What your feet say about your health

why do my hands and feet tingle, is it okay if my legs fall asleep a lot, what is peripheral neuropathy, top causes for peripheral neuropathy, is it a pinched nerve or something else?

By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

September 20, 2019

As a kid, I remember thinking that my sleeping foot was the funniest thing.  I sat there looking at my leg while it slowly woke up — a hundred tiny needles poking me the whole time.

I could feel my foot coming alive again…

Now, this happens to everyone.  So I’m sure you’ve sat too long in one position and had a leg fall asleep…or an arm when you lean against it too long. It’s uncomfortable for a few minutes, but then the tingling feeling goes away.

But, what if that numbness in your foot or arm doesn’t go away?  What does it mean if those strange feelings are always there?

It might be a simple problem to fix. I have a massage therapist friend of 20 years who was dealing with severe pain in his elbow and wrist.  Everyone assumed it was from the thumb pressure he used while giving massages.

It turned out, an osteopathic physician was able to adjust and stretch his neck to relieve a pinched nerve in his cervical vertebrae.  The pain went away!

So, it’s possible that the pain and numbness in your leg is being caused by a pinched nerve in your back. In many cases, these problems can be resolved with stretching exercises, ice, heat, massage and either osteopathic or chiropractic therapy.

If that doesn’t cut it, there are other possible reasons why you are experiencing pain and numbness.

Why you shouldn’t Ignore Tingling or Numbness in Your Extremities

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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”.)

Blood Sugar Problems

One of the most common reasons for neuropathy is blood sugar problems. So it’s no surprise that diabetics often experience this issue. In fact, about two in three diabetics will experience leg or arm numbness 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 Alzheimer’s disease is being thought of as type 3 diabetes!)

If you think high blood sugar may be causing your leg and arm numbness, have your doctor test your fasting blood sugar levels. Or, for an even better reading, ask for a hemoglobin A1C test.

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

Clogged arteries can also cause your limbs to feel numb and tingly. These blockages also make it pretty painful to walk. That’s because when oxygen-rich blood can’t reach your limbs, your nerve cells become deprived of nutrients. They literally scream at you while starving 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 risk of neuropathy.)

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Two More Important Tests

B12 Deficiency Test

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.

We find this often in people who are over the age of 75 with early dementia.  These folks don’t produce enough stomach acid to break the B12 vitamin out of their food.  Frequently, all they need are some shots of B12 and they come back to normal.

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 best way to find early B12 deficiency.

If you’re deficient, 1,000 to 2,000 mcg of supplemental B12 in the methylcobalamin form can help. You should start seeing improvements within four weeks, with significant effects by the 12th week.

Heavy Metal Toxicity Test

Finally, if you’re wondering why your feet and arms are numb and tingling, think about how much heavy metal you unknowingly eat. I have patients who admit to eating sushi two or three times a week.  It turns out they are mercury toxic.

Then, I had a colleague — a plastic surgeon friend of mine — who was experiencing a strange rash and vague abdominal discomfort. With no answers for his issues after consulting with a gastroenterologist and dermatologist he came to see me. Well, he was eating a lot of non-organic chicken at the time (thinking this was healthier than red meat) and had toxic levels of the metal arsenic in his system from the feed given to factory raised chickens. He stopped eating it, and within six weeks, his symptoms went away.

Heavy metal toxicity is a 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 including hypertension and heart disease. These last two being studied by well known university connected cardiology researchers I respect.

A simple blood or urine test can tell you if you’re in toxic overload from these metals.

Finally, I have one 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, you’ll need a high potency oral chelation supplement that contains EDTA. It should also include n-acetyl cysteine, chlorella, cilantro, spirulina, vitamin C, magnesium, manganese, selenium and zinc to be effective. But remember, test first… don’t guess. Different heavy metals respond best to different chelation treatments.


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.

Houston, M   Role of Mercury Toxicity in Hypertension, Cardiovascular Disease, and Stroke  J. Clin Hypertens (Greenwich). 2011;13:621–627.