Neuropathy refers to damage or disease of any part of the nervous system. Peripheral neuropathy covers damage to the peripheral nerves, those outside the brain and spinal cord. It can produce weakness, numbness, tingling, and pain in the extremities, often in the legs and feet. It also interferes with the nerves’ ability to send sensory information to the brain.
At Monroe Foot & Ankle Care, podiatric physician and surgeon Dr. Elliott Perel and our team understand that neuropathy in the legs and feet can be debilitating, and it can also increase your risk of foot injuries that may become infected because you can’t feel that, for example, you’ve cut yourself there. One of the lesser known causes of neuropathy is exposure to toxins, but it can cause lasting damage. Here’s what you need to know about toxin exposure and the treatment options we offer.
So, what about those toxins?
Over 200 chemicals are neurotoxic to humans, and 24% of all peripheral neuropathies in the US are caused by such chemicals, some of which are medications used to treat other conditions. A nerve’s axons (the long appendages extending from the cell body) are vulnerable to toxins that interfere with signal transport or energy metabolism.
Many of these toxins are insecticides and organic solvents (cleaners) used in work such as agriculture and landscaping and in recreational settings. A number are chemotherapy agents; the agents’ neurotoxicity can limit which medications can be used to treat cancers and for how long. A systematic review of over 4,100 patients showed that 68% developed chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) within a month of starting drug therapy.
Alcohol, smoking, and street drug use are other common neurotoxin sources. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 5.1 % of global cases of disease and injury, including peripheral neuropathy, are related to alcohol use disorder.
A large percentage of toxins slip under the radar as part of the herbal supplement market. Supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA or any other governing body, which means you don’t know what the supplement actually contains. Many available herbal products contain heavy metals including lead, mercury, and arsenic, and using them can lead to heavy metal toxicity and neuropathy. A 2014 Boston study found that 20% of traditional Indian herbal medicine remedies available in the Boston area were contaminated with harmful levels of heavy metals.
What complications stem from toxin-related neuropathy?
The pain, tingling, and numbness in your extremities are difficult enough to deal with, but peripheral neuropathy may cause additional complications, including:
Burns and skin trauma
When you can’t feel your hands or feet, you probably can’t feel temperature changes or uneven terrain either. This results in burns, cuts, or other trauma that may cause bleeding, open sores, sprains, and strains.
Burns and open sores that aren’t treated (because you can’t feel they’re there) can easily become infected and lead to additional complications. Check your extremities every day, and treat any injuries so they don’t become more serious.
Some toxins can lead to weakness and dizziness, precipitating falls. The loss of peripheral sensation can also contribute to a lack of balance, and a fall increases your risk for further injury.
Mediating risks and treating neuropathy symptoms
The best prevention for neuropathy is adopting healthy lifestyle habits: Maintain a healthy weight, eat nutritious foods, get regular exercise, and avoid known toxins such as alcohol and drugs. If you have diabetes, which frequently causes neuropathy, make sure you get your blood sugar under control to avoid problems.
If you already have neuropathy, here at Monroe Foot & Ankle we personalize a treatment plan based on the severity of your symptoms. We always start with conservative options, which include:
- Nutritional supplements
- Prescription medications
- Noninvasive MLS laser treatment
If these aren’t effective, we also offer regenerative medicine treatments, including platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy and stem cell injections. Regenerative therapies take advantage of your body’s own healing abilities to control your symptoms and improve your ability to repair any damage. In severe cases, we also offer surgical procedures.
Do you want to learn more about reducing your risk of toxin-induced neuropathy? Call our office in Jamesburg, New Jersey, at 732-978-9569, or book your consultation online. We’ll work with you to give you the best outcome possible.