Are you a type 2 diabetic who has chronic heartburn? Do you get dizzy spells? Does your heart race when you are sitting still? Do you have chronic constipation, or chronic diarrhea? Trouble swallowing? Trouble hearing? Do you cry when you don't feel sad? Do you have irritable bladder syndrome, needing to go to the bathroom urgently? Do you get tongue tied, suffer muscle spasms, or deal with erectile dysfunction (if you are a man) or failure to achieve orgasm (if you are a woman)?
If you are a type 2 diabetic and your answer to any of these questions is yes, it is highly likely that you are suffering diabetic neuropathy. This condition caused by chronic high blood sugar levels is best known for causing stinging, tingling, burning, and loss of sensation in the feet and hands, but it can also strike nerves all over the body and in the brain itself.
The most commonly overlooked manifestations of diabetic neuropathy are those affecting the vagus nerve. This nerve descends from the brain down the right and left sides of the body. It acts as a "pacemaker" for the functions of many inner organs: the inner ear, the esophagus, the stomach, all of the glands except the adrenal glands, and the sweat glands. It lowers heart rate--and an accelerated heart rate at rest is often an indication that diabetes has damaged the vagus nerve.
Diabetics and their doctors alike often overlook diabetic neuropathy as the underlying cause of many problems associated with the vagus nerve. We never recommend self-diagnosis, but there is a very easy test your doctor can do to detect damage to your vagus nerve. In nondiabetics, the heart rate goes up during inhalation and down during exhalation. In diabetics who have diabetic neuropathy affecting the vagus nerve, the heart rate stays the same, or nearly the same, during both inhalation and exhalation. Low heart rate variability is also a good indication that any digestive problems are also caused by diabetic nerve damage.
Fortunately, neuropathy of the vagus nerves and other nerves can be reversed. Controlling blood sugar levels is key, but many of the techniques and nutritional interventions we discuss in this section of our blog also help.
Bernstein, R. Dr. Bernstein's Diabetes Solution: The Complete Guide to Achieving Normal Blood Sugars (
: Little, Brown, and Company, 2007), pp. 59-60. New York