Supplement Relieves Diabetic Nerve Pain
The nutritional supplement acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC) appears to decrease pain and improve nerve function in people with a nervous-system disorder associated with diabetes (diabetic neuropathy), according to Diabetes Care (2005;28:89–94).
A complication of advanced type 1 and type 2 diabetes, diabetic neuropathy is probably related to long-term elevations in blood sugar and is often difficult to treat. Neuropathies that develop in the hands, legs, and feet may tingle, itch, or be very painful for months or years. People with neuropathies may also develop a decreased ability to perceive vibration or temperature changes in affected areas, and eventually lose sensation in those areas. Foot ulcers and other complications can then develop, as a person may be unaware of trauma in the areas affected by neuropathies. The medication amitriptyline (Elavil™) is used to treat peripheral neuropathy, but it may cause drowsiness, irregular heartbeat, or anemia.
Neuropathy can also affect the branch of the nervous system involved with digestive, cardiac, and sexual functions, causing symptoms such as dizziness, constipation, rapid heartbeat, and impotence. Each of these symptoms is usually treated individually.
ALC is an amino acid that may be found in lower concentrations in people with diabetes than in healthy people. Several studies have shown ALC to help relieve pain associated with neuropathies.
The current study evaluated the effectiveness of ALC for treating diabetic neuropathy, in over 1,200 people. The participants received either 500 mg of ALC three times per day, 1,000 mg of ALC three times per day, or placebo. Several measures were taken to assess response to treatment: microscopic examination of nerve fibers, nerve conduction velocity studies (to see how quickly the nerves transmit information), vibration perception, and symptoms related to diabetic neuropathy, including pain, numbness, tingling, muscle weakness, dizziness, sexual dysfunction, and gastrointestinal problems.
When examined under a microscope, the number of nerve fibers and clusters of regenerating nerves were found to be significantly greater in the group taking 500 mg of ALC three times per day than in the placebo group. Vibration perception increased significantly among those participants taking 1,000 mg of ALC three times per day compared with placebo. At the outset of the study, 27% of the participants said that pain was their most bothersome symptom; taking 1,000 mg of ALC three times per day significantly reduced this pain. Those participants who had been diagnosed with diabetes most recently experienced the greatest pain reduction, which highlights the importance of early intervention in the treatment of diabetic neuropathy. ALC did not affect nerve conduction velocities.
Adverse events associated with ALC included pain, tingling, and increased sensitivity in the affected areas. However, these symptoms were actually reported less frequently in the group taking 1,000 mg of ALC three times per day than in the placebo group.
The results of this study suggest that ALC may help heal damaged nerves and form new nerve fibers in people with diabetic neuropathy, relieving symptoms and decreasing the risk of additional complications.
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She is a co-founder and practicing physician at South County Naturopaths, Inc., in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp teaches holistic medicine classes and provides consultations focusing on detoxification and whole-foods nutrition.
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