Dear Pharmacist: I have nerve pain that is chronic and related to my diabetes. I take medication for that, and want to add some supplements that might help. I promise to ask my doctor if they’re all right for me, if you pick my question and answer me in the paper. --P.T., Tulsa, Okla.
Perfect because herbs are just plant-based drugs and have many interactions and cautions. There are inexpensive vitamins that can help you too. I’ll cover that today.
Nerve pain is termed “neuropathy” and sometimes you see it as “peripheral neuropathy.” It can be best described as tingling, burning, radiating and sharp; some people say they feel like ants are biting. Everyone’s experience is different, and the sensation may feel different depending on the cause.
Diabetes medications can sometimes exacerbate neuropathy by causing a drug nutrient depletion. Some of the most popular medications prescribed (ie metformin, glipizide) are what I call "drug muggers" of vitamin B12. You need B12 to produce myelin, a protective fatty coating around your nerve fibers. Your nerves get touchy and neuropathy can begin if you run out of myelin. Supplementing with methylcobalamin might help, but do test to see if you are low in that. It’s a blood test. You never want to supplement with something you already have enough of. There is more about diabetes, and nerve-soothing remedies in my Diabetes Without Drugs book.
Herbs that are in the “nervine” category can be very nourishing and soothing to the nerve tissue. Among the best are Chinese skullcap, lemon balm, wood betony, St. John’s wort, chamomile, prickly ash and milky oats. These are found in a variety of ways including commercial tea, dried herb so you can make your own tea or compress, tinctures, capsules and so forth. They each have a book full of side effects and precautions.
St. John’s Wort interacts with many many drugs. I love herbs, and have a special relationship with them, I study them all day long because I’m fascinated that Mother Nature has it’s very own medicine cabinet. So I can assure you that these plant drugs have side effects and interactions. Do not take it upon yourself to just self-treat without seeing a knowledgeable practitioner who studies and prescribes herbs for a living.
For milder effects you could always take a bath in herbs; mix together all of the following to make 2 cupfuls: Oatstraw, skullcap, wood betony and St. John’s wort. Put it in a clean sock and drop into your bath. You can also put 5 to 10 drops of lavender essential oil in there. Soak for at least 20 minutes, keeping the water lukewarm, not too hot on those sensitive areas. This must be discussed with your practitioner since there is transdermal absorption of these herbs. If you have a local (small) area, you can also try a commercial product called Neuragen sold at pharmacies nationwide.