If you hit your thumb with a hammer, the cause of the pain is clear. Not so with the mysterious ailment known as neuropathy, or nerve pain. We know that chronic conditions such as diabetes can cause peripheral neuropathy, or nerve pain in the legs (and very occasionally in the hands and arms). Some medications provoke neuropathy as a side effect; statins may be among the most commonly prescribed drugs that produce this effect. Shingles is itself a very painful affliction, but for some people the nerve pain that lingers after the rash has healed (known as postherpetic neuralgia) is lasting and excruciating. According to one study, vitamin deficiencies, particularly in vitamin B12, can lead to nerve pain.1 In that case, the pain should respond to vitamin supplementation, either oral or injected.2 But it is by no means obvious why some people develop trigeminal neuralgia, which is pain that runs along the path of the trigeminal nerve in the face and head.
Doctors have a few medications that they often prescribe for pain rooted in irritation of the nerves. Medications initially developed for treating epilepsy are often helpful: Neurontin, Topamax, or Lyrica. In some cases physicians prescribe antidepressants for the pain itself rather than for the low mood it might understandably produce. Old medications like amitriptyline or nortriptyline, and newer ones like Cymbalta, may be used in this manner.
Research shows that diabetics with peripheral neuropathy may get relief from alpha-lipoic acid, a nonprescription dietary supplement.3 Many readers are enthusiastic about the value of the herb turmeric, either alone or in combination with bromelain and boswellia, but at this time the research is limited to investigating basic mechanisms of its action in animals.4
Turmeric is excellent for nerve damage. I had a pinched nerve in my neck. I went to the emergency department, but the doctors said they had no painkiller for nerves. Instead they gave me a high-powered pain pill. Those pain pills almost killed me—my reaction to them set the nerve on fire. The pain was so great that I cried all the time. For 14 days I couldn’t sleep for more than a few minutes here and there. Once I stopped the pain pills, the pain eased up somewhat. I asked at the health food store if there was anything to help the pain in my neck. They recommended turmeric, so I got a bottle, and with the very first pill I could feel the pain going away. The turmeric I take is in a combination formula. I use Solaray Turmeric Special Formula. It combines turmeric with bromelain and boswellia, and I have gotten good relief from it for five years.
I’ve found turmeric to be very helpful for pain associated with multiple sclerosis. I gave up on all the medications prescribed for MS pain—none gave me any relief. But I’ve taken two capsules of turmeric daily for almost two years and have had dramatic relief from pain in my feet and legs.
Bromelain, boswellia, and turmeric are all traditional Indian ayurvedic medicines with strong anti-inflammatory properties. Bromelain is an enzyme derived from pineapple. Boswellia comes from a tree resin similar to frankincense. Turmeric is the yellow spice in curry powder and yellow mustard. Other readers have also reported that this combination is especially helpful for nerve pain.
My fingers and toes started tingling unpleasantly about three months ago. My internist recently did blood work and found no diabetes or other problems. When the nurse asked me if I was still taking my usual medicines and vitamins, she mentioned B12. It dawned on me then that I had discontinued it when I was suffering from a nasty coughing spell. The tingling began about the time I stopped taking the vitamin B12. The doctor wanted to refer me to a neurologist, but I asked if I could delay that until I began taking B12 again to see if the tingling disappeared. I’ve just begun taking the supplement, but it seems to be working. Others might like to know about this.
Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet is called peripheral neuropathy. A fairly common complication of diabetes, it can be caused by some medications, including certain cholesterol-lowering drugs, cancer treatments, and antimicrobials. Inadequate vitamin B12 can also contribute to neuropathy. We hope that returning to your regular vitamin regimen will relieve the tingling.
Joe Graedon & Terry Graedon, The People’s Pharmacy: Quick & Handy Home Remedies, published by National Geographic