Healthy nerves are essential to enjoying the freedom of mobility and experiencing the sensations of sight, sound, touch and smell. While most people are aware that a healthy lifestyle coupled with regular exercise and a balanced diet is important, many are still unaware that healthy nerves also play a vital role in our well-being.
In fact, many complaints people have of pain and discomfort are actually a result of unhealthy nerves. According to a survey done by Merck in Klang Valley last year, one in two people, aged 21 and above, showed signs of nerve damage having felt some form of tingling, pins and needles, numbness or burning sensations in their limbs. A nerve screening conducted with over 13,000 Malaysians across the nation last year also revealed that 27 per cent of the people screened are at the borderline of neuropathy diagnosis, while 26 per cent already have nerve damage.
Most of those surveyed and screened felt that the pain and discomfort they are experiencing is a result of lifestyle or work-related stress, however, they had no idea that they might be suffering from a condition known as neuropathy, which is nerve damage.
In a bid to raise the public’s awareness and knowledge about neuropathy, Merck organised a briefing which shared vital information on the impact of nerve damage if left untreated and how lifestyle choices and daily activities can contribute to the condition. Medical practioners at the session shared steps on how to identify pain possibly caused by nerve damage, as well as available solutions to relieve neuropathy. They also highlighted healthy habits people should adopt to prevent or reduce nerve damage.
Professor Dr. Goh Khean Jin a consultant neurologist from University of Malaya Medical Centre, who gave an overview of neuropathic pain at the briefing, explained that nerves are like transmitters that connect the brain to every part of the body.
“They affect every movement and feeling in our bodies, right down to involuntary vital functions such as our heartbeat, digestion and breathing. Only with healthy nerves can a person move about freely. If our nerves become damaged, our ability to feel sensations and freedom to move can be impaired,” he said.
Neuropathy affects nerves in our nervous system and is caused by a variety of reasons including genetic disposition, aging, metabolic problems, physical trauma, infection, nutritional imbalance, lifestyle choices and diabetes, which is the most prevalent cause of nerve damage. Other causes of neuropathy include deficiencies of B vitamins, smoking, alcohol consumption, exposure to toxins as well as diseases that cause chronic inflammation involving the nerves.
Symptoms of nerve damage can range from tingling and numbness in one’s extremities, resulting in an extreme sensitivity to touch, burning or piercing pain, having trouble feeling heat or cold, as well as a loss of sensation.
Nerve-wrecking lifestyle choices
Everyone is susceptible to nerve damage as lifestyle choices and daily activities increase risk factors.
Many common factors in our day-to-day lifestyle have increased the chances of nerve damage. Long hours sitting at work desks or in traffic jams, repetitive activity such a typing and texting and even cooking can lead to nerve damage. Poor posture, wearing tight clothing or shoes and even being overweight can put pressure or compress nerves.
While diabetics are better aware of nerve damage given the high sugar level in their blood, which harms nerves, others tend to disregard pain if it does not alter their lives significantly.
“One should keep track of the pains they are feeling – tingling, piercing, shooting or burning. These pains are your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong and you need to get it checked. Don’t write off pains as unimportant; talk to your doctor about it, as they will be able to identify if it is related to nerve damage. Early detection is always best,” said Dr. Mohamed Haniff Merican, general medical practitioner with the Merican Dispensary, Melaka, who was also present at the briefing.
“Moderately exercising, practicing a healthy lifestyle, consuming a balanced diet that includes foods that are rich in B-vitamins, avoiding long bouts of inactivity and repetitious activities, as well as regular follow-ups with your doctor if you are diabetic, are important steps to take for healthy nerves,” added Dr .Mohamed Haniff.
The importance of B-vitamins
Most important in nerve health care is the adequate consumption of neurotropic vitamins, B1, B6 and B12, which contain nutrients that are essential in maintaining nerve health and work in combination to treat or slow down the progression of neuropathy.
B-vitamins nourish and protect nerve cells, helping to improve their function and relieve pain. Vitamin B1 strengthens and helps to provide energy for nerves, while Vitamin B6 is necessary for the proper transmission of impulses along the nerves as well as in relieving pain. Vitamin B12 regenerates nerves, protects nerve cells from damage and is important for overall nerve health.
“Through the survey and nerve screenings we conducted, it is clear that many people suffer from early signs of nerve damage, but as the exposure to neuropathy is relatively low, most do not associate their symptoms to this disease. The lifestyles people lead in this fast and busy world today do contribute to some nerve damage, but the pains are often dismissed as part of life. However, these symptoms and pains are a sign of a larger health issue,” said Richard Lee, General Manager of Merck Consumer Health Division, Malaysia.
“We are committed in continuing our on-site nerve checks around the country and carry out initiatives that will raise awareness on the importance of healthy nerves, which we hope will encourage consumers to take the first step in identifying possible nerve damage and taking action to address their pains,” continued Richard.
By building awareness about the importance of a quality combination of B1, B6 and B12 vitamins, Merck is helping Malaysians take their very first step to a pain-free life.