Dennis is a middle-aged individual who loves going outside and being active. One day, he noticed rashes and blisters around his shoulders. Within a few hours, these have spread into his arms and he can’t stop the itchy, painful feeling. After a checkup, the physician named this condition shingles, a reactivated form of chicken pox. Within a few days, the rashes and itchiness cleared up but why does he still feel a stabbing pain around the areas where it occurred?
What causes our nerves to go haywire?
While the shingles of Dennis was resolved in the above case, it left behind a very unfortunate consequence. The reactivated virus caused the damage to the nerves of Dennis. This is clinically termed as post-herpetic neuralgia. Neuralgia, or simply nerve pain, can be a symptom of other diseases as well. For example, one of the symptoms of multiple sclerosis is trigeminal neuralgia, in which a sharp, stabbing pain is felt by the patient in his face.
Nerve pain occurs for a variety of reasons. In the case above, it was because of a virus which damaged his nerves. In some cases, it’s because of a disease, like in multiple sclerosis, wherein the myelin sheath of the nerve has been damaged. Hence, the nerve isn’t protected anymore and can be affected by even simple non-damaging stimulus. Or in the case of diabetes, it’s the high sugar that damages the nerves. Other times it can be because of pressure that is laden to the nerve.
Common treatments for nerve pain
Usually, patients with nerve pain are prescribed anti-convulsants. While these medications aim to control seizures, they can also help relax the nerves and at least reduce pain impulses. Sometimes, anti-depressants would also be given to patients. Opioids can also be given, but they aren’t as effective to nerve pain as compared to nociceptive pain. As always, with long-term use, these chemical medications can have adverse side effects and patients might even build tolerance for them.
It is our aim to lessen the pain you’re feeling
That’s why we have curated this list so that you can find some of the best natural herbs for nerve pain. Backed by clinical studies and researches, these are the most powerful herbs that can alleviate the pain you’re feeling. With medication, there really is no one size fits all approach. You might need to experiment, try one herb at a time and hopefully, at least one of these can help you.
1. Nigella Sativa (Oil/Seed)
Commonly referred to as black seed, nigella sativa is native to the regions of India and the Middle East. Nigella sativa, mainly its seeds, have been used as a flavoring spice even during ancient times. It has various flavors that give that distinct taste to any dish yet its health benefits shouldn’t be taken for granted. Prophet Muhammad is believed to have said once, “Let fall these black seeds upon you, these contain cure for all diseases except death.”
Scientifically proven to reduce nerve pain and nerve damage, black seed oil.
In a study by Amin and colleagues, they tested the effectiveness of nigella sativa on rats that have been subjected to neuropathic pain. Specifically, they isolated the thymoquinone compound of the herb. The result was that the compound was able to reduce levels of both malondialdehyde and ionized calcium-binding adapter molecule 1, important markers of oxidative stress and microglial activity, respectively.
In another study, researchers tested on a clinical trial of streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. They created various control groups, with some rats receiving no treatment, some receiving just nigella sativa and some receiving just thymoquinone. It was found that both nigella sativa and thymoquinone were able to reduce the myelin sheath breakdown in rats that received the treatments.
2. Spinach (Supplements)
The superfood of Popeye is a great source of alpha lipoic acid. This compound is known for its anti-oxidant and neuropathic-relieving properties. One expert in the field, Dr. Weil, even recommends it for those suffering from nerve pain. The problem is, you only get alpha lipoic acid in minute amounts in spinach so you can also opt for supplementary tablets if you want to maximize its effects.
Due to its anti-oxidant effects, the alpha lipoic acid in spinach can help relieve nerve pain as well.
There are many studies available online with regards to clinical trials highlighting the efficiency of alpha lipoic acid for patients with diabetic neuropathy. For example, this study investigated on patients with diabetic sensorimotor polyneuropathy after giving them alpha lipoic acid supplementation. The result was that there was a significant pain reduction after the treatment period. In another study, alpha lipoic acid was given intravenously instead and again, the neuropathic pain of the patients were significantly reduced.
The way that alpha lipoic acid works is two fold. First, it scavenges for reactive oxygen species. Reactive oxygen species inhibit the transmission of GABA neurons, which play a role in reducing the pain in the nervous system. Second, it is able to induce the production of anti-oxidants such as glutathione, vitamin C and vitamin E, which helps reduce the oxidative stress in the body. Further, in the case of diabetic patients, alpha lipoic acid also helps in the uptake and disposal of glucose.
