Q: Can alcohol consumption cause nerve damage, specifically peripheral neuropathy?—Erica, Philadelphia
A: Peripheral neuropathy occurs when nerves in the hands and feet cease to function properly, causing weakness, numbness, tingling and pain in those areas. Medical experts suggest there are many causes of neuropathy, but heavy alcohol consumption has been shown to have a toxic effect on nerve endings, while moderate wine consumption has not.
"I think it's very unlikely that moderate wine consumption would cause neuropathy," Dr. William Arnold, a neurologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told Wine Spectator. "The only time I've seen people with what I felt was alcohol-related neuropathy is with very heavy use." (Dr. Arnold indicated that such cases typically involved heavy drinkers consuming six or more drinks a day.) Dr. Felicia Chow and Dr. Catherine McCarthy also told Wine Spectator that chronic alcohol consumption is more closely associated with neuropathy than moderate consumption.
Dr. Arnold explains that when the body breaks down alcohol, it makes metabolites that have been shown experimentally to have a toxic effect on nerves. But he adds that neuropathy can be caused by "thousands of different things," from vitamin deficiency to injuries to diabetes. Consult your physician to further evaluate your relationship between wine consumption and neurological health.—Shawn Zylberberg