We know that vitamin B12 helps to protect your nerve cells from harm by sustaining the myelin sheath; with vitamin B12 deficiency, you begin to experience symptoms of severe nerve cell damage, such as painful tingling or numbness in your hands and feet. Is it too late to repair nerve damage, once the symptoms have set in? It depends…
Your peripheral nervous system (PNS)
It’s important to understand what we mean when we refer to the peripheral nervous system (PNS). While your central nervous system (CNS) includes just the nerves and nerve cells of your brain and spinal cord, your peripheral nervous system includes all the other nerves of your body- the network of neurons that branch out from your CNS to your limbs, torso, face, and internal organs.
Every time you take in the mouthwatering scent of food cooking on a grill, or feel the bite of winter frost on your nose, that’s your peripheral nervous system at work. Even your inner bodily functions like breathing, blood pressure, and digestion are controlled by your peripheral nerves.
Peripheral nerve protection
Your central nervous system is well protected by your skull and by a blood-brain barrier. The same can’t be said for your peripheral nervous system, unfortunately.
The only protection your PNS has includes a coating of a fatty protein called myelin that insulates each and every strand of peripheral nerve cells, very similar to the way cable wires are protected by a strong coat of rubber.
Symptoms of peripheral nerve damage
When myelin erodes, as it does with certain illnesses, your nerve cells may be damaged by free radicals, bacteria, or a number of other threats. The results are symptoms like nerve pain, tingling, and numbness. These are the first signs of peripheral neuropathy.
Unless treated immediately, other symptoms of peripheral nerve damage may include:
- Heightened sensitivity to touch
- Muscular weakness
- Muscular atrophy
- Poor motor control
- Burning pain
- Organ dysfunction
- Gastrointestinal disorders
- Heart palpitations
- Excessive sweating
- Increased risk for heart attack and stroke
What causes peripheral neuropathy?
There are only two main causes of peripheral nerve damage- either an inherited genetic anomaly, or an acquired condition, like pernicious anemia-vitamin B12 deficiency, and other autoimmune disorders.
Testing for vitamin B12 deficiency and intrinsic factor antibodies is an important first step in diagnosing the cause of peripheral nerve damage.
Treating nerve pain
Medications and treatments used to relieve nerve pain include:
- OTC analgesics
- Mexiletine (heart medicine)
- Anticonvulsant drugs (for epilepsy)
- Local anesthetics
- Orthopedic devices
- Surgery, as a last resort
Repairing nerve damage
Pain relief treatments will only block the pain, but they don’t address the underlying condition, and they won’t repair the nerve damage.
If peripheral nerve damage is caught in time, then the nerve cells will heal themselves, but only if the threat is removed or reduced.
Untreated, severe nerve damage may become permanent. Myelin damage could lead to multiple sclerosis (MS), in either your generation or the next.
Enter vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is essential for maintaining your myelin sheath, so that your nerve cells come to no harm. Other functions of vitamin B12 (cobalamin) include cognitive health, energy, and red blood cell production.
Vitamin B12 occurs in meat, fish, cheese, and egg products, but even people who eat plenty of beef and dairy products may be at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency. Many factors may inhibit vitamin B12 absorption, like autoimmune disorder, gastrointestinal problems, or simply old age.
Will vitamin B12 cure me?
If you are diagnosed with low levels of vitamin B12, then it is crucial that you get your vitamin B12 levels back to normal, in order to avoid symptoms of prolonged vitamin B12 deficiency, such as severe nerve damage.
If you have been suffering from neuropathy for some time, it might still not be too late to benefit from intense vitamin B12 supplementation. Depending on the extent of nerve damage, a regimen of weekly B12 will aid in nerve cell reparation quickly, efficiently.
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