3. Hypericum Perforatum (Supplement/Topical)
Hypericum perforatum is commonly known as St. John’s wort. This perennial herb is native to the continents of Europe and Asia. Nowadays though, you can easily find it around the world. The herb is a known treatment for depression. Its main compound, hyperforin, inhibits the uptake of both dopamine and serotonin, thereby altering the mood of the patient. In recent times, the neuropathic-relieving effects of this herb is being studied as well.
By blocking the influx of calcium in the membrane, hypericum perforatum induces analgesia.
In a recent study, researchers investigated on the effects of hypericum perforatum on rats that were induced with sciatic nerve injury. Sciatica is one of the diseases in which neuralgia is a symptom of. They found out that this herb works primarily by inhibiting the TRPM2 and TRPV channels. With this suppression, calcium cannot readily enter the cell and so nerve pain transmission is blocked.
In another study, aside from investigating the effects of the herb on calcium channels, the researchers also studied its effects on oxidative stress and apoptosis. Again, rats were subjected to spinal cord injury-induced oxidative stress. The results were significant, as oxidation markers such as reactive oxygen species, apoptosis and caspases were reduced after treatment of the herb. Glutathione, an anti-oxidant, was also remarkably increased after the treatment.
4. Lippia Graveolens (Dried)
Lippia graveolens is simply Mexican oregano, a popular medicinal herb in Central America, especially Mexico. Mexican cuisine is known for its aromatic and flavorful dishes. But did you know that Mexican oregano is packed full of flavonoids, including the pain-relieving luteolin? Make sure you get the dried version of the leaves, as this has the most amount of luteolin.
Mexican oregano, in the dried form, contains a high amount of luteolin, a potent analgesic compound for neuropathy.
In an animal clinical investigation, the efficiency of luteolin in diabetic neuropathy was investigated. The rats were separated into groups and were given various dosages of luteolin. The foremost effect of the compound was the reduction of plasma glucose, an important effect for diabetic patients. Similarly, oxidative enzymes such as reactive oxygen species and malondialdehyde were significantly reduced by the treatment. Markers for anti-oxidant reactions were generally increased after the treatment as well.
In another clinical study, rats were subjected on a sciatic nerve-ligated injury. This time, the researchers created control groups, one was given just luteolin and the other was given luteolin and morphine. Alone, luteolin was able to reduce the neuropathic pain that the mice felt. But in combination with morphine, the result was more significant, perhaps shedding the light for a possible treatment with both for humans.
5. Fermented Soybean
Fermented soybean is simply soybean that is allowed to ferment over a low or acidic pH. There are many types of fermented soybean such as tempeh, miso, soybean paste and natto. These derivatives are rich in protein, vitamins and minerals. It is also rich in a compound known as acetyl-L-carnitine. In the Philippines, this compound is advertised as a weight reducer. But aside from that health benefit, it also offers relief from nerve pain.
Researches about the effectiveness of acetyl-l-carnitine for pain reduction are still few, but its potential cannot be denied.
There are a number of studies highlighting the pain-relieving effects of acetyl-l-carnitine. But they are still conflicting, since the exact way of how the compound works isn’t certain yet. In most studies, this compound is shown to have an effect on acetylcholine uptake. By doing so, the neuropathic pain is decreased as acetylcholine levels are enhanced in the cell.
On a recent study though, a group of researchers challenged this accepted theory. In their research, they have found out that acetyl-l-carnitine works primarily by activating metabotropic glutamate receptors, specifically mGlu2. The researchers related the NF-KB pathway to the process but instead of being deactivated, they postulated that it was activated by acetyl-l-carnitine. This is because activation of this pathway can lead to analgesia through the activation of u-opioid receptors.
More researches are being done every year
Neuralgia is one of the most complicated pains in the medical world. When it comes to nerve pain, the only thing that we can do is manage it. There are some cases of nerve pain patients who have reversed the damage almost completely, but they are rare. The common notion is that, the earlier you are able to treat the damage, the better your chances of recovering are.
Do not ever give up, the treatment for your pain might just be around the corner. With the number of healing herbs in the world, there must be at least one that might work for you. Just remember that combining them might not be such a good idea. It’s best to try one herb at a time so you can decipher whether it’s working or not. Plus, interactions can occur with using many herbs at the same time.
Have you tried any natural herbs for your neuralgia? Did it work for you? You can share your experiences in the comments section below.