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alpha-lipoic acid

What Is It?
Health Benefits 
Forms
 
Dosage Information
Guidelines for Use
General Interaction

Possible Side Effects
Cautions

References

Evidence Based Rating Scale 

What Is It? 

Alpha-lipoic acid was initially classified as a Vitamin when it was discovered in 1951. Three decades later, scientists realized the compound possessed potent Antioxidant properties that could prevent healthy cells from being damaged by unstable oxygen molecules called Free radicals. In fact, this vitamin-like compound was found to be many times more potent than such old-guard antioxidants as vitamins C and E. As a perk, it even recycles C and E (as well as other antioxidants), enhancing their effectiveness.

Because it dissolves in both water and Fat, this so-called "universal antioxidant" is able to scavenge more wayward free-radical cells than most antioxidants, the majority of which tend to dissolve in either fat or water but not both. Alpha-lipoic acid can reach tissues composed mainly of fat, such as the nervous system, as well as those made mainly of water, such as the heart. (1)

Also known as lipoic acid or thioctic acid, alpha-lipoic acid is mainly derived from dietary sources (spinach, liver, brewer's yeast); although scientists have discovered that the body does manufacture small supplies of its own. In order to get the concentrated doses needed to treat specific ailments, however, many experts recommend supplements.

Health Benefits

In addition to functioning as an antioxidant, this hard-working nutrient assists the B vitamins in producing energy from the proteins, carbohydrates, and fats consumed through foods.

Intravenous forms of alpha-lipoic acid are administered in hospitals to treat cases of acute liver toxicity resulting from ingestion of poisonous mushrooms and other agents. (2) However, studies are conflicting concerning the benefit of alpha-lipoic acid for these conditions. In a 2007 study done with animals, liver damage from mushroom poisoning was not effectively reduced by intravenous treatment with alpha-lipoic acid. (3) It is unclear how this animal data applies to humans.

Studies indicate that alpha-lipoic acid supplements hold promise for treating various disorders, including HIV infection, cataracts, and glaucoma. (1) But it has been most intensively studied for preventing complications from diabetes. Specifically, alpha-lipoic acid may help to:

  • Treat symptoms of nerve damage in people with diabetes. Alpha-lipoic acid has been used for decades in Europe to counter nerve damage in people with diabetes. (types 1 and 2) Known as Diabetic neuropathy, this often very painful condition tends to develop in people who have had uncontrolled diabetes for a long time. The neuropathy may be caused in part by free-radical damage to nerves that results from poorly regulated blood sugar (glucose). As an antioxidant, alpha-lipoic acid helps to block such damage. (4-6) In addition, because of its effect on glucose metabolism, lipoic acid may improve the glucose-lowering action of insulin—the Hormone that regulates blood sugar. Alpha-lipoic acid may also diminish the incidence of sudden death from nerve-related heart damage for which approximately 25% of persons with diabetes are at risk. (7) A recent animal study also suggests alpha-lipoic acid supplementation may protect against diabetes-related cardiomyopathy—damage to the actual muscle of the heart. (8)

  • Help regulate blood sugar levels in type II diabetes. Researchers are finding out that people suffering from type II diabetes may show reduced insulin sensitivity due to accumulation of triglycerides, or fatty acids, in the body. New research in animals has shown that alpha-lipoic acid may help to dispose of fatty acids in the body and kick start the metabolism of glucose in muscles. (9) In fact, combining alpha-lipoic acid supplementation with participation in a regular exercise program may provide twofold benefits. (10) Anyone who is struggling with diabetic weight gain and blood sugar regulation may want to ask a doctor about the benefits of alpha-lipoic acid.

  • Preserve brain function in aging adults. Results from animal studies indicate that alpha-lipoic acid may improve long-term memory. (11) Much remains to be learned about whether this occurs in humans, but it may be worth trying this powerful antioxidant when memory starts to be eroded by Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia. A recent animal study indicated supplementation with a combination of alpha-lipoic acid, phosphatidylserine (PS), l-carnitine, glycerophosphocholine, and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) reduced Oxidative stress, which is associated with several of these conditions. (12) However, another study indicated oral supplementation with alpha-lipoic acid had no effect on dementia related to HIV. (13) More human research is needed before alpha-lipoic acid can be recommended for these conditions. (14)

  • Prevent cancer. As an antioxidant, alpha-lipoic acid holds promise for protecting the body against changes in healthy cells that lead to cancer. The evidence for this cancer-preventive effect is still preliminary. Animal research has found evidence for its use in the treatment of colon cancer, bladder transitional cell carcinoma, melanoma, and a particular form of lung carcinoma that occurs in mice; however, studies in humans are needed before alpha lipoic acid can be recommended for cancer. (15, 16)

