Pain can be challenging to live with, and neuropathy is no different. Treatment is not always straight-forward. Though pain killers can provide relief, they can have side effects, and even the most potent dosages can fail to truly relieve neuropathy for those who suffer from this debilitating illness.
In this article, we discuss what neuropathy is, what it feels like, and why patients should consider taking supplements of magnesium for neuropathy and nerve pain relief.
What Exactly Is Neuropathy?
Neuropathy occurs when nerves in the extremities of the body sustain damage — for example, the arms, hands, and feet.
Sufferers have different symptoms depending on which nerves are affected.
Nerves that can be affected by neuropathy include autonomic nerves, which regulate blood pressure and bladder function, motor nerves, which are necessary for muscle control, and sensory nerves, which transmit pain and touch sensations.
Symptoms associated with neuropathy can be excruciating, including pains that burn, stab, and shoot in the body parts or areas affected.
Those suffering from neuropathy can also experience other problems including issues with coordination, muscle weakness, and difficulty with balance.
What Causes Neuropathy?
Most neuropathy sufferers experience symptoms due to nerve damage as a result of type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Over time high blood sugar can cause nerve damage, and this is what leads to neuropathy. It is important to understand this as we will see later how magnesium impacts the course of diabetes – and in turn, can help relieve the symptoms of neuropathy.
However, there are other causes of neuropathy and the nerve pain associated with it. For example, physical injury to nerves, some diseases including shingles, alcohol, and some specific medications can also lead to neuropathy.
Magnesium: The Key to Overall Health
The human body requires magnesium for a variety of reasons. Though mostly found in the bones, magnesium is also actively consumed and found inside organs and cells throughout the body.
It is essential for strong bones and nerve functioning. Interestingly, magnesium can also help regulate blood sugar levels – relevant for diabetic sufferers, as we will see later.
Overall, magnesium is an essential mineral that can affects over 300 biochemical processes throughout the human body including the synthesis of proteins and maintaining metabolism. Importantly, magnesium also supports the body’s immune system.
How Can Magnesium Help Relieve Neuropathy?
We've looked at the importance of magnesium for the body, and it is clear that magnesium is an essential mineral. However, those who suffer from neuropathy should look at magnesium closely as taking supplements can have numerous benefits for those who struggle with the daily neuropathy pain.
1. Regulate Blood Sugar Levels
First, magnesium regulates blood sugar levels. Why is this important? For people who have diabetes, blood sugar regulation can be tough. Poorly controlled blood sugar, particularly high blood sugar, can cause nerve damage.
There is an apparent link between low magnesium intake and type 2 diabetes, and many studies have found that magnesium supplements can assist in improving insulin resistance which in turn helps stabilize blood sugar levels.
Therefore, by stabilizing blood sugar levels, magnesium can help reduce the side effects of diabetes which, as we’ve discussed earlier, includes neuropathy. Over time as blood sugar levels are better-managed thanks to magnesium supplements, patients should experience less nerve damage, giving the body the opportunity to heal nerves. As such, magnesium can reduce the pain caused by neuropathy while also reducing the chance that neuropathy will get worse with time.
2. Assists With Nerve Repair
Damaged nerves stand a chance of recovery which means that the symptoms of neuropathy can improve over time. Interestingly, magnesium has been found to improve the speed at which nerves repair. In a 2011 study, a group of researchers in Taiwan found that animal subjects which took magnesium supplements experienced a significant improvement in the rate in which neurological problems recovered.
In their research, the team found that magnesium supplements improved nerve regeneration while boosting electrophysical functions. The study was on mice with sciatic nerve injury and confidently concluded that nerve regeneration in the mice enhanced thanks to magnesium.
It is easy to see why magnesium will, therefore, be of benefit to sufferers of neuropathy. If neuropathy is the result of nerve damage, faster healing nerves will reduce the symptoms of neuropathy. Taking magnesium will speed up the healing process. Interestingly the same study also found that magnesium can alleviate inflammation and reduce the rate of cell death, further boosting the recovery chances of damaged nerves due to diabetes.
3. Acts As A Pain Reliever
Magnesium is broadly known for its pain management benefits in part due to its effects on the way nerve signals are transmitted, and because it allows your muscles to relax. For those who suffer from neuropathy the pain relief actions of magnesium can be transformational.
Academic evidence backs up the ways in which magnesium can relieve pain. Magnesium acts as a blocker of the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor and can play a role in reducing pain hypersensitivity. Several animal and clinical studies have shown that magnesium can have a beneficial effect when neuropathic pain is present.
4. Improve Quality of Sleep
Neuropathy is difficult to deal with and can easily lead to a lack of sleep, in part due to the pain and discomfort caused by the condition, but also due to the added stress of living with such a painful condition. Here, taking magnesium as a supplement can again help patients deal with the effects of neuropathy.
Magnesium has been shown to be beneficial in supporting patients who have insomnia. In a 2012 study of 46 subjects, magnesium supplements had a noticeable effect on subjective insomnia factors including ISI score, sleep time, and the time it takes for subjects to fall asleep.
5. Reduce Neuropathy Caused By Certain Drugs
Certain drugs can cause neuropathy. Drugs such as Disulfiram (used as an anti-alcohol drug) and Cisplatin (a cancer drug) are intended to boost overall outcomes for a patient by, for example, treating cancer. However, these drugs can have side effects, and one of these side effects is peripheral neuropathy.
There are signs that magnesium can reduce oxaliplatin-associated neuropathy caused by Cisplatin. For example, an article published in 2010 in the Oncology Journal outlined how an infusion of magnesium can reduce the degree of neuropathy experienced by patients undergoing treatment for cancer without affecting the efficacy of the cancer treatment itself.
How To Get Pain Relief Benefits From Magnesium
We’ve outlined the many areas in which using magnesium supplements can relieve pain for patients who suffer from neuropathy. These are not mere suggestions. The relieving effects of magnesium are backed up by medical evidence, but how much magnesium should patients take to treat neuropathy, and what can patients expect from their supplements?
What Patients Can Expect
The amount of relief you experience will depend on the source of your peripheral neuropathy. Patients who are at the earlier stages of diabetes may find that the combined effect that magnesium has can be particularly effective.
First, magnesium can help stabilize blood sugar levels in diabetes patients, which will lead to an overall improvement in the condition of these patients, including the symptoms of diabetes such as neuropathy.
Next, magnesium can help people with diabetes deal with the pain of existing neuropathy while improving the rate at which nerves heal too. This allows diabetes patients to recover faster from setbacks. At the same time, magnesium will also relieve pain in patients while helping them sleep better.
Those who suffer from neuropathy due to the use of prescribed drugs, injury, or another reason can still benefit from the healing effects that magnesium has on the nervous system. Likewise, these patients will find pain relief too.
How Much Magnesium Should You Take?
Everyone is different, and the exact amount of daily magnesium that will work best for you will vary between 250 to 500 mg per day. You won't experience instant relief as the magnesium must first build up in your body. However, after several weeks you should see pain relief as the magnesium starts to kick in.
For most healthy people the risk of magnesium overdose is low making magnesium an excellent choice for those looking to find relief for neuropathy without the side effects of other pain medication.
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Mario Barbagallo and Ligia J Dominguez
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Peter C. Kurniali, MDLu Guang Luo, MD, PhDAlan B. Weitberg, MD