San Francisco Bay Area resident Patrick Totty writes about his experiences living with type 2 diabetesSee all posts »
Is Neuropathy About to Get Its Comeuppance?
There’s some hopeful news for type 2s who suffer from diabetic neuropathy: A team of British researchers has found how high blood sugar levels lead to painful nerve damage in limbs, especially feet.
While the medical community has known for years that excessive blood sugar causes diabetic nerve damage, the exact mechanism has remained an unknown. Now, scientists at the University of Warwick in the UK have discovered that a compound called methylglyoxal (MG) appears in excessive quantities in the blood glucose of people with diabetes. MG attacks and alters Nav1.8, a protein in nerve endings, making nerves become much more sensitive to pain and temperature.
Neuropathy is estimated to affect 50 percent of people with diabetes. The condition is not only painful, but demoralizing. Numbness discourages people from walking and exercising because of fears that loss of sensation can lead to undetected injuries that later morph into life-threatening conditions. The possibility of heading down that very real slippery slope is one of the biggest psychic burdens of having diabetes.
(In my own life, neuropathy wasn’t a real concern when I was first diagnosed with type 2 in 2003. Thanks to a changed diet, stepped-up exercise, and drugs, I was able to keep nerve damage at bay for several years. But, diabetes is a progressive disease, and neuropathy has crept up on me. For now, it’s the numbness more than the pain that bothers me.)
The beauty of the Brits’ discovery is that the Warwick scientists think they may have a way of removing MG from glucose: alter its chemical form and neutralize its ability to attack Nav1.8. The magic bullet they think can do just that is an enzyme called Glo1 that acts as a catalyst to bring about changes in MG.
If their research is successful, neuropathy sufferers can look forward to a drug that fights directly against the onset of nerve damage. It’s possible that by stopping MG’s attacks on nerve endings, damaged nerves may get a chance to heal.
I don’t know if that would be the case, but at the very least such a drug would put an end to further damage. The analogy here is to when you stop hitting your head against the wall—it won’t make whatever bruises and contusions you’ve already acquired go away, but you won’t be adding any more.