This article will explain HOW nerves get damaged from Peripheral Neuropathy (PN) but perhaps a more important question to answer is WHY does it happen? If you know anything about LifeWorks Integrative Health, you know your favorite question is “Why?” When we can understand why your nerves are being damaged, then treatment can be more effective, more efficient, and longer term. PN happens when nerves get sick and damaged, and there are many reasons why nerves get damaged. These reasons are usually a combination of factors involving metabolic issues and neurological issues.
What Causes Nerve Cells to Get Sick?
The most common 3 cause of PN are diabetes, side effects from chemotherapy drugs, and statin drugs. However many other common medical conditions contribute or cause PN. Some of the lesser known causes of PN are discussed here. There are some of the more broad and common causes of PN and if you or someone you know deals with any of these issues, it is important you know that relief and treatment is possible.
Glucose Regulation Conditions
This is a broad category which includes ALL types of diabetes, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and prediabetes. Any level of glucose dysregulation can contribute to PN. Anytime blood sugars are high, it causes inflammation to blood vessels. This inflammation when persistent, damages the blood supply to the nerves. If nerves cannot get blood supply or adequate oxygen, they become damaged, loose function, and can die.
One of the most common and debilitating side effects of diabetes is PN. A side effect of PN can be severe and hard to heal infections because when feeling is lost in extremities, like the feet, cuts, and injuries to the skin cannot be felt and can go unnoticed allowing infections to develop. When there is not adequate blood supply to tissues, which is exactly what PN is, the tissue cannot heal adequately, therefore wounds can take longer to heal, not heal optimally, and develop into severe wounds.
Advanced and uncontrolled diabetes is not required for damage to nerves to occur. Any glucose regulation issue, including insulin resistance will assault and challenge the blood supply, nutrient supply, and integrity of nerves. Maintaining optimal blood glucose levels, and good insulin responses is a major factor in treating, and preventing PN.
Chemotherapy drugs can cause nerve damage simply because of the toxicity. The chemicals in chemotherapy damage nerves. This is usually temporary in about 65% of people who go through chemo, but sometimes permanent in up to 30% of people. There are ways to support the body during chemotherapy treatment and at the first signs of neuropathy in order to preserve nerve function.
Autoimmune diseases are conditions where the immune system signaling goes haywire resulting in the body’s immune system attacks its own tissue. Because nerves are tissue- living cells, just like other parts of the body, autoimmune conditions can attack nerves causing PN. Autoimmune conditions also come with a lot of systemic inflammation. Inflammation also damages nerves contributing to PN.
Insulin resistance, thyroid abnormalities, cardiovascular disease, IBS, stenosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, anemia, fibromyalgia, vertigo, food sensitivities, hormone imbalances and more not listed, are a combination of metabolic and neurological factors. When these systems are compromised, the nerve system is not going to be functioning optimally and either exacerbates neuropathy or increases your risk. Many people would not associate something like anemia with PN, but the body systems are always working together and dependent on the health of other systems. Not addressing your chronic disease from the root cause can cause or contribute to PN. The best way to understand chronic disease is the need for monitoring the health of body systems through laboratory data, and balancing the body systems through natural and effective treatments like those the LifeWorks functional medicine team uses everyday to restore health to people battling chronic diseases.
The public is largely unaware of the connection between statin drugs and PN. However, medical research and literature are explicitly clear that the connection is high. Those who take statin drugs experience PN more often than those who do not take statins. Those who take statin medications are at a higher risk for developing PN, than those who are not on the medications. A report from the American Academy of Neurology states that those who have a diagnosis of PN and take statin drugs develop PN at a 16 times higher rate than those who do not take statins. Those who are on statins are 14 times more likely to develop PN than those who don’t. The longer the time on statins and the higher the dose increases the risk of developing PN. More on statins and PN here.