What is Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease?
Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT) has no relation to your teeth. The formation of the name comes from the nerve condition first identified in 1886 by three doctors— Jean Charcot, Pierre Marie, and Howard Tooth. It’s a hereditary neurological condition that afflicts the nerves outside your brain and spinal cord. If you have this disease, you may have difficulty balancing and have birth deformities.
Today, CMT refers to an entire spectrum of genetic conditions. Researchers have discovered 90 genetic varieties of CMT disease. Apparently, it affects about 1 out of 2,500 Americans. (x)
Symptoms of CMT disease may include muscle wasting (atrophy) and weakness in the legs and feet, lower body pain, and difficulty walking or speaking. The excellent news is CMT isn’t a life-threatening disease and often won’t cause shorter-than-average life expectancy.
While Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease currently has no cure, there are various ways to manage its symptoms naturally. These include lifestyle changes, exercise, foot care, physical and occupational therapy, natural painkillers, supplements, and using orthopedic devices such as braces. Talk with your healthcare provider whenever you consider taking new supplements or implementing a significant change in your overall lifestyle.
What are the Symptoms of Charcot-Marie-Tooth?
Consider a progressive disorder, increasing symptoms as your age, CMT indicators often occur in the teenage years or early adulthood. They also become more intense, based on hormonal changes like pregnancy, physical or mental stress. Key symptoms include: (x)
- Lack of sensation in the toes, fingers, and limbs
- Weakness and muscle wasting in the lower leg, foot, forearm, and hands
Other symptoms can include: (x)
- Reduced reflexes
- Some hearing and vision loss
- Cramping in the forearms and lower legs
- Problems with balance and unstable ankles
- Trouble using the hands
- Abnormalities in foot muscles, resulting in hammertoes and high arches
The severity of symptoms varies significantly in people, even among family members who have inherited the disease. Early on, individuals may not understand that they have Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease as the symptoms are very mild.
What are the CMT Symptoms in Children?
If symptoms occur during childhood, the child may:
- Have an abnormal gait, as it’s difficult for them to raise their feet from the ground with every step.
- Be more ungainly than their friends and more likely to have accidents.
- Have feet that go down forward when they raise their feet.
Other symptoms often occur as the child enters early adulthood, but they may appear from the early teens to the late 70s. Over time, the shape of the leg may change, becoming extremely thin under the knee. However, the thighs keep standard muscle shape and volume.
Symptoms deteriorate over time, possibly leading to:
- Increased weakness in the arms and hands
- Increased trouble using the hands–for instance, to open bottle tops and jars or button up clothing
- Joint and muscle pain
- Walking and mobility issues, especially in seniors
- Neuropathic pain caused by damaged nerves
Causes of Charcot-Marie Tooth Disease
CMT stems from genetic mutations that afflict the peripheral nerves, comprising two essential parts: the axon and myelin sheath. The axon is the nerve inside, while the myelin sheath is the protective covering around the axon.
In patients with CMT, these nerves slowly degenerate and thus cannot communicate. When the motor nerves degenerate, muscle weakness and atrophy in the extremities (arms, legs, hands, or feet) occur. And when sensory nerves degenerate, it results in a reduced ability to feel heat, cold, and pain. There are many kinds of CMT diseases, each caused by other mutations and defects. Some are primary types that include CMTX, CMT4, CMT3, CMT2, CMT1B. The two primary types are CMT1 and CMT2, as they categorize the others as subtypes.
Types of Charcot-Marie Tooth Disease
Depending on the CMT, the myelin sheath, the axon, or both become affected. Various forms of CMT exist. Here are the major ones: (x)
- CMT 1
CMT 1 accounts for roughly two-thirds of cases. (x) Symptoms usually appear from the age of five to 25. (x) In CMT 1, faulty genes cause the myelin sheath to fall apart. As the sheath withers, the axon eventually becomes damaged, and the individual’s muscles no longer receive clear instructions from the brain. It results in numbness, loss of sensation, and muscle weakness.
CMT 1 subtypes are CMT1A and CMT1B. Symptoms may vary in each subtype.
- CMT 2
CMT 2 affects about 17 percent of patients. In CMT 2, the faulty gene directly affects the axons. (x) As a result, the axon can’t correctly give signally activated senses and muscles, so the patient experiences numbness or a weaker sense of touch and weakened muscles.
- CMT 3
Also known as Dejerine-Sottas disease, CMT 3 is a rare CMT. CMT 3 damages the myelin sheath, resulting in severe muscle weakness. It also severely affects a patient’s sense of touch. Signs of CMT 3 usually appear in infancy.
