Brachial plexus injury #11 – treatments and supplements for nerve injury

After my left arm was paralysed from nerve damage caused by the mastectomy, I went into over-drive on the research front on treatments and supplements that could help.  Here are some I tried.

My nerve surgeon didn’t quite sneer, but he raised eloquent eyebrows and told me in his beautiful Italian accent that in his experience, the only thing that would restore nerve function in my case was surgery.  I thought it was a pity that he wasn’t more open to supplements that could improve the rate of healing in his patients, but there you go.



Lion’s Mane Mushroom. Image credit: “Igelstachelbart Nov 06” by Lebrac – eigene arbeit von Lebrac. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – from Wikipaedia

1.  Hericium Erinaceus or Lion’s Mane Mushroom

I’ve already covered this in my post MEDICINAL MUSHROOMS #3 – LION’S MANE (HERICIUM ERINACEUS) FOR NERVE REPAIR but I thought I’d briefly mention this again.  This mushroom has been scientifically-tested and in laboratory tests, shown to help stimulate nerve regeneration, including nerves in brains.

Here are just a few of the scientific studies on Lion Mane’s amazing ability to facilitate nerve repair, including the gold standard of double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trials:

  • Nerve Growth Factor-Inducing Activity of Hericium erinaceus in 1321N1 Human Astrocytoma Cells”. Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin 31 (9): 1727–1732.doi:10.1248/bpb.31.1727. PMID 18758067

Where to get it

I get my Hericium Erinaceus from Oriveda.  This is a Netherlands-based company, and I’ve had many interesting e-mails with Syds Mara, the founder and person who runs it.  He is an absolute guru on medicinal mushrooms.  He’s always been upfront with what’s inside his products, with independent laboratory assays provided.  I believe that at the moment, it is the most potent Lion’s Mane mushroom extract on the market, with one of the highest levels of the active ingredients, polysaccharides and beta-glucans. You can buy Lion’s Mane mushroom from Oriveda here.

Lion’s Mane Mushroom tastes like prawn shells ground up, with a Marmite after-taste.

2.  Earthworm extract or Lumbricus rubellus

Yep, the slimey thing that slithers and wriggles in the soil in the garden.  Apparently, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners use earthworm extract with great effectiveness for nerve injuries.

Earthworm extracts facilitate PC12 cell differentiation and promote axonal sprouting in peripheral nerve injury.

So all I had to do was get some.  Except that at that time, the only supplement I could find on the commercial market was for Parkinson’s and was mixed with other herbs.  I asked a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner in London, and he said that they weren’t allowed to sell it because it came from a live creature.  I was so desperate I did toy with the idea of going into the garden and digging up earthworms and grinding them up, but in the end I was too squeamish.  So that was the end of that adventure.

Where to get it:

I have since found earthworm extract for sale – the extract is called Lumbrokinase:

3.  Benfotiamine and Vitamin B12

Benfotiamine is the fat soluble form of Thiamine (commonly known as the Vitamin B-1).  It is also found naturally in very small amounts of roasted and crushed garlic as well as other vegetables such as onions, shallots, and leeks.  It has been used to treat peripheral neuropathy caused by diabetes.  It has been shown to relieve pain caused by peripheral neuropathy.

I didn’t detect any noticeable improvement, but then I was on kazillion supplements. Most of the research was conducted on peripheral neuropathy caused by alcoholism and diabetes, and benfotiamine was shown to relieve pain, and pain, fortunately, wasn’t something that I experienced.

Vitamin B for treating peripheral neuropathy

I also took Vitamin B12, but I think this was of limited effectiveness because it is usually used for peripheral neuropathy caused by a deficiency of B12, and in my case, it was physical trauma that caused the nerve damage.

4.  Acetyl-L-Carnitine

Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC) is a naturally occurring amino acid derivative that has both neuroprotective and antinociceptive (inhibiting the sensation of pain) effects.

There are studies of its improving the symptoms in drug-induced (e.g. chemo-induced nerve damage), diabetic and nerve-compression (e.g. sciatic nerve) peripheral neuropathy.

The Therapeutic Effects of Acetyl-L-Carnitine on Peripheral Neuropathy: A Review of the Literature

5. St. John’s Wort

This is a herb that is commonly used for treating depression.  Studies have shown that it may alleviate pain in peripheral neuropathy, so of course I had to try it.  I wasn’t experiencing any pain – thank goodness – but I hoped it would help.  I managed to find both the essential oil and also a macerate (oil in which the flowers had been soaked).  I applied it religiously to the shoulder and arm, where the brachial plexus ran.  It had little effect, if any.  Very disappointing, but at least I tried.


 1.  Physiotherapy

I had this on the NHS (public health service) and managed to get the physiotherapist who works closely with my nerve surgeon.  Unfortunately, appointments were far and few between, averaging one a month.  So I paid to have private sessions with the physiotherapist, at £60 a pop.  He manipulated the arm and shoulder, but there wasn’t much he could do as it was a nerve injury.  This was the story I got from most of the practitioners I went to who used some form of physical manipulation.  The physiotherapist also gave me some exercises to do, using a pulley-and-rope system that pulled the arm up and down.  Can’t say I noticed any difference.

2.  TENS machine

TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation.  Most TENS machines use electrodes placed onto the skin to deliver electrical impulses to the nerve fibres underneath the skin’s surface. It is usually used for pain relief, by blocking pain signals to the brain and stimulating the body to produce endorphins.  I was using it just to stimulate the nerves.  At its highest setting, it felt like a hedgehog rolling over the points where the pads were, and was not very pleasant.  I still couldn’t feel anything where it was numb though.  I would say this had limited effect, but at least I tried.  It was recommended by my physiotherapist.

An example of a TENS machine