Dr. Dale Peterson, neuropathy, diabetic neuropathy, idiopathic peripheral polyneuropathy, statin, alpha-lipoic acid, benfotiamine, laser, Neurolumen

Ask the Doc: Neuropathy

Ask the Doc: Neuropathy

© 2011 Dale Peterson, M.D and www.drdalepeterson.com

Can anything be done to improve neuropathy or to slow its progression? B.W.

Dear B.W.: Neuropathy is a condition in which the nerves carrying information to and from a part of the body have been damaged and are not working properly. The most common type of neuropathy is called peripheral neuropathy. It occurs most commonly in the feet, but it can also involve the hands. When multiple nerves are damaged simultaneously the condition is called polyneuropathy. If the cause is unknown it is said to be "idiopathic”, which is a medical term meaning "we don’t have a clue why this is happening!”

The most common cause of idiopathic peripheral polyneuropathy in the United States is the use of statin drugs. Widely prescribed to lower cholesterol, the drugs produce many adverse effects within the body. One is damage to the nerves supplying sensation to the hands and feet. If a person taking a statin drug begins to develop polyneuropathy the drug should be discontinued immediately. Unfortunately, few physicians are aware of this effect of statin drugs. In most cases they will continue to prescribe them as the nerve damage progressively worsens.

Diabetes is the leading known cause of neuropathy. The condition begins with a loss of sensation in the toes and feet. Over time it can cause tingling or a "pins and needles” sensation in the feet and occasionally in the hands. In some instances it will progress to the point that severe pain is constantly present.

The progression of diabetic neuropathy can be slowed by tightly controlling blood sugar levels, but sugar control alone will rarely stop it entirely. Fortunately, at least two nutritional supplements have been found to be helpful in slowing or even reversing diabetic neuropathy. The first is alpha-lipoic acid (ALA). Placebo-controlled studies have shown that ALA is able to significantly improve the symptoms of neuropathy, including pain, in a relatively short period of time. Amounts of 600 mg. or more daily have resulted in a 50 % reduction in the Total Symptom Score (TSS), a measure of the severity of neuropathy.

The second is Benfotiamine, a fat-soluble form of thiamine (vitamin B1). Benfotiamine appears to block the damaging effects of elevated sugar in the body. The dosage range is from 250 – 600 mg twice daily.

Low-intensity laser therapy may also ease neuropathy symptoms. This may be accomplished by passing a laser pointer slowly and repeatedly over the area for 15 – 20 minutes daily. Dr. Peterson

2013 Addendum:  Neurolumen, a device that combines nerve stimulation, low-intensity laser, and LED is now available.  It is extremely effective in improving neuropathy.  I oversaw the pilot study that led to the development of the device and routinely see improvement in neuropathy symptoms regardless of the cause.

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