Nutrition – nerve damage (peripheral neuropathy) after chemo

Tuesday 08 May 2018

I came across an article when I was doing some research for another topic and thought that it might be of interest to some of you. I have seen many people with nerve damage as a result of chemotherapy but not many possible solutions. This article looks at CIPN (Chemotherapy Induced Peripheral Neuropathy).

Why does nerve damage happen?

Chemotherapy is designed to attack and destroy fast dividing cells, i.e. the cancer cells, but in doing so it also damages other fast dividing cells in the body This includes cells that line the digestive system, bone marrow cells (which can be the cause of a low blood count), hair follicles and cells of the nervous system. The nervous system transmits information between the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and the rest of the body. It is designed to transmit feelings such as touch and temperature and it delivers messages to the muscles to get them to move. Because nerve cells are very sensitive to the toxic effect of chemo they can become damaged easily. This may also be the reason for cognitive problems following chemo, also known as ‘chemo fog’ or ‘chemo brain’. After exposure to chemotherapy the cells responsible for producing the myelin sheath (the fatty substance that helps to insulate and protect conduction nerve fibres) can become damaged. 

Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy

The onset of these symptoms can vary

Loss of feeling in the hands and feet can make it hard to pick up small objects or may cause clumsiness and difficulty walking. Some people with nerve damage complain of a sensation like pins and needles or stabbing pains and numbness. This in turn can cause difficulty with simple tasks like opening jars or fastening buttons or even squeezing the tooth paste tube. The symptoms of course will depend on which nerves are involved. CIPN often affects both sides of the body in the same way. 


When a person develops neuropathy as a result of chemotherapy the oncologist will often prescribe drugs to reduce the symptoms. Generally speaking the symptoms will improve once chemo has finished or soon after but in some cases where the damage is severe this can take much longer.

Can nerve damage be reversed?

When the myelin sheath of the nerves is damaged due to treatment the signals being transmitted are scrambled. Sometimes the signals do not go through the nerves, which is what causes the numbness in the sensory nerves and can lead to clumsiness, lack of coordination and muscle weakness,

Supplements and nerve damage

Some medical doctors are beginning to be increasingly aware that thiamine (vitamin B1) and vitamin B12 are effective in the reducing the symptoms. They also have a role to play in helping to build healthy nerves. Thiamine, like all B vitamins (except B12), is water soluble therefore not stored in the body and flushed out within 4-5 hours of ingestion. Therefore a regular supply is needed. Chemotherapy makes it difficult to absorb and utilize B12 which is another problem. 

However there seems to be a solution to these problems. A new type of vitamin B1 has been developed and is being produced which is called Benfotiamine. It is a fat soluble version of B1 which means that it is not as easily flushed out of the body like ordinary B1 (Thiamine) and can be used more easily. There is also a type of B12 called methylcobalamin (also called methyl B12). This form of  B12 can be readily utilised by the body making it effective at supporting and protecting the nerve endings from damage. You can actually buy these two vitamins together in a supplement called Nerve Support Formula. This means the levels of B1 and B12 in the bloodstream are greatly increased. The formula also contains other B vitamins and vitamin D3 which is needed to help the body utilize these two B vitamins 

This supplement has been shown to be non-toxic and without any side effects even in high doses. There is also a 90 day money back guarantee. It is made in the USA. It can be bought via Amazon. It may be worth having a look at this on the internet and perhaps sharing the information with your oncologist if you are interested in trying it. 

It also may be worth trying to increase the foods rich in these particular vitamins in the diet as that may help. 

Which foods are rich in B1?

Foods that are rich in B1 are rich plant sources, such as soybeans, brown rice, sunflower seeds and peanuts. Good sources are whole wheat products and nuts. It is interesting to note that B1 is very sensitive to alcohol, tannins in black tea and coffee, and sulphites used in some foods as a preservative. Any of these can destroy vitamin B1 so it is worth noting and if you want to improve your levels make sure that you avoid these around the time of eating the B1 rich foods or taking a supplement. 

Which food are rich in B12?

Vitamin B12 is only found in significant amounts in animal foods. The richest sources are liver and kidney, followed by eggs, fish, cheese and meat. If you are a vegan it is important that you either take a supplement of B12 or look for fortified foods and nutritional yeast products like marmite. You can buy nutritional yeast flakes from good health food shops that can be sprinkled onto foods like soups and casseroles or added to a vegetable juices. It does give a cheesy/nutty flavour to the food. I have one in my cupboard called Engevita. It contains good levels of all the B vitamins plus iron and magnesium so is quite a good supplement to add to foods.

Omega 3 and 6

In addition to the information in the article focusing on B vitamins I would like to add that the essential fatty acids omega 3 and omega 6 are also needed for protecting and rebuilding the myelin sheath. Foods rich in omega 3 are oily fish, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and their oils, and also omega 3-rich eggs.

Foods rich in omega 6 are sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, most nuts and nut oils. Omega 6 is generally very abundant in our diets as it is found in vegetable oils which are used extensively by the food industry in food production. 

If anyone reading this blog has got or suffered from neuropathy then do get in touch, especially if you have managed to improve the condition in some way that you could share. I do know that it can be very mild and not too bothersome but for others can cause a real problem

Blog originally written by Caroline  updated April 2020

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