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Preventing Peripheral Neuropathy From Chemotherapy with Multivitamins

There are many challenging side effects from cancer treatment. One that is not always appreciated in advance is peripheral neuropathy from chemotherapy.

When you get a diagnosis of cancer the world stops. Your brain melts and you go into fight or flight mode. It is one of the most stressful times of your life. All you can think about is choosing the right treatment and hoping for a successful outcome. Most patients are focused on beating back cancer. Drug side effects take a back seat, even though they can be devastating. Peripheral neuropathy from chemotherapy doesn’t seem very important when compared to combatting cancer. Nevertheless, this complication of chemotherapy can have a lasting impact on quality of life.

What is Peripheral Neuropathy?

Many treatments for cancer have serious side effects. Most people are aware of nausea and diarrhea. Loss of hair is not uncommon. But CIPN (chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy) may not be mentioned. If it is, the implications may not seem that significant…at the time. But CIPN can produce lasting and devastating symptoms. They include numbness, tingling and a burning sensation in hands and feet. Patients also report pain in muscles and joints. When feet are numb, it can be hard to feel your way and walking or hiking can be dangerous.

Women who take chemo drugs for breast cancer can experience nerve problems at very high levels. Foot numbness affected over 80% of patients. Over half reported severe foot numbness. Hand numbness was almost as common. But there is some good news. A new study (Journal of the National Cancer Institute, December 1, 2017) suggests that vitamins might counteract the complications of peripheral neuropathy from chemotherapy.

Multivitamins vs. Peripheral Neuropathy from Chemotherapy:

A study from Roswell Park Cancer Institute suggests that women taking multivitamins before or during treatment for breast cancer are less prone to peripheral neuropathy from chemotherapy. The nutritional supplements reduced the likelihood of serious neuropathy by almost 40 percent. No specific vitamin or mineral was identified as responsible for the protection.

Here are the findings:

“In this study of breast cancer patients enrolled in a large cooperative group clinical trial comparing dosing regimens of doxorubicin, cyclophosphamide, and paclitaxel, we observed associations between multivitamin use both before and during treatment and lower odds of neuropathy…Associations were strongest in patients using multivitamins both before diagnosis and during chemotherapy.”

A Word of Caution:

No one should ever start taking vitamins or other dietary supplements during cancer treatment without very careful consultation with the medical team. It is possible that some vitamins, minerals or supplements might counteract the effectiveness of treatment. The authors of the research note:

“If results indicate that there are no adverse effects of dietary supplements on cancer outcomes, randomized trials could be justified to determine if specific supplements can be used to reduce treatment-related side effects. Without these types of rigorous prospective studies, changes to clinical practice or recommendations for use of vitamin supplements are clearly not warranted.”

Let us know how you have dealt with peripheral neuropathy from chemotherapy or other causes. People with diabetes also complain of peripheral neuropathy. Sometimes there may be no obvious cause. Let us know if you have come up with treatment what works.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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