Coping With Nerve Pain and Vitamin B Relief
Last updated on October 18th, 2017
Diabetic nerve pain is also known as diabetic neuropathy. It is caused by the high blood sugar levels seen in diabetes that damages the nerves. Some diabetics with damage to their nerves will have no real symptoms, while others will complain of numbness, tingling, or pain in the toes, feet, legs, arms, and hands. There can be nerve damage internally as well that can affect all the organs of the body, including the male and female genitalia, heart, and GI tract.
Diabetic nerve pain is extremely common, affecting 60-70 percent of diabetics. Nerve pain in diabetic patients can happen at any time in the course of the disease but seems to increase the longer you have diabetes and how well in control are your blood sugars. The older you are, the greater is the risk of having nerve pain from diabetes. Those diabetics who have had diabetes for 25 years or more have the greatest risk of developing diabetic nerve pain. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity also contribute to the finding of diabetic nerve pain.
Causes of Diabetic Nerve Pain
There is a variety of causes behind diabetic nerve pain. The main reason is out of control blood sugar levels but there are other factors to consider as well, including the following:
- Smoking, alcohol abuse, and illicit drug use
- Hereditary factors that cause an increased risk of nerve disease
- Carpal tunnel syndrome or other mechanical reason for nerve damage
- Autoimmune diseases that affect the nerves
- Damage to the blood vessels that are supposed to supply key nerves in the body
- High blood sugar
- High fat levels in the blood
- Low insulin levels
- Having diabetes for a long time
Typical Symptoms of Diabetic Nerve Pain
The symptoms depend on what type of neuropathy you have and on which nerves are affected by nerve damage. Usually the first symptoms are a sensation of tingling, burning pain, or numbness in the toes and feet. Some diabetics have no symptoms, while others will start out with minimal symptoms that progressively worsen over time and spread from the toes up the feet or from the fingers up the arm.
Symptoms of diabetic nerve pain can involve the motor nerves, the sensory nerves, or the autonomic nerves. Some patients have neuropathy of just one nerve, while others have damage to many nerves.
Common symptoms of damage to the nerves include the following:
- Severe and sudden pain along the route of the nerve(s)
- Difficulty urinating
- Feeling dizzy
- Feeling faint
- Having vaginal dryness or erectile dysfunction
- Muscle weakness
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Nausea, vomiting, or indigestion
- Muscle atrophy of the hands or feet
- Numbness or parasthesias (tingling sensations) of the extremities, starting with the fingers and toes.
Types of Diabetic Neuropathy
Diabetic neuropathy can affect the diabetic in several different ways, depending on the type of nerves that are involved in nerve damage. These types include:
- Peripheral neuropathy. In this case, the pain and numbness is located in the distal aspect of the extremities, such as the fingers and toes. This is the most common type of diabetic neuropathy.
- Proximal neuropathy. This involves the onset of weakness in the legs, such as the hips, thighs, or butt.
- Autonomic neuropathy. This type of neuropathy causes digestive changes, changes in bladder and bowel function, sexual abilities, and the ability to perspire. It can affect the blood pressure as well as the heart, eyes, and lungs. It can be dangerous because it can make the diabetic unaware that he or she is having a hypoglycemic reaction in which the blood sugar is too low.
- Focal neuropathy. This is when there is pain and weakness of one nerve or a collection of nerves in any part of the body.
The B Vitamins and Nerve Pain
It turns out that peripheral neuropathy from diabetes or from another condition can be easily managed without having to take expensive prescription drugs. The B vitamins, especially vitamin B12, can improve the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy and other types of peripheral neuropathy. The exact amount of B vitamins you need to take for peripheral neuropathy is not clear but you can start by taking a vitamin B supplement to see if it affects the nerve pain.
There are 13 types of B vitamins, all of which are important to nerve function. Common B vitamins include thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B6), and folate. B complex vitamins also include vitamin B12, pantothenic acid (B5), inositol, choline, PABA, and biotin. You need all these B vitamins for the proper health of the nerves.
One disadvantage of being diabetic is that the elevated blood sugar levels seen in diabetes diminishes the amount of vitamin B12 in the GI tract. This puts the diabetic at a high risk of vitamin B12 deficiency, which can cause the nerves to be damaged.
Most people do not get enough vitamin B12 through the diet alone, but it can be found in animal meats, such as dairy, shellfish, seafood, and meats. If you eat enough of these foods and the vitamin B12 level is still low, injections of vitamin B12 can be given or you can take vitamin B12 supplements in oral form. Some people lack intrinsic factor, which is necessary for the vitamin B12 to be absorbed so that shots are the only real way to get enough vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 has other beneficial properties besides its effectiveness against diabetic neuropathy. For example, vitamin B12 is important in the synthesis of DNA, which is necessary for the life of the cells in the body. It is necessary for red blood cell function so that people with vitamin B12 deficiency also suffer from the fatigue, irritability, dizziness, and listlessness seen in various anemic conditions.
People who are diabetic and who are also vegetarians or vegans may have a difficult time getting enough vitamin B12 in the system through diet alone. You need to eat dairy, seafood, and meat products in order to have B12. Vegetarians and vegans may need to take a B12 supplement that has at least 10 micrograms of B12 in it. Some non-meat foods are fortified with vitamin B12 so that you can get your vitamin B12 that way.
- Diabetic Neuropathy: The Nerve Damage of Diabetes. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/Diabetes/diabetic-neuropathies-nerve-damage-diabetes/Pages/diabetic-neuropathies-nerve-damage.aspx. Accessed 5/11/16.
- Inexpensive Vitamin treats “So Many” Diseases it threatens big pharma. http://naturalsociety.com/vitamin-b12-treats-so-many-diseases-big-pharma/. Accessed 5/11/16.