The human body has its own complex electrical wiring system that features numerous nerves and billions of neurons. The brain and spinal cord make up the central nervous system (CNS), and the many nerves that branch off of the CNS throughout the body make up the peripheral nervous system (PNS). When there is impairment, damage, or dysfunction of these electrical systems, the resulting symptoms are often described as needle bites, tingling, stabbing pain, or even loss of sensitivity that can significantly impact quality of life. (5) Because this network of nerves extends throughout the entire body, nerve pain is a broad category with many types.
Causes of nerve pain
Nerve pain is caused by disease or injury to the nervous system that can be linked to a variety of pathologies including:
- Immunological (e.g., multiple sclerosis, Guillain-Barre syndrome)
- Infectious (e.g., human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), shingles)
- Metabolic (e.g., diabetes)
- Neoplastic (e.g., different types of cancer or chemotherapy-induced)
- Traumatic (e.g., carpal tunnel syndrome, sciatica)
- Vascular (e.g., stroke) (13)
Common types of nerve pain
In some cases of nerve pain, a specific nerve can be affected such as with carpal tunnel syndrome and sciatica.
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve in the hand and arm become squeezed or compressed due to a variety of factors, including monotonous wrist activity, causing pain, numbness, and tingling in the hand and arm. (12) It’s estimated that 10% of the American adult population will get carpal tunnel syndrome, and the risk skyrockets to 84% in people diagnosed with diabetes, making it the most common form of all neuropathies. (23)
Sciatic nerve pain
The longest and thickest nerve in the human body, known as the sciatic nerve, spans from the base of the spine along the back of each leg into the feet. Without it, standing, walking, and running would not be possible. (17) Sciatica is the term used to describe compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve that leads to pain in the buttocks that can radiate down the leg into the foot most often caused by a herniated or ruptured disc in the spine. (14)
Did you know? It’s estimated that 60% of patient visits to their primary care physician are because of low back pain with many of those patients reporting sciatic nerve pain. (19)
Supplements for nerve pain
According to the scientific literature, several nutrients can help with nerve pain. Much of the research is conducted in peripheral neuropathy; however, these same nutrients may also help with other nerve pain conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome and sciatica.
Combining these nutrients can also be effective. For example, a 2014 study of 180 patients scheduled to have carpal tunnel surgery showed that alpha-lipoic acid, curcumin, and B vitamins taken twice a day before and after surgery helped reduce symptoms and risk of recurrent disease three months after surgery. (22)
Following is a list of nutrients that have solid research when it comes to alleviating nerve pain.
Acetyl-L-carnitine is a modified amino acid that has been shown to improve nerve fiber regeneration and alleviate pain in patients with diabetic neuropathy. (24) A 2019 systematic review of four randomized controlled trials concluded that acetyl-L-carnitine is a safe and effective treatment for patients with painful peripheral neuropathy. (7)
2. Alpha-lipoic acid
Alpha-lipoic acid is an antioxidant that has been shown in human clinical trials to not only reduce diabetic neuropathic symptoms and pain but also improve overall quality of life. (1) In vivo research also indicates that alpha-lipoic acid accelerated nerve healing after sciatic injury. (20) A 2018 double-blind, randomized clinical trial showed that taking alpha-lipoic acid one month before carpal tunnel surgery and for two months after improved surgical outcomes. (15)
3. B vitamins
B vitamins are important for nerve function and repair and have been shown to help improve different types of nerve pain. (11) Several studies have also shown that vitamin B12 deficiency is highly prevalent in people with diabetic neuropathy, (2) and previous research also shows that vitamin B6 deficiency may be correlated with the development of carpal tunnel syndrome. (10) A 2004 review concluded that vitamin B6 supplementation may be beneficial to some patients with carpal tunnel syndrome. (3) Correcting B vitamin deficiency in patients with nerve pain appears to be a prudent first step when developing a treatment plan.
Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent that has broad health effects, so it’s not surprising that it can also help with nerve pain including sciatica, chemotherapy-induced neuropathy, and diabetic neuropathy. (6) A 2021 comprehensive review concluded that curcumin may help prevent neuropathic and postoperative pain conditions. (4)
5. N-acetyl cysteine
N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. A 2019 randomized, placebo-controlled trial demonstrated that when NAC was combined with the medication pregabalin, it was more effective at reducing symptoms of painful diabetic neuropathy compared to the medication alone or placebo. (16) A 2020 randomized, controlled trial showed that NAC helped prevent and reduce chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy in breast cancer patients. (18)
6. Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids primarily from fish have been shown to improve nerve health. According to a 2019 systematic review and meta-analysis, omega-3 supplement intake was associated with a reduced incidence of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy. (25) A 2019 clinical trial showed that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation reduced neuropathic pain symptoms in adults diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. (8) A 2020 randomized, double-blind controlled trial also demonstrated that omega-3 fatty acid supplements significantly reduced symptoms in patients with mild to moderate carpal tunnel syndrome. (21)
The bottom line
Nerve pain is common and can negatively impact patients in a variety of ways. Fortunately, there are specific nutrients that may relieve pain and even help with nerve regeneration.
If you are interested in using a natural approach to relieving nerve pain, consider contacting an integrative practitioner for assistance.
- Agathos, E., Tentolouris, A., Eleftheriadou, I., Katsaouni, P., Nemtzas, I., Petrou, A., Papanikolaou, C., & Tentolouris, N. (2018). Effect of a-lipoic acid on symptoms and quality of life in patients with painful diabetic neuropathy. Journal of International Medical Research, 46(5), 1779-1790. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29517942/
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