Have diabetes–and frequently notice numbness, tingling, pain, and weakness in your hands and feet? Chances are, you're experiencing early symptoms of diabetic neuropathy (1, 2, 3). Diabetic… What? Diabetic neuropathy is simply the medical term for nerve damage caused by high levels of sugar in the blood. It's a progressive disease that has the potential to affect virtually any nerve in your body. Imaginably, diabetic neuropathy carries the potential to cause serious health dangers, including incontinence, irregular heartbeats, and gastroparesis (i.e. when food can't move through the digestive system).
If you’re indeed diagnosed with diabetic neuropathy, the first course of action will always be to bring your blood sugars down (4). This will likely necessitate medication for your blood sugar. Most treatment plans will also call for managing existing symptoms (be it tingling or pain) with over-the-counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen or aspirin. But what if you'd prefer not to take NSAIDs, especially on a long-term basis? Does that mean you have to learn to live with all the pain that comes with diabetic neuropathy? Good news: you don’t. There are plenty of natural treatment options that’ll help you go about life normally.
#1 – Stay Physically Active
The benefits of exercise can't be overstated, especially for individuals with diabetes. Regular exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight, boost your body's sensitivity to insulin (thus controlling blood sugar levels), and lower harmful LDL cholesterol and triglycerides–in addition to all the other benefits of exercise (5, 6, 7, 8). And even better: according to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Diabetes Complications, individuals with diabetes who followed a regular exercise routine experienced significant reductions in pain and neuropathic symptoms, plus increased intraepidermal nerve fiber branching (9)!
A complete beginner to fitness? Be sure to consult your doctor before starting on a new exercise program. And to begin, set modest goals. For instance, start by taking a brisk walk around the neighborhood for 10 minutes each day. Then, after a week or so, aim to increase either the session's duration or intensity. Keep in mind that it doesn't take much to see health improvements. Studies consistently show that mild to moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (e.g. cycling for 10 to 30 minutes) 3 to 5 days weekly is enough to produce significant blood sugar control improvements (10).
#2 – Quit Smoking
You probably already know this: smokers are 30 to 40% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than nonsmokers (11). Worse still, smoking can also make managing the chronic disease more difficult because high levels of nicotine can reduce insulin's effectiveness–causing smokers to need more insulin to regulate blood sugar levels (12, 13, 14). Meaning? You’re more likely to experience worsening symptoms of diabetic neuropathy. Another reason you should consider going nicotine-free is that smoking affects your blood circulation (15). Your blood vessels narrow, and less oxygenated blood gets delivered to your cells, tissues, and organs. Without healthy blood circulation, you may experience heightened pain and/ or numbness from your diabetic neuropathy.
And research supports this view. According to numerous studies on the topic, people with diabetes who use tobacco in any form are more likely than diabetic nonsmokers to develop nerve damage (16)! So–one thing's clear: eliminating smoking habits can help reduce diabetic neuropathy symptoms.
#3 – Apply Capsaicin To Affected Areas
Can’t live without spice? Then you’re going to love this natural treatment option for diabetic neuropathy. Cayenne pepper is an aromatic spice created by seeding, drying, and grinding the Capsicum annuum pepper. These fresh, red-colored peppers get their spiciness from a substance known as capsaicin. And impressively, when delivered at a potent enough concentration, capsaicin exerts a therapeutic effect–triggering a biochemical reaction that is both anti-inflammatory and analgesic (i.e. pain-relieving) (17, 18, 19, 20, 21). As a result, capsaicin has long been explored as a means of treating neuropathic pain.
Research shows that topical application of capsaicin doesn’t only help relieve pain in diabetic neuropathy; it’s also a viable pain-management option for various other types of neuropathic pain. For instance: according to a 2009 study published in Therapeutic Drug Monitoring, individuals with HIV who’d used a high-dose capsaicin patch for 60 minutes reported a twofold decrease in pain compared to those using a placebo (22).