  • Lessen numbness and tingling. Alpha-lipoic acid may benefit anyone whose limbs tend to tingle or become numb, or "fall asleep" due to nerve compression. In animal studies, alpha-lipoic acid increased blood flow to the nerves and improved transmission of nerve impulses. (17) 

  • Protect the liver in cases of hepatitis and other types of liver disease. As an antioxidant, alpha-lipoic acid shields the liver from potentially harmful cell changes and assists it in flushing toxins from the body. (18) This may make it useful in treating such liver disorders as chronic hepatitis. However, in a small study of 40 patients with pre-cirrhotic liver disease, daily supplementation with 300mg of alpha lipoic acid did not provide any benefit over Placebo. (19) Alpha-lipoic acid supplements have also shown efficacy in minimizing liver toxicity following exposure to toxic industrial chemicals such as n-hexane and heavy metals such as copper, lead, and mercury. (1, 20)

  • Combat chronic fatigue syndrome. Because it plays a part in cellular energy production, some nutritionally oriented physicians recommend alpha-lipoic acid for the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome. (21) While evidence of its effectiveness for this condition is anecdotal, alpha-lipoic acid is a broad-spectrum antioxidant and immune system booster. This means it may be able to play a valuable role in increasing energy and maintaining overall health in chronic fatigue syndrome sufferers. In addition, alpha lipoic acid has been used anecdotally for the fatigue associated with Lyme disease but, no specific studies have been performed.

  • Reduce the incidence of cataracts. Alpha-lipoic acid has kept cataracts from forming in animals, an effect that may occur in humans, too, but still requires more investigation. (22, 23) The compound also maintained levels of vitamins C and E in the eyes of the animals, both nutrients that protect the eye's lens from harmful ultraviolet light. (1)

  • Improve vision in patients with glaucoma. In a study of 45 patients with open angle glaucoma (the most common form of glaucoma), daily supplementation with 150mg of alpha-lipoic acid improved both visual function and biochemical measurements. This effect may be due to the antioxidant properties of alpha-lipoic acid. (24)

  • Provide relief from Burning Mouth Syndrome (BMS). Evidence is conflicting for the effectiveness of alpha-lipoic acid in burning mouth syndrome (BMS). Some small trials have shown that alpha lipoic acid can help control the symptoms (25); while another demonstrated no benefit of alpha-lipoic acid over placebo. (26) Doctors are gathering evidence to finally classify this disorder as a form of neuropathy, and alpha lipoic acid is being investigated because of its impressive track record in treating other such conditions. More large scale high quality trials will be needed to verify this benefit. (27)
  • Improve lymphocytes (white blood cells) in patients with HIV/AIDS. Alpha-lipoic acid may have a positive impact on blood cells in patients with HIV/AIDS. In a recent study, patients with HIV/AIDS were given a daily dose of 900mg of alpha-lipoic acid over a six-month period. The patients had improved white blood cell function, and blood levels of the antioxidant glutathione were restored. (28) In laboratory studies, alpha-lipoic acid was found to inhibit replication of HIV; however, studies are needed in humans. (29)

Forms

  • tablet

  • capsule

Dosage Information

Special tip:

You can buy alpha-lipoic acid either as a single supplement or in combination products with other antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E.

  • For general antioxidant protection: Take 100 mg twice a day.

  • To preserve brain function in aging adults: Take 100 mg twice a day.

  • To reduce risk of complications of diabetes: Take 200 mg twice a day to guard against related conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma, and heart disease. In addition, make sure to get 1,000 mg vitamin C and 400 IU vitamin E daily.

  • For diabetic neuropathy: Take 200 mg three times a day.

  • For numbness and tingling: Take 200 mg twice a day.

  • For chronic hepatitis: Take 100 mg twice a day. In addition, take 1,000 mg vitamin C and 400 IU vitamin E daily.

Be sure to check our Dosage Recommendations Chart for Alpha-lipoic Acid, which lists therapeutic dosages for specific ailments at a glance.

Guidelines for Use

  • Alpha-lipoic acid can be taken either with or without food.

General Interaction

  • If you have diabetes, taking alpha-lipoic acid for long periods may require an adjustment in your dosage of insulin or other diabetes medications. Consult your doctor for guidance.

Note: For information on interactions with specific generic drugs, see our WholeHealthMD Drug/Nutrient Interactions Chart.

