Benefits of Alpha Lipoic Acid

How It Is Used and What the Research Tells Us

Alpha lipoic acid is a compound found naturally inside every cell in the body. It's needed by the body to produce the energy for our body's normal functions. Alpha lipoic acid converts glucose (blood sugar) into energy. Other names for it include lipoic acid and thioctic acid.

Alpha lipoic acid is also an antioxidant, a substance that neutralizes potentially harmful chemicals called free radicals. What makes alpha lipoic acid unique is that it functions in water and fat, unlike the more common antioxidants, vitamins C and vitamin E, and it appears to be able to recycle antioxidants such as vitamin C and glutathione after they have been used up. Glutathione is an important antioxidant that helps the body eliminate potentially harmful substances. Alpha lipoic acid increases in forming glutathione.

Preliminary studies suggest that alpha lipoic may offer a variety of benefits. If you're considering using alpha lipoic acid, speak with your doctor. Alpha lipoic acid should not be used as a substitute for standard care in treating any medical condition.

Treating Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy can be caused by injury, nutritional deficiencies, chemotherapy or by conditions such as diabetes, Lyme disease, alcoholism, shingles, thyroid disease and kidney failure. Symptoms can include pain, burning, numbness, tingling, weakness, and itching.

Alpha lipoic acid is thought to work as an antioxidant in both water and fatty tissue, enabling it to enter all parts of the nerve cell and protect it from damage.

Preliminary studies suggest that alpha lipoic acid may help. In one of the largest studies on the use of alpha lipoic acid, 181 people took 600 mg, 1200 mg or 1800 mg of alpha lipoic acid a day or a placebo. After 5 weeks, alpha lipoic acid improved symptoms. The dose that was best tolerated while still providing benefit was 600 mg once daily.

Controlling Blood Glucose

Alpha lipoic acid may improve blood sugar control, suggesting that it may have a place in people with prediabetes.

People taking diabetes medications such as metformin or glyburide should only use alpha lipoic acid under the supervision of a qualified health professional. It should never be used as an alternative form of diabetes treatment.

Preserving Brain Function

Alpha lipoic acid can cross the blood-brain barrier, a wall of tiny vessels and structural cells, and pass easily into the brain. It is thought to protect brain and nerve tissue by preventing free radical damage.

Other Common Uses

As an antioxidant, alpha lipoic acid can neutralize free radicals which can damage cells. Free radical damage is thought to contribute to aging and chronic illness.

Alpha lipoic acid has also been suggested for cataracts, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, tinnitus, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, diabetic neuropathy, acne, rosacea, weight loss, vitiligo, skin aging, grey hair, tinnitus, restless leg syndrome, gastroparesis, and hepatitis C.

Large, well-designed studies are needed before any of these claims can be considered viable.

Sources of Alpha Lipoic Acid

Alpha lipoic acid is made by the body and can be found in very small amounts in food sources such as spinach, broccoli, peas, Brewer's yeast, Brussels sprouts, rice bran, and organ meats.

Alpha lipoic acid supplements are available in capsule form at health food stores, some drugstores, and online. For maximum absorption, the supplements should be taken on an empty stomach.

Side Effects and Concerns

Side effects of alpha lipoic acid may include a headache, tingling or a "pins and needles" sensation, skin rash, or muscle cramps.

There have been a few reports in Japan of a rare condition called insulin autoimmune syndrome in people using alpha lipoic acid. The condition causes hypoglycemia and antibodies directed against the body's own insulin without previous insulin therapy.

Animal studies strongly suggest that alpha lipoic acid can alter thyroid hormone levels. As such, people taking thyroid medications such as levothyroxine should be monitored by their health provider if alpha lipoic acid is being used.

As with other supplements, alpha lipoic acid supplements haven't been tested for safety in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications.

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