Diabetes itself is extremely common, affecting about one in every three adults in the U.S., and diabetic neuropathy is one of the most likely complications to develop as a side effect because high blood sugar levels affect nerve fibers throughout the body. Neuropathy is a pathological condition that encompasses more than 100 different forms and manifestations of nerve damage, both in people with diabetes and those without. (1)
Diabetic neuropathy (also sometimes called peripheral neuropathy) is the term for nerve damage caused by diabetes, a chronic condition that occurs when the body doesn’t use the hormone insulin properly. Neuropathy can form anywhere but is most likely to affect nerves running through the limbs, hands and feet.
Not every person with diabetes symptoms develops complications such as neuropathy, but many do. In fact, up to 60 percent to 70 percent of all diabetics experience some form of neuropathy. For some people, only mild symptoms develop from nerve damage, such as tingling or numbness in the limbs. But for others, neuropathy causes a good amount of pain, digestive issues, problems with the heart and blood vessels, the inability to go about life normally, and even death if major organs are affected badly enough.
Diabetic neuropathy can trigger a cascade of events that lead to even more serious complications. Just like with diabetes itself, there is no known “cure” for peripheral neuropathy, only ways to manage it and stop progression, similarly to the natural treatments for diabetes. It’s a dangerous problem to have, but fortunately most people are able to keep it under control by regulating their blood sugar levels, changing their diets and adopting healthier lifestyles overall, all of which help control their diabetes.
1. Manage Blood Sugar Levels
The very best thing you can do to help prevent or control neuropathy is to manage your blood sugar levels. Maintaining blood sugar consistently within a healthy range is the most important thing to prevent permanent damage to the nerves, blood vessels, eyes, skin and other body parts before complications develop.
Studies have found that poor blood sugar greatly increases risk for peripheral neuropathy, which accounts for hospitalizations more frequently than other complications of diabetes and also is the most frequent cause of non‐traumatic amputations. (2) The best way to do this is through a combination of frequent blood glucose testing, eating a healthy diet, exercising, and working with your doctor to determine if you need diabetes medicine and/or insulin therapy.
2. Follow a Healthy Diet
Your diet has a direct impact on your blood sugar levels, so it’s the first place to start in order to manage diabetic symptoms and complications. Focus your diet around unprocessed, whole foods, and limit or reduce your intake of refined carbs, added sugars and sugary drinks to help stabilize blood sugar.
Some simple ways to do this include drinking water/herbal tea over soda, juice and other sweetened drinks; eating plenty of healthy fats and lean proteins over refined carbohydrates; buying less packaged foods and always checking labels for added ingredients or sugars when you do; and managing your weight more easily by cooking at home and using techniques like roasting, baking, steaming or broiling over frying.
Other helpful tips for managing blood sugar with your diet include:
3. Exercise and Try Physical Therapy
Exercising regularly is one of the simplest ways to manage your diabetes symptoms, help you maintain a healthy weight, control blood sugar and high blood pressure symptoms, increase strength, and improve range of motion — in addition to all the other benefits of exercise. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Diabetes Complications found that regular exercise caused significant reductions in pain and neuropathic symptoms in diabetics and increased intraepidermal nerve fiber branching. (3)
Work your way up to exercising for 30–60 minutes daily, doing low-impact exercises like cycling, swimming or walking. This helps your body respond to insulin better and lower blood glucose, possibly even to the point where you can take less medications. Exercise also helps protect nerves by improving circulation, reducing cholesterol and lowering stress, which can raise your glucose levels and increase inflammation.
Physical therapy can also be helpful because it increases muscle strength, mobility and daily functioning. You can talk to your physical therapist about any pain you’re experiencing and try special orthopedic inserts or shoes, which can help reduce symptoms and improve your ability to get around normally.
4. Reduce Exposure to Toxins and Quit Smoking
People with neuropathy are more likely to develop kidney stone symptoms and other kidney problems, including kidney disease, which is why it’s important to take added stress off your kidneys in order to prevent an accumulation of toxins in the blood that worsens the problem. Lower your exposure to pesticide chemicals sprayed on non-organic crops, chemical household cleaners and beauty products, unnecessary prescriptions or antibiotics, and too much alcohol and cigarettes/recreation drugs.
Quit smoking as quickly as possible, since if you have diabetes and use tobacco in any form, you’re more likely than diabetic nonsmokers to develop nerve damage and even have a heart attack or stroke. (4)
5. Manage Stress
Stress makes inflammation worse and raises the risk for diabetics complications of all sorts. Exercising, meditating or practicing healing prayer, spending more time doing hobbies or being in nature, and being around family and friends are all natural stress relievers you should try. Acupuncture is another beneficial treatment that not only helps lower stress and pain, but also has been shown to be ease symptoms of neuropathy safely with very few, if any, side effects. (5)
6. Lower Pain Naturally
If you’ve already developed neuropathy and are looking for ways to lower pain and improve daily functions, you’ll be happy to hear that a combination of natural remedies can help. Studies have shown that several natural anti-inflammatories and antioxidants help stop nerve damage from progression and lower pain. These include:
It might take some time to see improvements, so be patient and try different combinations until you find relief. When pain gets really bad you can also take an over the-counter painkiller when necessary like ibuprofen.
7. Protect Your Skin and Feet
Make sure to monitor your symptoms and look for any signs of new nerve damage to your skin, feet, legs or hands. Inspect yourself for any new signs of injuries, such as blisters, sores, and ulcers. Foot care and skin care are important parts of treatment and prevention for diabetic neuropathy, according to the American Diabetes Association. (9) Wash your skin and feet/toenails carefully daily, especially in skin folds where bacteria and moisture can build up and cause infections.
Wear clean socks and clothing, and keep delicate skin out of the very hot temperatures (such as very warm showers) and the sun. Cut your toenails, file corns, and see a doctor if you notice redness, swelling or infection forming. Some studies have also found that skin creams containing capsaicin from cayenne pepper can help reduce pain sensations in some people, although use these carefully since it’s possible they can cause burning and skin irritations in some people. (10)