Supplement Relieves Diabetic Nerve Pain
By Kimberly Beauchamp, ND
Healthnotes Newswire (April 14, 2005) 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;28:8994).
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
fiber, 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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