Susan B. Sloane, BS, RPh, CDE, has been a registered pharmacist for more than 20 years and a Certified Diabetes Educator for more than 15 years. Her two sons were diagnosed with diabetes, and since then, she has been dedicated to promoting wellness and optimal outcomes as a patient advocate, information expert, educator, and corporate partner.
Diabetic peripheral neuropathy, or DPN, is one of the most common complications of diabetes, and it is also perhaps one of the most frustrating.
Neuropathy means nerve damage. Damage to peripheral nerves interferes with communication in the affected area of theses nerves to one another, the spinal cord, and the brain. If messages get distorted, like static on a telephone line, pain or abnormal sensations can ensue. Common symptoms of DPN include stabbing pain, tingling, burning, sensitivity to touch, and even numbness.
We do seem to take for granted the thousands of nerve connections that guide our everyday life until something goes wrong. Do you know how cold water feels dripping down your leg after a swim? What happens when you feel that cold water, but nothing is physically on that leg? DPN can cause symptoms like this, and it does not manifest the same way in any two given people, as a rule.
DPN is the result of a cascade of events inside of the body that cause nerves to misfire. The main culprit in diabetes is blood sugar elevations. This creates a toxic environment in the body, causing oxidation and the release of substances that make our systems unbalanced and ripe for injury.
Blood sugar control is one of the best ways to stop the progression of neuropathy and, in some cases, help reverse some of the symptoms and help the nerves heal. Nerves cannot heal properly if the surrounding environment remains toxic because of high blood sugars.
Recent studies have shown that this toxic environment in our bodies leads to overproduction of some substances and underproduction of others. One such byproduct that is increased in this environment is homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine in the blood lead to blood vessel damage, according to several studies.
How can you prevent DPN?
B vitamins and folic acid can help keep nitric oxide and other metabolites at healthy levels in the body, helping prevent oxidative stress. Mentanx®, which is a highly purified form of “active” vitamins in the B family, has shown promising results in helping neuropathy. It is a prescription item and should not be used by everyone; it depends on several factors that your healthcare team will assess for you.
Relaxation techniques, such as biofeedback and yoga, can also be very helpful for neuropathic pain. You can go to a professional or even buy books on tape for some relaxation tips. Doing something you love, such as playing with your kids or grandkids, can take your mind away from your pain.
You can also make your home more “user friendly” by incorporating tools to protect your joints and muscles. Examples may include replacing hard-to-turn knobs with levers, which require less force to operate. Even buying vegetables already chopped eliminates strain on the hands from chopping or cutting.
There are many ways to find relief from DPN, starting with good blood sugar control. Stay well my friends!