Miracle Neuropathy Remedies Lack Evidence
Date: November 30, 2009
Online, there is no shortage of ads for products promising relief for patients with peripheral neuropathy. The Web abounds with offers of devices, creams and pills that allegedly can reduce patients’ pain and numbness or improve nerve function.
Since tens of millions of people have peripheral neuropathy, the potential market for such remedies is enormous. However, peripheral nerve expert Michael Polydefkis has serious concerns about many of the claims.
Patients should be forewarned, he says. “If you read the Web sites, it all sounds great. But there have been few studies, and those have been of pretty low quality. The data are very murky.”
Further complicating the issue he adds, and possibly confusing patients, is the fact that many of the devices are FDA approved. Some patients may not realize that the FDA’s imprimatur in the case of devices signifies only that the product is safe but does not attest to its effectiveness.
Among the list of products are phototherapy devices, including one that applies infrared light directly to the skin of the hands, feet or other affected area. The device, which can cost $500 or more, stimulates dilation of blood vessels to improve circulation, enhance sensation and reduce pain, according to company literature.
Studies of this device have shown equivocal results, says Polydefkis. Some have demonstrated improvement in patients’ symptoms; others have not. One of the more rigorous, a study involving 60 patients that was conducted by investigators at Texas A&M University Health Science Center College of Medicine, found the light-therapy device to be no more effective at reducing symptoms than a sham therapy.
The list of products for neuropathy also includes electrical devices, such as one that “repolarizes and re-educates the nerves to follow the correct paths,” ostensibly resulting in improved blood flow and repair of peripheral nerves. There are also vitamin and dietary supplements whose marketers claim can do the same. But here too, says Polydefkis, the science is weak.
“There is a lot of hand-waving,” he says. “People invoke mechanisms. But if you go to the studies, they’re poorly done.”
Peripheral neuropathy is a challenging disease, acknowledges Polydefkis. There is no cure, and each of the suite of FDA-approved drugs for the pain associated with neuropathy—certain opiates, antidepressants and anticonvulsants—has some adverse side effects. A new alternative treatment to benefit the millions of patients who experience the daily pain and discomfort of the condition would be extremely welcome, says Polydefkis. But only through close scientific scrutiny will such a treatment emerge.
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