I have been asked by many cancer survivors, is there something natural I can take for neuropathy from chemo? The sensation of numbness and tingling is a common side effect that can be hard to shake once treatment ends. The good news is, there are some natural therapies that have been super helpful for my patients with neuropathy and I wanted to share these things with you.
But first, let’s talk about what neuropathy is and why neuropathy (or as the research calls it, neurotoxicity) happens in the first place.
Chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) is typically defined by the symptoms it causes. Although neuropathy is most frequently caused by chemotherapy, it can also be caused by radiation and surgery, too.
The symptoms that comprise neuropathy include: numbness, tingling, pain, and having reduced sensation in the hands and/or feet. In really advanced cases, neuropathy can show up as difficulty walking or general changes in movement in general.
Causes of Neuropathy
The exact causes of CIPN or cancer neuropathy from chemo has been hard to figure out. Recently, scientists have narrowed down the causes to:
- Structural changes in the nerves – the actual structure and function of the nerves are changed.
- DNA damage – by damaging the DNA, there can be changes in the ability for the nerve to regenerate, repair, and grow.
- Mitochondrial Changes – this is where your cells make energy.
- Increased Oxidative Stress – simply put, oxidation is the same thing that causes metal to rust. So oxidative stress in our body causes damage to our cells.
- Ion Channel Changes – the ion channels are how cells communicate and receive signals. When this changes, the nerves’ ability to function also changes.
- Neuroinflammation – this is inflammation of the nerve cells.
Natural Treatments for Neuropathy from Chemo
Acupuncture and Dry Needling: acupuncture can increase blood flow in the arms and legs, promote nerve repair, stop nerve damage, and reduce pain.
Calcium + Magnesium: In some studies, calcium and magnesium decreased neuropathy incidence by up to 50%. But, these minerals are discouraged during certain chemotherapies because it might make treatment less effective. Calcium and magnesium could help balance the changes in the ion channels.
Glutamine: An amino acid that may be helpful for reducing neuropathy through reducing mitochondrial changes, protecting the mitochondria, and reducing neuroinflammation.
Glutathione: This amino acid may also be discouraged during chemotherapy, but certain drugs deplete glutathione, leaving the nerves at risk for oxidative stress and mitochondrial changes. It has been studied with Cisplatin, and was shown to be useful in preventing neuropathy caused by Cisplatin.
Curcumin: An herb that might protect the nerves from chemotherapy. In cell cultures,it has been shown to help the nerves grow new branches and to improve damage caused by chemotherapy.
Quercetin: In rat studies, quercetin was effective at reducing mitochondrial damage to the nerves and promote nerve conduction or communication in already damaged nerve cells.
Ginkgo Biloba: In mice and rats with chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy, ginkgo was shown to promote new nerve growth, improve sensation, and reduce oxidative stress.
Goshajinkigan: In a group of people being treated for colon cancer, this traditional herb combination prevented high grade neuropathy. In the group of people taking the herbs, only 33% experienced neuropathy. In the group not using the herbs, 75% experienced neuropathy.
Holy Basil: In rats, holy basil reduced neurotoxicity by reducing oxidative stress and supporting the ion channels.
Alpha Lipoic Acid: A human clinical trial combining alpha lipoic acid with MSM and Bromelain showed a reduction in neuropathy and pain when taken with chemotherapy. A larger trial is currently being suggested.
B-Vitamins: B-6, B-12, folate, and thiamine have been studied for reducing and reversing neuropathy caused by chemotherapy.
Some other natural therapies being studied to treat neuropathy from chemo that we will update you on as more information becomes available include:
- St. John’s Wort
- Vitamin E
- Omega 3 Fats
- Salvia officinalis
- Green Tea
- N-Acetyl Cysteine
- Acorus calamus
- Butea monosperma
- Xylopia aethiopica