Possible Side Effects

  • Alpha-lipoic acid is very safe at commonly recommended dosages, although occasionally it causes mild stomach upset and in rare cases it can trigger an allergic skin rash. Anyone who experiences any of these reactions should reduce the dose or stop taking the supplement.

Cautions

  • Anyone who suffers from any medical condition should consult a doctor before trying alpha-lipoic acid supplements.

  • Anyone at risk of thiamine deficiency (alcoholics are at greatest risk) should not take alpha-lipoic acid

  • Women who are pregnant should not take alpha-lipoic acid.

References

1. Alpha-lipoic acid. Monograph. Altern Med Rev. 2006 Sep;11(3):232-7.
2. Bustamante J, Lodge JK, Marcocci L, Tritschler HJ, Packer L, Rihn BH. Alpha-lipoic acid in liver metabolism and disease. Free Radic Biol Med. 1998 Apr;24(6):1023-39.
3. Tong TC, Hernandez M, Richardson WH 3rd, Betten DP, Favata M, Riffenburgh RH, Clark RF, Tanen DA. Comparative treatment of alpha-amanitin poisoning with N-acetylcysteine, benzylpenicillin, cimetidine, thioctic acid, and silybin in a murine model. Ann Emerg Med. 2007 Sep;50(3):282-8. Epub 2007 Jun 7.
4. Ziegler D. Thioctic acid for patients with symptomatic diabetic polyneuropathy: a critical review. Treat Endocrinol. 2004;3(3):173-89.
5. Malik RA. Current and future strategies for the management of diabetic neuropathy. Treat Endocrinol. 2003;2(6):389-400.
6. Tankova T, Cherninkova S, Koev D. Treatment for diabetic mononeuropathy with alpha-lipoic acid. Int J Clin Pract. 2005 Jun;59(6):645-50.
7. Ziegler D, Gries FA. Alpha-lipoic acid in the treatment of diabetic peripheral and cardiac autonomic neuropathy. Diabetes. 1997 Sep;46 Suppl 2:S62-6.
8. Li CJ, Zhang QM, Li MZ, Zhang JY, Yu P, Yu DM. Attenuation of myocardial apoptosis by alpha-lipoic acid through suppression of mitochondrial oxidative stress to reduce diabetic cardiomyopathy. Chin Med J (Engl). 2009 Nov 5;122(21):2580-6.
9. Lee WJ, Song KH, Koh EH, Won JC, Kim HS, Park HS, Kim MS, Kim SW, Lee KU, Park JY. Alpha-lipoic acid increases insulin sensitivity by activating AMPK in skeletal muscle. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2005 Jul 8;332(3):885-91.
10. Henriksen EJ. Exercise training and the antioxidant alpha-lipoic acid in the treatment of Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Free Radic Biol Med. 2006 Jan 1;40(1):3-12.
11. Sharma M, Gupta YK. Effect of alpha lipoic acid on intracerebroventricular streptozotocin model of cognitive impairment in rats. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2003 Aug;13(4):241-7.
12. Suchy J, Chan A, Shea TB. Dietary supplementation with a combination of alpha-lipoic acid, acetyl-L-carnitine, glycerophosphocoline, docosahexaenoic acid, and phosphatidylserine reduces oxidative damage to murine brain and improves cognitive performance. Nutr Res. 2009 Jan;29(1):70-4.
13. Dana Consortium on the therapy of HIV dementia and related cognitive disorders. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of deprenyl and thioctic acid in human immunodeficiency virus-associated cognitive impairment. Neurology 1998;50:645-51.
14. Sauer J, Tabet N, Howard R. Alpha lipoic acid for dementia. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2004;(1):CD004244.
15. Wenzel U, Nickel A, Daniel H. alpha-Lipoic acid induces apoptosis in human colon cancer cells by increasing mitochondrial respiration with a concomitant O2-*-generation. Apoptosis. 2005 Mar;10(2):359-68.
16. Schwartz L, Abolhassani M, Guais A, Sanders E, Steyaert JM, Campion F, Israël M. A combination of alpha lipoic acid and calcium hydroxycitrate is efficient against mouse cancer models: preliminary results. Oncol Rep. 2010 May;23(5):1407-16.
17. Ford I, Cotter MA, Cameron NE, Greaves M. The effects of treatment with alpha-lipoic acid or evening primrose oil on vascular hemostatic and lipid risk factors, blood flow, and peripheral nerve conduction in the streptozotocin-diabetic rat. Metabolism. 2001 Aug;50(8):868-75.
18. Konlee M. New treatments for hepatitis B and C [antigen-specific transfer for A, B & C (chisolm biologicals) and thymate]. Posit Health News. 1998 Fall;(No 17):19-21.
19. Marshall AW, Graul RS, Morgan MY, Sherlock S. Treatment of alcohol-related liver disease with thioctic acid: a six month randomised double-blind trial. Gut. 1982 Dec;23(12):1088-93. 
20. Altenkirch H, Stoltenburg-Didinger G, Wagner HM, et al. Effects of lipoic acid in hexacarbon-induced neuropathy. Neurotoxicol Teratol 1990;12:619-22.
21. Logan AC, Wong C. Chronic fatigue syndrome: Oxidative stress and dietary modifications. Altern Med Rev. 2001 Oct;6(5):450-9.
22. Head KA. Natural therapies for ocular disorders, part two: cataracts and glaucoma. Altern Med Rev. 2001 Apr;6(2):141-66.
23. Kojima M, Sun L, Hata I, Sakamoto Y, Sasaki H, Sasaki K. Efficacy of alpha-lipoic acid against diabetic cataract in rat. Jpn J Ophthalmol. 2007 Jan-Feb;51(1):10-3. Epub 2007 Feb 9.
24. Filina AA, Davydova NG, Endrikhovskii SN, Shamshinova AM. [Lipoic acid as a means of metabolic therapy of open-angle glaucoma] Vestn Oftalmol. 1995 Oct-Dec;111(4):6-8.
25. Femiano F, Scully C. Burning mouth syndrome (BMS): double blind controlled study of alpha-lipoic acid (thioctic acid) therapy. J Oral Pathol Med. 2002 May;31(5):267-9.
26. Cavalcanti DR, da Silveira FR. Alpha lipoic acid in burning mouth syndrome--a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. J Oral Pathol Med. 2009 Mar;38(3):254-61. Epub 2009 Jan 23.
27. Zakrzewska JM, Forssell H, Glenny AM. Interventions for the treatment of burning mouth syndrome. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2005 Jan 25;(1):CD002779.
28. Jariwalla RJ, Lalezari J, Cenko D, Mansour SE, Kumar A, Gangapurkar B, Nakamura D. Restoration of blood total glutathione status and lymphocyte function following alpha-lipoic acid supplementation in patients with HIV infection. J Altern Complement Med. 2008 Mar;14(2):139-46.
29. Baur A, Harrer T, Peukert M, et al. Alpha-lipoic acid is an effective inhibitor of human immuno-deficiency virus (HIV-1) replication. Klin Wochenschr 1991;69:722-4.

