|Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) is widely known for its properties as an anti-oxidant. Research has demonstrated its ability to prevent the depletion of Vitamin C and Vitamin E in animals. It is able to scavenge free radicals and recharge other anti-oxidants like glutathione and Vitamin C thus encouraging a healthy redox state inside cells. ALA also has important roles in energy production and was first studied for its ability to reverse liver damage in humans.
However, some of the most impressive research done on ALA is related to the painful and uncomfortable symptoms associated with diabetic neuropathy. Over long periods of time, elevated blood sugar eventually damages the delicate capillary beds that feed nerve cells. Vessels in the feet and other extremities are usually the first to be affected and results in nerve damage leading to symptoms characterized by numbness, tingling and pain. Current medical therapy often relies on narcotics which have a strong potential for abuse and can greatly impair motor skills preventing people from driving and working.
A large collaborative study done in 2003 between the Mayo Clinic and medical centers in Russia found that (ALA) significantly and rapidly reduced the frequency and severity of symptoms of the most common kind of diabetic neuropathy. Symptoms such as burning pain, cutting pain, tingling and numbness were all significantly decreased. This study used an intravenous dose of ALA and people have speculated if it would work as well with more widely available oral forms.
In 2006 a study was published in Diabetes Care that aimed to answer that very question. 181 participants with diabetes and neuropathy symptoms were enrolled in this multi-center, randomized, double blind, and placebo controlled study. After 5 weeks of supplementation the groups given ALA showed statistically significant improvements over the placebo group. The most effective dose (600mg of ALA given orally 1x per day) was also the lowest dose studied. Higher doses of 1200mg and 1800mg failed to produce better results and were more likely to cause symptoms of nausea, vomiting and vertigo.
This research suggests that the processes related to the progression of diabetic neuropathy have something to do with oxidative damage. The powerful anti-oxidant effects of ALA seem to reverse this process. No other types of anti-oxidants have been so clearly correlated to the reduction of diabetic peripheral neuropathy symptoms.
Another reason why ALA might be so helpful for diabetic neuropathy is because of its effects directly on blood sugar. Cell culture experiments have shown the ability of lipoic acid to recruit the glucose transporters in cell membranes resulting in increased uptake of glucose into the cells. As glucose is transported into cells from the blood its ability to damage those delicate blood vessels needed for ideal nerve health is diminished.