weeks.(20) The research team had divided the participants into three groups according to the dosages of alpha-lipoic acid. This included dosages of:
- 600 mg
- 1200 mg
- 1800 mg
Participants had been administered one oral dose of alpha-lipoic acid every day, and the researchers compared this to results from a placebo group. At all three dosages, participants reported a reduction in their symptoms. However, the group that took the higher doses also reported experiencing more side effects.
Another 2005 study found that participants taking 300 mg of alpha-lipoic acid in combination with 150 mg of irbesartan had increased blood flow in their brachial artery, which is located in the upper arm.(21) The participants also experienced lower levels of inflammation, suggesting that the supplementation helped with both inflammation and the blood flow.
According to the Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy, magnesium supplementation can help with chemotherapy-associated neuropathy.(22) However, there is a need for more research to confirm this.
A 2018 study published in the Nutrients journal of people undergoing chemotherapy discovered that people who had higher levels of magnesium in their diet were less likely to experience neuropathy.(23) However, a 2013 study did not get the same outcome. Researchers in this study found that giving calcium and magnesium infusions along with chemotherapy did not have any effect on the symptoms of neuropathy.(24)
If you want to increase the magnesium content in your diet, you can improve your intake of nuts, avocados, dark chocolate, and legumes. If you want to take magnesium supplements, you should first discuss them with your doctor.
5. N-Acetyl Cysteine
N-Acetyl cysteine is a form of cysteine, which is not found naturally in foods. N-Acetyl cysteine is an amino acid and antioxidant and has many medicinal benefits, including reducing inflammation and treating neuropathic pain.(25)
While N-Acetyl cysteine is not found naturally in foods, but you can find cysteine in most protein-rich foods. If you want to take it as a supplement, then the dosage should be 1200 mg once or twice a day. It is always better to ask your doctor about the dosage before you start taking N-Acetyl cysteine supplements.
In 2010, an animal study found that N-Acetyl cysteine may be effective in the treatment of diabetic neuropathy.(26) N-Acetyl cysteine reduces neuropathic pain and helps improve motor coordination. Its antioxidant properties also improve nerve damage caused by apoptosis and oxidative stress.
In 2018, a review of several small studies researching N-Acetyl cysteine found that it improved several neurological disorders, including neuropathy. (27) N-Acetyl cysteine has also been found to help people with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, though there is limited research on this currently.
6. Fish Oil
Fish oil has numerous health benefits, and it has been found to be effective in treating neuropathy because of its potent anti-inflammatory properties and ability to repair damaged nerves in the body. Fish oil also provides relief from pain and muscle soreness. Fish oil is found naturally in many fatty fish and other items and also available in supplement form. If you want to take a supplement, you should take 2400 to 5400 mg of fish oil per day.
Fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. The same omega-3 fatty acids can also be found in the following foods:
- Canola oil
- Cod liver oil
- Chia seeds
- Flax seeds
A 2017 review of several studies looked at the potential of fish oil as a potential treatment for diabetic peripheral neuropathy.(28) Various studies showed that fish oil could slow down the progression and even reverse diabetic neuropathy. The powerful anti-inflammatory properties of fish oil were effective in reducing discomfort and pain, and its neuroprotective properties helped stimulate neuron outgrowth.
According to the Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy, just like magnesium, calcium can also help in chemotherapy-related neuropathy.(22) However, a study published in the Nutrients journal found that having a high dietary intake of calcium did not affect chemotherapy-induced neuropathy in some cases.(23)
If you want to increase your intake of natural sources of calcium, you should have more dairy products like milk and cheese.
Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant that is produced naturally by our bodies. In recent years, glutathione has increasingly become a popular supplement. There are many foods that contain high amounts of glutathione, including:
- Cruciferous vegetables
However, during digestion, glutathione gets broken down, and the body is unable to absorb it. This is why many people need to use other methods of supplementing glutathione in their diet. You should talk to your doctor about what would be the best way of taking glutathione.
Research has found that glutathione may help in cases of diabetic neuropathy, chemotherapy-induced neuropathy, and neuropathy of unknown origin.(29)
Again, not all studies have found glutathione to work in neuropathy, so more research is needed to assess its role in the nervous system.
Glutamine is one of the most abundantly found amino acids in the body. It is known to improve several side effects of chemotherapy, including neuropathy, muscle pain, and inflammation. Glutamine-rich foods include:
Glutamine supplements are also available as an injection or a pill.
Many small studies have discovered that glutamine may reduce or eliminate the severity of neuropathy in people undergoing chemotherapy. However, more research is still needed to confirm these results.(30)
10. Supplements of Deficient Vitamins
In many cases, people develop neuropathy because they are deficient in specific vitamins and nutrients. Taking supplements of these deficient vitamins can help reduce or even reverse the symptoms of neuropathy. Some vitamin and mineral deficiencies that have been known to cause neuropathy include:
- Copper: Copper deficiency causes damage to the nerves and leads to the presence of excess zinc in the bloodstream. People with too little copper may have to undergo lifelong treatment for the deficiency.
- Vitamin E: Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant, and if you are deficient in vitamin E, it can cause damage to the nerves. A condition known as spinocerebellar syndrome can also lead to vitamin E deficiency, though sometimes having an unusual or poor diet and other health conditions can also cause a deficiency of vitamin E.(31)
- Vitamin B6: Vitamin B6 can cause peripheral neuropathy if you take too much or too little of this essential vitamin. Eating disorders and a poor diet are known to cause vitamin B6 deficiency.
- Vitamin B12: People who do not consume any animal products are more susceptible to vitamin B12 deficiency. A deficiency of vitamin B12 can also lead to anemia.(32)
It is important to note that taking too much of any supplement can also cause serious health issues, including worsening of neuropathy. If you suspect you have a nutrient deficiency, you should talk to your doctor about checking the levels of essential vitamins and minerals. Consulting a nutritionist about which supplement to take and at what dosage will help you correct any deficiencies and also reduce the symptoms of neuropathy.
It is important to talk to your doctor before you start taking any supplements for the symptoms of neuropathy. Your doctor will be able to give you personalized help about the safety and efficacy of various supplements given your health condition. Many people with neuropathy find that they have to go through a process of trial and error before finding the proper treatment. Neuropathy is a treatable symptom, and taking the right supplements will help you manage the condition.
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