Evidence Based Rating Scale 

The Evidence Based Rating Scale is a tool that helps consumers translate the findings of medical research studies with what our clinical advisors have found to be efficacious in their personal practice. This tool is meant to simplify which supplements and therapies demonstrate promise in the treatment of certain conditions. This scale does not take into account any possible interactions with any medication/ condition/ or therapy which you may be currently undertaking. It is therefore advisable to ask your doctor before starting any new treatment regimen.

Condition

Rating

Explanation

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cancer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preliminary evidence indicates potential of antioxidant properties in preventing cancer; studies in humans are needed. (15,16)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cataracts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Studies show prevention of cataracts in animals; human studies needed to specifically recommend. (1,22,23)

 

 

Chronic fatigue syndrome

 

 

Anecdotal evidence indicates some benefit. More research is needed to confirm or refute these results. (21)

 

 

Diabetes

 

 

 

 

 

 

Numerous studies indicate benefits for neuropathy, improved glucose-lowering action of insulin, and regulation of blood sugar levels. (6-10) 

 

Lyme Disease

 

 

 

 

No studies specifically for this indication; used anecdotally for fatigue related to Lyme disease. (21)

 

Memory loss/impairment

 

 

Animal studies indicate improvement in long-term memory and reduced oxidative stress in combination with other oxidants; human studies needed to specifically recommend. (11,12) 

Ailments Dosage
Aging 100 mg twice a day
Cancer Prevention
100 mg twice a day; may be partially covered by daily antioxidant complex.
Cataracts
100 mg twice a day
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
100-200 mg a day
Diabetes
For antioxidant protection: 100 mg twice a day to help prevent complications of diabetes
For diabetic neuropathy: 200 mg 3 times a day
Hepatitis 100 mg twice a day
Lyme Disease Take 100-200 mg a day.
Skin Health
50 mg twice a day; apply topically according to package instructions


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Date Published: 4/19/2005
Date Reviewed: 6/29/2010



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