4. CMT 4
CMT 4 is a rare problem that afflicts the myelin sheath. (x) Symptoms manifest during childhood, and individuals with CMT 4 usually need a wheelchair.
5. CMT X
This condition results from a mutation of the X-chromosome. It affects males more than females. (x) Females with CMT X usually have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.
Regardless of the form, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease is hereditary, meaning people whose close family members have CMT have a greater risk of developing the disease.
Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease Remedies and Supplements
Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease has no cure, but you can manage its symptoms. Treatment as a health concern will depend on various factors, such as the severity of symptoms, family history of the disease, age of onset, dispersal of muscle weakness, and whether any deformities have occurred.
NSAIDs like ibuprofen may help relieve muscle and joint pain and pain associated with damaged nerves. There are natural methods that work better and are better for your body.
If NSAIDs cannot work, avoid them. Tricyclic antidepressants are false positives in treating depression, and you need to identify other solutions, like supplements and a stress-free lifestyle. (x)
In physical therapy, a therapist works with the patient to stretch and strengthen their muscles with low-impact workouts like aerobics, swimming, and biking. Doctors recommend beginning early before your muscles weaken.
If CMT has spread to your hands and arms, you may have difficulty completing daily tasks. But in occupational therapy, a therapist can work with you to increase your strength, flexibility, and grip.
Assistive devices, including orthopedic devices, splints, or braces, can help patients stay mobile and avoid injury. Special boots or shoes with raised tops provide additional support to the ankles, and shoe inserts or special shoes can improve gait. Thumb splints can help with dexterity.
Lifestyle changes and natural or home remedies may help individuals with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease cope with daily life and depression.
Individuals with the spine’s curvature (scoliosis) may require a back brace, physical therapy. Surgery can make scoliosis more severe. Try to avoid it at all costs.
Genetic counseling and testing can help determine if a person with CMT is at risk of passing on their children’s disease.
Manage Charcot-Marie-Tooth with Natural Solutions
Some habits can help prevent complications arising from CMT and help you treat its symptoms. If these natural solutions, when started early and regularly practiced, may provide relief and protection:
- Occupational Therapy
The goal of occupational therapy is to restore your body’s functionality and enhance the quality of life. A therapist can help you with CMT disease by overcoming the limitations of weakened hands, arms, legs, instability, or lack of coordination. Some occupational therapy actions you can do at home: (x)
- Use equipment for support during daily activities like preparing food and showering.
- Improve the movement of your hands, grip strength, and coordination.
- Improve gripping of your fingers for bathing, dressing, cooking, eating, writing, and cleaning.
- Help yourself learn how to use devices effectively that assist daily mobility, like orthopedic devices that help you walk and climb.
- Improve coordination and stability by lowering the risk of falling and injury.
- Physical Therapy
Physical therapy helps you build strength in your lower body and daily coordination. The sooner you start a treatment, whether physical or occupational, the more your body thrives longer.
Physical therapy applies specific stretches and exercises that inhibit muscle tightening, camps, stiffness, and muscle loss. Most programs aim at managing CMT, including low-impact aerobic activities like cycling, strength building, stretching, and swimming workouts. The physical therapist will monitor your progress, prevent injuries, and adjust as needed.
A clinical test for the efficacy of strength exercises on patients diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease noticed a substantial but gradual improvement in maximum voluntary muscle contraction (MVC) following eight, 16, and 24 weeks into the course of the trial. (x)
Besides doing physical therapy with a therapist, daily workouts, keep your muscles and bones healthy. Low-impact exercises, like swimming and biking, are less harsh on fragile joints and muscles. By strengthening your bones and muscles, you can improve your coordination and balance, reducing your risk of injury associated with falling or tripping. If you feel you need assurance, use a walking stick to help balance your body’s equilibrium. (x)
Stretch to improve the body’s muscle strength and mobility. When done regularly will help your body. Stretching will also help prevent injuries, loosen stiff muscles, and maintain the joints. The process may also help lessen deformities in the joints by easing the muscles that usually pull on the bones.
Some therapy clinics use AlterG treadmills to help CMT patients practice walking longer with steadier strides. The rehab equipment uses antigravity and decompression machinery called NASA Differential Air Pressure technology. Patients respond positively using the treadmills several times a week based on safety and gradual improvement in strength, extension, and balance. (x)
Stretching every day and regularly is vital as you maintain your body’s flexibility, prevent injuries, loosen stiff muscles, and take care of your joints. As mentioned earlier, it helps lessen joint deformities.
