Herbal Treatment for Neuropathy

Neuropathy means damage to the nerves, which transmit messages from the spinal cord to the brain. Neuropathy often causes numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, called peripheral neuropathy. Physical injury or trauma to nerves most often causes neuropathy; between 60 to 70 percent of diabetics also have neuropathy, ranging from mild to severe, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. A number of diseases, acute infections and toxins can also cause neuropathy. Many people turn to herbs for relief -- but do not take herbs for neuropathy without your doctor's approval.

Cayenne peppers for sale at a market. (Image: jatrax/iStock/Getty Images)

Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne pepper contains capsaicin, a topical pain reliever that can help reduce discomfort from neuropathy. Capsaicin works by depleting substance P, a pain-causing chemical, from nerve receptors. Applying cayenne pepper in a topical solution initially stimulates the release of substance P but then depletes it, which decreases pain. Several over-the-counter topical pain relievers containing cayenne pepper approved for use by United States Food and Drug Administration are available. They appear to help at least some people with neuropathies from shingles; trigeminal neuralgia, which causes facial neuropathy; and diabetic retinopathy, the Diabetes Self-Management website reports. In some cases, topical application of this herb can worsen pain. Wright State University pharmacy suggests starting with the weakest concentration of the herb and increasing over time. It can take one to two months to work up to the strongest dose.

A systematic review of studies conducted by the University of Oxford reported on study findings in the April 24, 2004 issue of the "British Medical Journal." L. Mason and colleagues, of the Pain Research and Nuffield Department of Anaesthetics, reported that capsaicin had poor to moderate effectiveness overall in six separate studies.

Evening Primrose Oil

Evening primrose oil, also called EPO, contains an omega-6 essential fatty acid, gamma-linolenic acid. In some studies, EPO showed benefit for use in diabetic retinopathy. A 2003 article published in "The Journal of the American Board of Family Practice" by Kathleen M. Halat and pharmacist Cathi E. Dennehy of the University of California–San Francisco reviewed studies done on the effectiveness of EPO in treating diabetic neuropathy without causing adverse effects on blood glucose levels. The authors concluded that EPO may have benefit in treating mild diabetic neuropathy, but that patient compliance with the number of pills required, 8 to 12 per day, might be problematic.

St. John's Wort

Antidepressants are often used as treatment for polyneuropathy, neuropathy that affects number of areas rather than just one. St. John's wort, an herb that has antidepressant properties, is also used to treat neuropathy in some patients. A 2001 study reported in "Pain" by Soren Sindrup, M.D., of the University of Southern Denmark found no improvement of polyneuropathy in patients given St. John's wort compared to placebo.

Ginkgo Biloba

In an animal study reported by Yee Suk Kim, M.D., and colleagues of the Catholic University of Seoul and published in the June 2009 issue of "Anesthesia and Analgesia," ginkgo biloba was found to decrease neuropathic pain in rats. Ginkgo may also prove valuable for use in humans, the study concluded.

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