Alpha-lipoic acid (also known as thioctic acid) is a vitamin-like substance made in the body in small amounts. It is also obtained from root vegetables such as carrots, yams, sweet potatoes and beets, is found in broccoli and green leaves, as well as red meat.
What alpha lipoic acid does
Alpha lipoic acid acts as a co-enzyme with B group vitamins to speed up metabolic reactions needed for energy production in cells. This helps to improve cell function within organs such as the pancreas, kidneys, brain and nervous system.
Alpha lipoic acid and type 2 diabetes
Alpha lipoic acid can improve the release of insulin from the pancreas, and the way cells respond to it to improve both insulin resistance and glucose control.
Studies have shown that alpha-lipoic acid supplements can boost the uptake of glucose into muscle cells by as much as 50 per cent. This may help to reduce glucose uptake by fat cells to reduce weight gain in people with type 2 diabetes.
Alpha lipoic acid and weight loss
Results from 10 clinical trials suggest that people those taking alpha-lipoic acid lost a statistically significant 1.27kg more than those on placebo.
Alpha lipoic acid is often combined with acetyl l-carnitine, an amino acid that regulates fat metabolism by transporting long chain fatty acids to the energy-producing factories (mitochondria) within body cells. This helps to boost fat burning but also appears to have anti-ageing effects on cells.
Alpha lipoic acid and diabetic nerve damage (neuropathy)
Alpha-lipoic acid improves nerve function in people with diabetic neuropathy to reduce symptoms of tingling, numbness, burning and pain. In Russia, alpha-lipoic acid is the main ‘pharmacological drug’ used to reduce symptoms of diabetic polyneuropathy as it is considered the most effective treatment available.
Alpha lipoic acid appears to reduce nerve pain by protecting the fatty myelin sheath surrounding nerve fibres from oxidation, which is vital for normal transmission of nerve signals. Studies suggest that high dose alpha lipoic acid (600mg three times a day) can improve symptoms of diabetic neuropathy by 47% – twice the reduction seen in those taking inactive placebo (24%).
Alpha lipoic acid can reduce total symptom score by 50% at a dose of at least 600mg per day.
Alpha lipoic acid and diabetic kidney disease (nephropathy)
Oxidative stress plays a major part in the development of kidney damage in people with diabetes. As an antioxidant, alpha lipoic acid can reduce oxidative stress and urinary albumin protein excretion – an important indicator of kidney damage. In a trial involving 84 people with either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, those who took 600 mg alpha lipoic acid per day had no significant deterioration in kidney function or urinary albumin concentration, compared with those taking placebo in whom significant deterioration was found. This suggests that taking Alpha lipoic acid may help to preserve kidney function.
Alpha lipoic acid and dementia
The protective effect of alpha lipoic acid on the nervous system may slow the progression of symptoms in people with mild rather than moderate Alzheimer’s disease by reducing oxidative damage to brain cells.
A pilot study investigated the effects of omega-3 fatty acids alone or omega-3 plus alpha lipoic acid against placebo in 39 people with Alzheimer’s disease. After 12 months, those taking omega-3 plus alpha lipoic acid showed less decline in mental state function (MMSE) and activities of daily living than those on placebo. The researchers concluded that the combination of omega 3 plus alpha lipoic acid could slow cognitive and functional decline in Alzheimer’s disease over 12 months.
Alpha lipoic acid and liver
Alpha-lipoic acid can improve liver cell function, and has been used in the treatment of hepatitis and alcoholic cirrhosis. However, very high intakes may increase fatty liver changes and alpha-lipoic acid supplements should be used under medical supervision if you have liver problems.
Alpha lipoic acid dose
As an antioxidant, alpha-lipoic acid is used in doses of 50mg to 100mg a day.
In clinical trials to treat neuropathy, high doses of 200 mg to 600 mg, three times a day, have been used under medical supervision.
Alpha lipoic acid side effects
Mild skin rashes or gastrointestinal side effects have been reported.
See advice before taking Alpha lipoic acid if you have heart, liver or kidney problems.
When starting to take alpha lipoic acid it’s important to monitor your blood glucose levels if you have diabetes, and to ask your doctor how to adjust your anti-diabetes medication to avoid a hypo.
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