The Link Between Certain Toxins and Neuropathy

Neuropathy refers to any diseased condition of the nerves. Peripheral neuropathy covers damage to nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord, called, appropriately, the peripheral nerves. The condition manifests with weakness, numbness or tingling, and pain, most often in the hands and feet, though it can affect other areas of the body. It also interferes with the nerves’ ability to send sensory information to the brain for processing.

Neuropathy in the peripheral nerves arises from traumatic injuries, infections, diseases such as diabetes, metabolic problems, genetics, and exposure to toxins. The pain can be described as burning, stabbing, or tingling. Symptoms generally improve if the neuropathy results from a treatable condition.

At Monroe Foot & Ankle Care, serving patients in Jamesburg, New Jersey and the entire Monroe Township area, podiatric physician and surgeon Dr. Elliott Perel and our team understand that neuropathy in the legs and feet is often debilitating, and it can also increase your risk of sustaining foot injuries. We offer conservative treatments, like noninvasive MLS laser therapy and injections, to start, and work our way toward more alternative approaches if you don’t respond.

We’re also aware that one of the most insidious but least known causes of peripheral neuropathy is the exposure to toxins of one sort or another. Here’s what you need to know.

So what about those toxins?

More than 200 chemicals exist that are neurotoxic to humans, and 24% of all peripheral neuropathies in the US are caused by drugs or toxins. Peripheral axons (the long nerve appendages) are vulnerable to toxins that interfere with axonal transport or energy metabolism and may experience axonal degeneration. The segments far away from the nerve body are primarily affected, though certain toxins primarily affect the segments closer in.

What kinds of chemicals cause this neurotoxicity? Many are insecticides and organic solvents (cleaners) used in occupational and recreational settings. Some are chemotherapy agents, which means neurotoxicity can limit which compounds can be used to treat cancers and for how long. A systematic review of 4,139 patients revealed that 68% had chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) within a month of starting drug therapy, which decreased to 60% at three months and 30% after six months.

Alcohol, smoking, and illicit drug use are other common neurotoxin sources. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 5.1 % of the global cases of disease and injury, including peripheral neuropathy, are related to alcohol and its abuse.

Perhaps most frighteningly, as the herbal supplement market is unregulated by the FDA or any other governing body, some commercially available herbal medicine products contain heavy metals including lead, mercury, and arsenic. Using these products can lead to heavy metal toxicity and secondary peripheral neuropathy. A 2014 Boston study found that 20% of locally available traditional Indian herbal medicine products contained harmful levels of heavy metals.

What complications can arise from toxin-related neuropathy?

As if the pain, tingling, and numbness in your extremities weren’t enough, peripheral neuropathy can cause additional complications, including:

Burns and skin trauma

If you can’t feel your hands or feet, you might not be able to feel temperature changes, resulting in burns, cuts, or other trauma that can lead to bleeding, open sores, sprains, and strains.

Infection

Burns and open sores that aren’t treated (because you’re not aware they’re there) can easily become infected, leading to additional complications. Make sure to check your extremities regularly, and treat any injuries before they become more serious.

Falls

Weakness and dizziness from toxic substance poisoning, as well as the resultant loss of sensation, can contribute to a lack of balance and falling, increasing the risk for further injury.

Mediating risks and treating neuropathy symptoms

The best way to reduce your risk of neuropathy is to adopt healthy lifestyle habits, including maintaining a healthy weight, eating nutritious foods, getting regular exercise, and avoiding known toxins such as alcohol and drugs. If you have diabetes, control your blood sugar through both lifestyle changes and medications, if necessary.

If you already have neuropathy, here at Monroe Foot & Ankle we can personalize a treatment plan based on your symptoms and the severity of your condition. Conservative treatments include:

If these don’t work for you, we also offer regenerative medicine procedures, including platelet-rich plasma (PRP) and stem cell injections. These take advantage of your body’s own healing mechanisms to control symptoms and improve your ability to repair damage. We also offer surgical procedures in severe cases.

Are you experiencing symptoms of neuropathy or want to learn more about reducing your risk of developing this condition? Call Monroe Foot & Ankle at 732-328-6798, or book your consultation online. We’ll work with you to give you the best outcome possible.

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