#4 – Try Acupuncture
Just so you know, acupuncture is a component of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and involves the insertion of tiny needles into the skin at various pressure points across the body (23). While the mental image of getting stuck with countless needles may make you wince in pain, the truth is that the treatment itself is meant to relieve pain and discomfort. That's because the insertion of needles into your body's pressure points helps release endorphins–which are your body's natural painkillers–in the muscles, spine, and brain (24, 25). In other words: acupuncture changes your body's response to pain and is an excellent natural treatment for diabetic neuropathy.
There have been several studies that confirm acupuncture’s effectiveness as an alternative pain-management option for diabetic neuropathy. A 2007 pilot study, for example, highlighted that acupuncture helped improve symptoms to a greater extent for neuropathic patients than those receiving traditional medical care (26). That said, be aware that not all individuals are suitable for acupuncture. If you are medically diagnosed with a bleeding disorder, are pregnant, or have heart issues, please consult your doctor on the suitability of acupuncture for yourself. It's always better to be safe than sorry, after all.
#5 – Practice Relaxation Techniques
You know stress plays a contributing factor to your acne flare-ups, occasional headaches, and digestive issues. But here's something you might not have suspected. Stress could be exacerbating your symptoms of diabetic neuropathy–worsening the pain you feel daily! There's plenty of studies highlighting the association between increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol and chronic pain. For example, a 2008 study published in Stress showed that individuals suffering from chronic pain had higher cortisol levels in their hair, an indicator of prolonged stress (27). Thus, highlighting just how important it is for you to learn how to de-stress.
And this is where relaxation techniques come in. Of course, relaxation techniques won't cure diabetic neuropathy, but they can help you manage the pain. An increasingly popular relaxation technique is meditation–commonly defined as the process of training your mind to focus and redirect your thoughts. Studies have been consistently shown meditation to live up to its reputation as a stress buster (28, 29). It has even been demonstrated to improve symptoms of stress-related conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome (30, 31, 32)!
#6 – Take Warm Baths
If you ever need a reason to just chill out in a warm bath… Here’s one. Taking a warm bath can help alleviate pain symptoms from neuropathy. That’s because warm water increases blood circulation throughout your body–in turn, decreasing pain symptoms resulting from numbness or tingling sensations (33). Even better, according to a 2017 study published in Temperature, soaking in a hot bath can mimic the effects of exercise on lowering blood sugar levels (34). This is thought to be due to the way heat alters insulin absorption. More specifically, scientists believe that as extreme heat can cause blood vessel dilation, this can, in turn, hasten insulin absorption, which lowers blood sugar.
As neuropathy can prevent you from gauging the actual temperature of your bathwater, you run the risk of burning yourself. That’s why you should always use a thermometer to check the water temperature. Also, make sure that you don’t have any cuts or burns before getting into the tub, as this could lead to a nasty infection.
#7 – Take Alpha-Lipoic Acid
Researchers have now established that oxidative stress–which happens when there’s an imbalance between free radical activity and antioxidant activity–promotes the development of diabetic neuropathy (35, 36). When there are more free radicals present than can be kept in balance by antioxidants in your body, the free radicals can start doing damage to your nerves. Thus, highlighting the need for you to take in more antioxidants that'll neutralize these damage-causing free radicals. This is where alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) comes in. As a powerful antioxidant, ALA has been shown in many studies to ease nerve damage symptoms–and lower the risk of diabetic retinopathy (i.e. eye damage) that can occur with uncontrolled diabetes (37, 38, 39).
That's not all the benefits you'd see with ALA, either. It's been shown to lower blood sugar levels in animal and human studies (40, 41). Other studies have also found that ALA may reduce insulin resistance and lower fasting blood glucose levels in individuals with metabolic syndrome! You could obtain ALA from your natural diet; it’s found in many foods, like broccoli, red meat, and rice bran (42). But they only contain tiny amounts of ALA.
If you suspect that you’re not getting sufficient ALA from your diet, it’s time to consider supplementing with Dr. Danielle’s Alpha Lipoic Acid. Each serving delivers 550 mg of potent ALA–effectively supporting your fight against pain symptoms.