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While every diabetic needs to know about the healing relationship of vitamin B6 and neuropathy, it helps to back up and understand what diabetic neuropathy really is.
Diabetic neuropathy, usually starting five to ten years after a person starts having uncontrolled high blood sugars, is a progressive degeneration of the nerves that is caused by diabetes. Symptoms of neuropathy include numbness or, less frequently, pain in the hands, feet, or legs. Nerve damage caused by diabetes can also lead to problems with internal organs such as the digestive tract, heart, and sexual organs. It can cause bladder infections, constipation or diarrhea, dizziness, and erectile dysfunction.
The most common type of neuropathy is peripheral neuropathy. This form damages the nerves of the limbs, especially the feet. The foot often becomes wider and shorter. The stride becomes longer or shorter. Foot ulcers appear as pressure is put on parts of the foot that are less protected. Because of the loss of sensation, injuries may go unnoticed and often become infected. If ulcers or foot injuries go untreated, the infection may involve the bone and require amputation. However, problems caused by minor injuries can usually be controlled if they are caught in time.
Diabetes can also damage the autonomic nervous system. Autonomic neuropathy affects the nerves that serve the heart and internal organs and produces changes in many processes and systems. Diabetic nerve damage may stop the bladder from emptying completely, so bacteria have a chance to grow in the bladder and kidneys. Circulatory problems caused by diabetes frequently lead to a loss of sexual response in both men and women, although sex drive is unchanged. Men may become impotent or may reach sexual climax without ejaculating normally.
The most important thing any diabetic can do to prevent neuropathy is to keep tight control over blood sugars. While several years of blood sugars running 250 mg/dl (13.8 mM) and higher practically guarantees the development of this complication, just a few weeks of keeping blood sugars below 100 mg/dl (5.5 mM) begins to reverse the damage.
Equally as important as maintaining low blood sugars is maintaining low blood lipids, that is, low cholesterol and low triglycerides. High levels of blood fats are just as injurious as high blood sugars.3 It is also important to stop smoking and limit drinking. While high blood sugars and high blood lipids are more important risk factors for neuropathy, either smoking or drinking more than doubles a diabetic’s risk of developing neuropathy, from 1 in 6 to about 1 in 2.
Doctors in Germany have used alpha-lipoic acid to treat diabetic neuropathy since the 1960s. Although all clinical studies have shown the benefits of taking the injected form of the supplement in relatively high doses (600-1,800 mg per day), at least one study found that alpha-lipoic acid was more likely to restore sensation than to relieve pain. There is general agreement that high doses of the supplement relieve pain, burning, and numbness in 3-4 weeks.
Vitamin B6 in neuropathy treatment. But if you take alpha-lipoic acid, you need the B vitamins niacin and biotin to help it work inside your cells. These B vitamins are co-factors for alpha-lipoic acid, activating enzymes that help the mitochondria do the energy production that alpha-lipoic acid. And if you take niacin and biotin, you also need to balance them with thiamine, folic acid, B12, and B6. That's because they way your liver processes niacin and biotin depends on the other B vitamins.
When taking high-dose vitamin B6, neurological conditions are a concern. Of all these vitamins, vitamin B6 is the one to be sure not to overdose. The thing to remember about vitamin B6 neuropathy treatment is that sometimes taking more than 500 milligrams a day sometimes causes the neuropathy you are trying to treat.
It's really rare, however, that anyone takes that much B6 by accident-and if you just stop taking too much, your body goes back into balance within a few weeks. Carefully monitoring and controlling blood sugar levels and taking a complete B-vitamin formula, plus alpha-lipoic acid, is the best natural strategy for diabetic neuropathy.