Diabetic neuropathy is defined as damage to the nerves that occurs due to long-term, unregulated high blood sugar levels from diabetes. Peripheral neuropathy, the most common form of diabetic neuropathy, is experienced as a loss of sensation, numbness, tingling or burning in the arms and legs. Toes and feet are the most affected areas, and loss of sensation may also be accompanied by deep or stabbing pains in the calves and feet.
Neuropathy reduces the flow of blood and sweat, resulting in dry skin that cracks easily.. The diabetic patient may not notice small wounds caused by stepping on a sharp object, or an unattended blister, that may become infected. Worse case scenario, the infection may require surgical amputation of the affected body part.
Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to help prevent nerve damage and eliminate existing symptoms of diabetic neuropathy. Daily care of the calves, feet and toes in the form of footbaths, foot reflexology, and gentle massage have been found to be positive aids. The application of topical products containing biologically active aloe vera gel (aloe barbadensis) and essential oils of eucalyptus (eucalyptus globulus or eucalyptus radiata) and rosemary (rosmarinus officinalis) have also been proven beneficial.
Why aloe vera? New scientific research, stated below, reveals that substances known as gibberellins (or gibberellic acids) found in aloe vera gel have profound pain relieving, wound healing and nerve calming effects. Gibberellins are plant hormones that regulate the growth and development of healthy plant cells. They are used commercially in horticulture to activate seeds from dormancy, to stimulate the production of fruit and to speed up fruiting and flowering through their anti-oxidant mechanisms. Biologically active, organic aloe vera has become the latest new ingredient to be included in topical pain products and therapeutic skin care creams, lotions and gels.
A study published in the Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association confirmed that aloe vera inhibits inflammation and accelerates wound healing. Gibberellin was identified as the active anti-inflammatory compound in aloe vera.
Another study conducted at the University Medical Center in Freiburg, Germany followed 40 volunteers in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled experiment comparing aloe vera gel with a cream containing 1% hydrocortisone. The authors concluded that the aloe vera gel displayed anti-inflammatory effects far superior to the 1% hydrocortisone cream.
An important study undertaken at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico proved that aloe vera inhibited prostaglandin production and transmission of pain (substance P) down the arachidonic pathway via cyclooxygenase (COX-2), the enzyme responsible for pain and inflammation. In short, aloe vera reduces transmission of pain signals down the body’s nerve pathways and acts as a highly effective natural pain reliever.
Aloe vera in its gel form also shows a great affinity for skin and is rapidly absorbed through the skin when applied and gently massaged. Aloe contains vitamins, minerals, enzymes and polysaccharides that act synergistically to moisturize and nourish skin and regenerate damaged skin cells quickly. Eucalyptus and rosemary essential oils are also very helpful in improving diabetic neuropathy symptoms when combined with aloe vera gel. Both eucalyptus and rosemary essential oils contain 1, 8-cineole, a plant terpenoid with widely documented analgesic, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial benefits. Like aloe, eucalyptus and rosemary act by reducing pain transmission signals in the body.
A natural protocol for diabetic neuropathy includes specific daily supplementation and ongoing care of affected areas with topical products containing aloe vera and eucalyptus and rosemary essential oils. A comprehensive foot exam every 6-12 months is recommended by most medical professionals. By paying attention to symptoms and treating them promptly, diabetic neuropathy can be well managed allowing for a better quality of life and health.
Julia Meadows is a European-trained phytotherapist and natural product formulator. She is the founder of Aromax Health and Subrosa Apothecary in La Quinta and can be reached at (800) 608.1330.