Before embarking on a complete exercise and stretching regime, take to your doctor or physical therapist, making sure of positive outcomes.
- Eat a Nutrient-Rich Diet
Though no evidence shows diet can cure or treat Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a healthy diet helps maintain low inflammation levels. For that reason, your body will benefit from being able to manage your symptoms better. Consider how an inflammatory diet can lead to health conditions like diabetes and may exacerbate your CMT condition. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet can only benefit your body by:
Consume lots of high-fiber foods like vegetables, fruit, seeds, and nuts.
Avoid added sugar, synthetic chemicals, and artificial ingredients.
Include high-antioxidant foods in all your meals like whole fruits and vegetables. Such food provides vitamins, fiber, essential electrolytes like potassium and magnesium.
Eat superiority sources of protein that help build and keep muscle mass. Included are wild-caught fish, pasture-raised poultry, eggs, and grass-fed beef. You get your Omega-3 fatty acids from fish, which reduces the chances of getting diabetes and benefits your heart. Try including sprouted legumes and beans as they are high in fiber.
Eat healthy fats like coconut milk, coconut oil, olive oil, avocado, seeds, and nuts.
Drink clean freshwater while cutting down on sugar. Use natural sweeteners like stevia instead of table sugar for baked or cooked dishes.
- Supplements for CMT
Take supplements that help ease the symptoms of CMT disease. Gradually increase the intake of them as your body can adjust to the quantity for positive results.
- Vitamin C
Some animal studies have shown that vitamin C helps relieve CMT symptoms. It works by decreasing inflammation and easing unfolded protein responses. (x)
You can naturally increase your vitamin C intake by consuming green leafy vegetables, kiwi, berries, citrus fruits, papaya, and bell peppers.
You can also take ascorbic acid (vitamin C) powder. As a dietary supplement, take 1,000 mg (1/4 tsp) up to three times daily or as directed by your physician.
Like vitamin C, turmeric (a compound in curcumin) can help fight inflammation. You can increase your turmeric intake by using this herb to spice up recipes.
You can also take turmeric supplements. As a dietary supplement, take 1,000 mg (just under 1/2 tsp) of curcumin (turmeric) extract powder daily, or as directed by your physician.
Peppermint extract powder, sourced from a plant known as herba menthae, is both a spice and herbal supplement. It promotes digestive health and relieves stomach aches, heartburn, and nausea–all side effects of CMT.
As a dietary supplement, take 700 mg (about 1/3 tsp) once or twice daily, or as directed by your physician.
- Take Natural Pain Killers
Experiencing pain in your feet or legs happens when you have CMT disease, including cramps and similar discomfort. It’s caused by the damaging of the nerves in your body. Some doctors prescribe pain medication to control the symptoms, supposedly. Consider trying to manage the pain through natural means, but check with your doctor first:
- Take warm baths or sit in a sauna
- Stretch gently
- Apply essential oils like peppermint oil over and around the painful area
- Try massage therapy that is light, not deep tissue
- Foot Care
Because of the loss of sensation and foot deformities, regularly taking care of your feet is essential to ease CMT symptoms and prevent complications.
Wear more appropriate shoes:
- Choose protective shoes that fit you properly.
- Consider wearing high-top shoes or boots to support your ankle.
- If you have foot deformities like a hammertoe, consider having your shoes custom made.
Inspect your feet by examining them every day to prevent wounds, infections, ulcers, and calluses.
Look after your nails and regularly cut your nails. To prevent infections and ingrown toenails, cut your nails straight across and don’t cut into the nail bed’s edges.
If you have issues with sensation, circulation, or nerve damage in your feet, let a podiatrist cut the toenails for you. Your podiatrist can also suggest a salon where you have your toenails trimmed safely.
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The Bottom Line
Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT) is a group of related hereditary neurological conditions. While it isn’t life threatening, it makes your quality of life difficult.
Symptoms and signs that show having the CMT disease involve atrophy and weakness of the feet and legs, instability, lack of coordination, pain in the lower body, falling and tripping, sensory changes, and deformities.
The good news is, if you have CMT, you can manage your symptoms in several ways. Engage in regular exercise, eat a nutrient-rich diet, and supplement vitamin C, turmeric, and peppermint. With guidance from your doctor, you can relieve some of CMT’s symptoms for an improved quality of life.
The statements in this article have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.