By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness
December 5, 2016
- What causes your hands and feet fall asleep?
- Why you shouldn’t ignore tingling or numbness in your extremities
- 4 tests that could reveal serious health problems
It happens to everyone. You sit too long in one position and a leg falls asleep. Lean on your elbow for a while and your lower arm and hand go numb. As the feeling starts to return, you feel like someone is pricking you with a couple of hundred tiny needles.
It’s uncomfortable for a few minutes, then it disappears altogether.
But what does it mean when it doesn’t go away, if it’s a frequent occurrence… or if those weird sensations are there all of the time?
In some cases, the problem might be a compressed nerve. A good example of this is carpal tunnel syndrome, which happens when there is pressure on the median nerve in your wrist, with numbness, tingling and eventually pain in your hand.
A pinched nerve in the neck or back can be even more serious, causing shooting pain, numbness and tingling down an entire arm or leg.
In many cases, these problems can be resolved with stretching exercises, ice, heat, massage and chiropractic therapy.
However, there are other causes that could indicate severe disturbances within your body.
Why you shouldn’t Ignore Tingling or Numbness in Your Extremities
There are all sorts of serious health issues that can contribute to weakness, numbness, tingling and other sensations in the hands and feet. (The medical name for this is “peripheral neuropathy”.)
One of the most common reasons for neuropathy is blood sugar problems. So it’s no surprise that diabetics are very prone to this disorder. About two in three diabetics will experience it in their lifetime.
But even if you’re not diagnosed as a diabetic, high fasting blood sugar can result in nerve damage to your extremities.
When your blood sugar is constantly high, it interferes with nerve signal transmission. This, in turns, weakens your capillary walls so that they can’t supply critical nutrients and oxygen to your nerves.
If you combine this with smoking, increased alcohol use, chronic inflammation and add genetic factors…well you see it’s just not one thing.
High blood sugar also plays a role in the development of heart disease. And it greatly increases your chances of dementia. (There is a reason that Alzheimers’ disease is being thought of as type 3 diabetes!)
Your doctor can test your fasting blood sugar levels. Or, for an even better reading, ask for a hemoglobin A1C test. In layman’s terms, the A1C counts the number of red blood cells attached to sugar – or your “glycated” hemoglobin.
Because it shows your average blood sugar levels over the previous three-four months, it’s an accurate tool for diagnosing diabetes and pre-diabetes.
Clogged arteries can also cause your limbs to feel numb and tingly. Blockages can make it pretty painful to walk, too. That’s because when oxygen-rich blood can’t reach your limbs, your nerve cells become deprived of nutrients. They literally starve to death.
To make matters worse, if you have plaque build-up in the arteries leading to your extremities, you probably have build-up elsewhere. This places you squarely at risk for a heart attack or stroke.
A simple, non-invasive test called a Doppler ultrasound can determine if your neuropathy is caused by poor circulation.
(A word of warning: If you have plaque build-up in your arteries, your doctor may recommend taking a statin drug. In this case, you should know that statin use is associated with a 75% increase in relative risk of neuropathy.)
Two More Important Tests
Those strange sensations in your hand and feet could also be the result of a B12 deficiency. Numbness or tingling, difficulty walking and problems with balance are all common among people who are short of this critical nutrient.
The longer these symptoms persist, the more likely you are to experience permanent nerve damage. Additionally, deficiencies in B12 are linked to anemia, dementia and chronic fatigue.
This makes vitamin B12 testing one of the easiest and most cost effective things you can do to find out why your extremities are feeling weak and clumsy. A methylmalonic acid test is the most accurate for picking up early B12 deficiency.
If you’re deficient, 1,000 to 2,000 mcg of supplemental B12 in the methylcobalamin form can help. It works directly on the myelin sheath that insulates nerve fibers and protects peripheral nerves. You should start seeing improvements within four weeks, with significant effects by the 12th week.
Heavy metal toxicity is another serious problem. Toxic compounds like lead, mercury and arsenic are all around you. They’re in your air, water and food. You can’t avoid them.
But they’re sneaky. They don’t cause health problems right away. It’s the years of exposure that spells trouble – leading to peripheral neuropathy and other health issues.
A simple blood or urine test can tell you if you’re in toxic overload from these metals.
However, I have an important note. Red blood cell testing is the preferred method of testing for heavy metals. But it’s only accurate for early stages of toxicity. At some point in time, those metals will find a home in your tissue.
So don’t do the blood test within two or three days of eating tuna fish, swordfish or other fish high in mercury.
This is one reason why I prefer the home provocative urine testing. In this case, FDA approved chelators help move metals out of your cells before urine is collected. Then, your urine sample is sent in to see where you stand.
If your levels are high, chelation therapy can help remove them. If you have heavy metal toxicity or atherosclerosis, intravenous chelation therapy is especially helpful.
Otherwise, a high potency oral chelation supplement that contains EDTA. It should also include optimally sufficient levels of some combination of n-acetyl cysteine, chlorella, cilantro, spirulina, vitamin C, magnesium, manganese, selenium and zinc to be effective.
Han L, et al. Peripheral neuropathy is associated with insulin resistance independent of metabolic syndrome. Diabetol Metab Syndr. 2015; 7: 14.
Tierney EF, et al. The association of statin use with peripheral neuropathy in the US population 40 years of age or older. J Diabetes. 2013 Jun;5(2):207-15
Langan RC, et al. Update on vitamin B12 deficiency. Am Fam Physician. 2011 Jun 15;83(12):1425-30.
Gupta JK, et al. Potential Benefits of Methylcobalamin: A Review. Austin J Pharmacol Ther. 2015; 3(3).1076.
Staff NP, et al. Peripheral neuropathy due to vitamin deficiency, toxins, and medications. Continuum (Minneap Minn). 2014 Oct;20(5 Peripheral Nervous System Disorders):1293-306.
Flora SJ, et al. Heavy metal induced oxidative stress & its possible reversal by chelation therapy. Indian J Med Res. 2008 Oct;128(4):501-23.