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Alpha-Lipoic Acid Improves Neuropathy Symptoms

Author: Robert A. Jacob
Excerpt From: Diabetes Magazine, July/August 2006 Issue

Alpha-lipoic acid (also called ALA or thioctic acid) is a unique, sulfur-containing compound that is made in small amounts in the body but is not obtained from the diet. It neutralizes a variety of reactive oxygen species and can “recycle” vitamins C and E in the body. In people with diabetes, ALA appears to enhance insulin action and blood vessel circulation, protect against diabetic neuropathy (nerve disease), and inhibit protein glycation (a reaction between excess glucose and protein that impairs the protein’s function and forms harmful end products in the body).

Most promising of the studies with ALA have been those that indicate benefits toward the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy. The studies have generally treated people with diabetes with 600 mg of ALA per day, either intravenously or orally, and have found improvement in both systemic and localized symptoms of neuropathy such as pain, numbness, burning sensation, foot problems, and heart rhythm problems. One specific study published in 2000 showed that both intravenous infusion and oral consumption of ALA enhanced blood vessel relaxation and improved circulation in small blood vessels in people with diabetic peripheral neuropathy. A 2004 article in the journal Treatments in Endocrinology reviewed the studies on ALA and diabetic neuropathy. The review included seven randomized clinical trials of ALA in people with diabetic neuropathy and concluded that short-term (3 weeks) intravenous infusion and long-term (4-7 months) oral consumption of ALA improved symptoms of neuropathy to a clincally meaningful degree while indicating a high safety profile for the drug.

Robert A. Jacob is a retired nutrition research scientist whose specialty is the role of antioxidants and other micronutrients in health and disease. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences panel that set the current recommended dietary allowances for antioxidant vitamins.