Dear Pharmacist: I have nerve pain that is chronic and related to my diabetes. I take medication for that, and want to add supplements that might help. I promise to ask my doctor if they're all right for me. — P.T., Tulsa, Okla.
Dear P.T.: Perfect, because herbs are just plant-based drugs, and have many interactions and cautions. There are inexpensive vitamins that can help you, too.
Nerve pain is termed neuropathy, and sometimes you see it as peripheral neuropathy. It can be best described as tingling, burning, radiating and sharp; some people say they feel like ants are biting. Everyone's experience is different, and the sensation may feel different depending on the cause.
Diabetes medications can sometimes exacerbate neuropathy by causing a drug-nutrient depletion. Some of the most popular medications prescribed (such as metformin, glipizide) are what I call "drug muggers" of vitamin B12. You need B12 to produce myelin, a protective fatty coating around your nerve fibers. Your nerves get touchy and neuropathy can begin if you run out of myelin.
Supplementing with methylcobalamin might help, but do test to see if you are low in that. It's a blood test. You never want to supplement with something you already have enough of. There is more about diabetes, and nerve-soothing remedies, in my "Diabetes Without Drugs" book.
Herbs that are in the nervine category can be very nourishing and soothing to nerve tissue. Among the best are: Chinese skullcap, lemon balm, wood betony, St. John's wort, chamomile, prickly ash and milky oats. These are found in a variety of ways including in commercial tea, dried herb so you can make your own tea or compress, tinctures and capsules.
I love herbs, and have a special relationship with them. I study them all day long because I'm fascinated that Mother Nature has its very own medicine cabinet. But these plant drugs have side effects and interactions. Do not take it upon yourself to self-treat without seeing a knowledgeable practitioner who studies and prescribes herbs for a living.
For milder effects, you could always take a bath in herbs; mix together all of the following to make 2 cupfuls: Oatstraw, skullcap, wood betony and St. John's wort. Put it in a clean sock and drop into your bath. You can also put 5 to 10 drops of lavender essential oil in there. Soak for at least 20 minutes, keeping the water lukewarm, not too hot on those sensitive areas. This must be discussed with your practitioner, since there is transdermal absorption of these herbs.
This is not intended to treat, cure or diagnose your condition. Go to DearPharmacist.com.