Whether caused by an injury, chemotherapy or a medical condition like diabetes, nerve damage can be very difficult to treat. A damaged nerve often produces burning pain along the course of the nerve. Numbness, tingling and muscle weakness may also occur.
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Herbs will not completely heal a damaged nerve, but a small amount of research suggests that certain herbs may provide some benefit. Most of the research comes from studies performed in a laboratory. Very few studies have involved humans. If you want to try herbs for nerve damage, first see your doctor to determine whether this is safe in your situation. Most herbs have possible side effects or can interact with medications.
St. John's Wort
St. John’s wort — also called Hypericum perforatum — is one of the most common herbs with possible health benefits. Laboratory research indicates that it has both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Anti-inflammatory effects reduce inflammation and antioxidant effects counteract the harmful effects of oxygen-rich molecules that destroy structures within cells.
Since inflammation and excess oxygen-rich molecules are common in and around damaged nerves, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects may be beneficial. A small number of animal studies have shown that St. John’s wort may reduce damage in injured nerves and possibly even help them heal. No good quality study has examined these effects in humans.
However, an article in the February 2017 issue of “Complementary Therapies in Medicine” described a woman with trigeminal neuralgia — pain due to a damaged trigeminal nerve, located in the head — whose symptoms disappeared with taking St. John’s wort. Supplements containing St. John’s wort are sold in capsule or liquid form.
Flax — also known as Linum usitatissimum, common flax or linseed — is another herb with possible medicinal effects. The seeds, called flaxseeds, are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids are well known for their ability to lower blood cholesterol levels. They also have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, potentially reducing nerve damage.
A study published in “DARU Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences” in May 2014 examined the effects of flaxseed oil in adults with carpal tunnel syndrome — a condition caused by damage to the median nerve at the wrist. When applied directly to the skin over the nerve, the oil improved symptoms and nerve function. Flaxseed oil supplements contain more omega-3 fatty acids than ground flaxseed, so supplements may be more beneficial for nerve damage.
Turmeric and Curcumin
Turmeric — also called Curcumana longa — is a herb belonging to the ginger family. It is used extensively in traditional Indian (Ayurvedic) and traditional Chinese medicine. Turmeric is the spice that gives curry its yellow color. The active component in turmeric is curcumin.
Laboratory studies have shown that curcumin has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Some animal studies suggest that it may reduce nerve damage, but no human studies have been published so far. Turmeric is available as tea or a ground spice, but these forms of natural turmeric contain only a small amount of the active ingredient. Turmeric or curcumin supplements contain much more curcumin.
Arnica, vervain, valerian, black cohash, meadowsweet and ginger are examples of other herbs commonly advertised as being able to heal damaged nerves. These herbs have anti-inflammatory or antioxidant effects in laboratory or animal studies but have not been properly studied in humans.
Various combinations of herbs, such as those used in traditional Chinese medicine, are also said to help heal damaged nerves. However, no good quality studies in humans have indicated that they are beneficial.
Reviewed and revised by Mary D. Daley, M.D.