Much like individual wires wrapped in a single electrical cable, nerves are grouped in bundles and encased in a fatty coating called a myelin sheath. Pain, numbness, tingling and pain that don’t go away can usually be traced to a damaged sheath, inflammation, compression or an injury to the nerves themselves-particularly to the peripheral nerves, which lead to the arms and legs.
What causes it
Though a variety of disorders can contribute to numbness and tingling, frequently there is no apparent cause. When a medical condition can be identified, often it is progressive nerve damage associated with poor blood sugar control called diabetic neuropathy, which primarily affects the feet. Numbness and pain in the hands may be related to carpal tunnel syndrome, which occurs when the median nerve in the wrist is inflamed or compressed. A severe jabbing pain on the trunk of the body along a nerve can linger for months after a bout of shingles, a viral illness that is related to herpes and chicken pox. Numbness and pain running down the thigh and leg may be caused by a herniated disc or other spinal problems in which the main nerve to the legs (sciatic) is compressed. In multiple sclerosis, the myelin sheath is gradually destroyed, which may result in numbness and tingling. A sometimes a nutritional deficiency is responsible for this sensation.
How supplements can help
Whatever the underlying causes of numbness and tingling, the same nutrients are useful. The vitamin b complex promotes a healthy, functioning nervous system (vitamin B6 is especially important for people with diabetic retinopathy or carpal tunnel syndrome). Extra vitamin B12 and thiamin are needed for a variety of functions throughout the body; depletions of these vitamins are common in older people. (Folic acid should also be taken with high doses of vitamin B12.) The different essential fatty acids in flaxseed oil and borage oil foster proper communication between the brain and nerve cells and play a role in maintaining the myelin sheaths. The gamma-linolenic acid found in borage oil is valuable in treating diabetic neuropathy. Results may take three to six months. It is safe to take all the recommended supplements together.
What else you can do
Exercise regularly to increase blood flow to the nerves and extremities. Don’t sit still for long periods of time; inactivity makes numbness and tingling worse. Walk around and flex your fingers and ankles.