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Supplements That Help Protect Against Diabetic Neuropathy

Updated on January 19, 2013

Diabetic neurophathy is nerve damage due to chronic high blood glucose levels as in the case of people with diabetes. Over the long term, high blood sugar causes damages to many parts of the body where the blood reaches. This is because the excessive glucose, or sugar, will glycate (or stick to) proteins found within the body.

The Hemoglobin A1C test is a measure of what percentage of the red blood cells have been glycated with glucose. In fact, that is one of the ways in which diabetes is diagnosed (see diagnosis criteria on WebMD). If hemoglobin A1C is over 6.5%, that is defined as having diabetes. Anything between 5.7% to 6.4% is pre-diabetes. An 6% of glycated hemoglobin roughly equates to an estimated average blood glucose level of 126 mg/dL or 7.0 mmol/L [reference]

Half the people with diabetes eventually gets neuropathy around 10 to 20 years after time of diabetes was diagnosed.[reference] Overall, 60% to 70% of all diabetics have some form of nerve damage.[reference]

Of course, the best way to avoid neuropathy is to get the blood sugar within normal range. And the two most important natural ways of doing this is through regular exercise and a diet low in refined carbohydrates and sugar. Although, for someone with neurophathy, one has to be careful not to over-exert too strenuously as blood vessels are more fragile. Check with your doctor first.

If that is not enough, some doctors may prescribe diabetic medication and insulin treatments. And there are supplements that can help lower blood sugar.

Even still, it may be difficult to get the blood sugar under control. In Type 1, the dosing of the insulin is not always perfect and the blood sugar can be a bit high. Often individuals will err on the high side rather than over-dosing insulin which can result in dangerously low hypoglycemia.

Because of the risk of diabetic neurophathy in diabetics, it may be wise to also add in some supplements to help reduce this risk.

Alpha Lipoic Acid

One of the best supplements to help protect against neuropathy is alpha lipoic acid. That is not to say that it would prevent neuropathy. But this super-antioxidant may help. I wrote about all the other benefits of alpha lipoic acid here.

Dr. Mark Hyman, in his book The Blood Sugar Solution, wrote that ...

"Alpha Lipoic Acid is a powerful antioxidant and mitochondrial booster that has been shown to reduce blood sugar and heal a toxic liver. It may also be useful in preventing diabetic nerve damage and neuropathy." [page 222]

But at what dosage of alpha-lipoic acid is needed to prevent neuropathy? A study found in PubMed says 600 mg daily, which is twice the normal supplemental dose:

"Oral treatment with ALA for 5 weeks improved neuropathic symptoms and deficits in patients with DSP. An oral dose of 600 mg once daily appears to provide the optimum risk-to-benefit ratio."

where ALA refers to alpha-lipoic acid and DSP refers to Diabetic Polyneuropathy.

WebMD writes that ...

"Alpha-lipoic acid is used for diabetes and nerve-related symptoms of diabetes including burning, pain, and numbness in the legs and arms. High doses of alpha-lipoic acid are approved in Germany for the treatment of these symptoms."

and it notes that alpha-lipoic acid may decrease blood sugar levels so that diabetic medication including insulin may need to be adjusted.

The book Prevention Outsmart Diabetes says ...

"Studies prove that alpha-lipoic acid prevent free radical damage to your cells, in part by recycling vitamins C and E. But where it shows real promise is in relieving diabetic neurophay." [page 100]

In the below video, Suzy Cohen talks about using Alpha Lipoic Acid or R Lipoic Acid for nerve health and help with diabetes neuropathy.

Alpha Lipoic Acid warning

As with any supplement, there are always some warnings. Here is an article that linked alpha lipoic acid (ALA) as a possible trigger in insulin autoimmune syndrome in rare instances. Article says ...

"... it is important to be aware that the ingestion of this compound may trigger insulin autoimmune syndrome in East Asians and in some North American natives, among whom the prevalence of HLA alleles that confer predisposition to this syndrome is relatively high"

B Vitamins

Dr. Mark Hyman also writes that ...

"B complex vitamin are especially important for those with diabesity, as they help protect against diabetic neuropathy, or nerve damage, ..." [page 220]

He uses the term diabesity to refer to the combination of obesity and diabetes.

In a HuffingtonPost article, Dr. Robert Kornfeld has a good explanation of how diabetic neuropathy comes about ...

"Each time a diabetic consumes carbs, their sugar levels rise above normal. When this happens they may suffer glycation damage--the damage sugar causes to microscopic blood vessels. This leads to the degeneration of nerves that are fed by these microscopic blood vessels. Hence diabetic neuropathy."

And the list of supplements that he recommends for prevention of neuropathy are as follows.

  • Alpha-lipoic acid, the powerful antioxidant, is at the top of his list
  • L-arginine is an amino acid that improves blood flow. But is not advised for those with a history of Herpes.
  • Omega-3 and Omega-6 supplementation with dosage based on blood testing of the red blood cell levels of these.
  • A balanced B-complex vitamins


Dr. Whitaker in Reversing Diabetes writes ...

"Of all the B-complex vitamins, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) and vitamin B12 (cobalamin) may be the most important for the prevention of diabetic neuropathy. Deficiencies in these vitamins are associated with nerve damage, even in individuals who do not have diabetes." [page 186]

GLA

GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) is a omega-6 fatty acid. The book Reversing Diabetes by Dr. Whitaker writes ...

"Supplemental GLA has been found to be an effective therapy for diabetic peripheral neuropathy" [page 192]

Get the supplements that are derived from borage oil or evening primrose oil.

Magnesium

Magnesium plays a role in over 300 reactions in the body which many health benefits written about here.

One of its role is in carbohydrate metabolism. More importantly is that a study found that diabetic low in magnesium had more severe diabetic retinopathy than those with higher magnesium levels. [reference]

Antioxidants

In general, antioxidants such as vitamin C and E are very beneficial to diabetics. One of the more powerful antioxidant, which I have written about here, is also particular useful for diabetics.

LiveStrong.com article reports on a study where...

"The authors found that the antioxidant activity of astaxanthin reduced the free radical damage on the kidneys and prevented renal cell damage. In conclusion, the team commented that astaxanthin may be helpful in preventing diabetes nephropathy."

and that ...

"astaxanthin's antioxidant properties helped to protect beta cell function and reduced glucose toxicity"

Astaxanthin comes in a supplement on its own or can be found in krill oil.

Note:

Article was written in December 2012 and is only opinion at the time of writing. Author is not a medical professional and may receive compensation from the display ads within article.

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    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 

      5 years ago from Arizona

      We take alpha lipoic acid as a prevention method and also the B vitamins. Good hub.

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