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Herbal Treatment for Peripheral Neuropathy

by
author image Dr. Susan Jewell
Health expert and network TV/radio/Internet host, Dr. Susan Jewell has appeared on CBS, Fox News, ABC and NBC. She is a health blogger and producer, and currently produces several webisode/TV series on "how-tos on health and living green." Dr. Jewell trained in clinical research medicine in cancer and AIDS/HIV at NIH and UCLA.
Herbal Treatment for Peripheral Neuropathy
Flaxseeds, garlic, cayenne and other herbs and spices on a board. Photo Credit marrakeshh/iStock/Getty Images

Peripheral neuropathy affects the extremities of the body, such as the feet and hands. It can be caused by trauma to the nerves supplying the limbs or uncontrolled blood sugar levels in diabetes. Managing neuropathic symptoms, for example, severe pain, loss of motor and sensory functions and preventing further progression of nerve damage, is important. For diabetic neuropathy, reducing and controlling blood sugar levels are first-line strategies. Herbal therapy may be used to alleviate or decrease the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy. Always consult a doctor before starting alternative therapies.

Biochemical Properties

Herbs have different biochemical properties and mode of actions in the body. For example, oils from evening primrose herb and flaxseed contain high levels of essential fatty acids necessary to build healthy myelin sheaths around nerve fibers. Cayenne peppers contain capsaicin, a substance used to inhibit pain symptoms in neuropathy. The oils from the borage herb contain gamma linolenic acid, which may confer positive benefits for diabetic neuropathy. Garlic has allyl propyl disulphide and sulpur properties to increase insulin sensitivity in cells. St John's wort possess hypericin, an anti-inflammatory substance and anaglesic agent.

Safety and Effectiveness

The Food and Drug Administration does not strictly control or regulate the use of herbs in the United States. The effectiveness and safety of herbs have not been extensively studied for the treatment of neuropathy, and potential adverse effects from toxicity and overdosing can occur. For example, evening primrose oil can induce seizures or potentially lower blood pressure when taken in conjunction with some prescription drugs. Patients taking St John's wort should avoid prolonged sun exposure, since it may cause photodermatitis. Each herb possess different purity, effectiveness and strength. Always inform or consult a medical doctor before starting herbal treatments.

Drugs and Herb Interactions

Studies have shown potential dangers from mixing herbs with drugs. For example, St. John's wort can affect the functions of prescription drugs, such as contraceptive pills, blood thinners, MAO-inhibitor drugs or asthma medications. Herbs and spices, like garlic and ginger, may cause prolonged bleeding tendencies in certain individuals. Some herbs can cause allergies and skin reactions, such as itching, puritis, hives and rash. Always inform and consult a physician prior to stating herbal therapy.

Benefits of Herbs

Some benefits from using herbs to treat peripheral neuropathy are cost-effectiveness, fewer potential side effects, and fewer risks for drug addiction, dependency and abuse. Herbs can be given or delivered as oral tablets, powders, paste, creams, tinctures or emulsifying oils. Herbs may possess potential for slowing the rate of nerve damage. An article published in 2004 online in the Cochrane Database Systematic Review by researcher JP Lui showed that Chinese herbs, such as Jiangtang, holy basil leaves, and Xianzhen Pian showed significant hypoglycemic effects in Type 2 diabetic patients.

Herbs to Improve Symptoms

Some herbs may improve symptoms of neuropathy. A study published in "Diabetes Care" in July 2006, cited the significant improvement of symptoms in patient taking oral aipoic Acid. Certain natural herbs, such as evening primrose oil, have shown some benefits for reversing nerve damage and may help to improve nerve conduction velocity in neuropathic patients. An article published in the "British Journal of Pharmacology" by researcher N. Cameron concluded that evening primrose oil may help improve and reverse nerve conduction deficits in neuropathy.

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