Alpha-Lipoic Acid: All Benefits for Diabetics!

Alpha-lipoic acid Benefits, side effects, and Neuropathy Implications

Poor blood sugar control can lead to common complications like damage to your eyes and nerves. Wondering how you can prevent this? Well, I would say good blood sugar control. But that’s tough at times. Diabetic neuropathy, which is damage to your nerves, is one of the most common complications affecting diabetics. It affects up to 50% of people with diabetes! And poor blood glucose control can increase your risk. Likely alpha-lipoic acid can help. Alpha-lipoic acid has many benefits such as improving insulin resistance and blood sugars, improving neuropathy, skin health, and dementia.

Today, I would love to share some information about something that might just help you if nerve damage or aging is one of your concerns.

  • Case study:

(Based on a true story) – A type 1 diabetic was diagnosed with it in her 30’s. It was a shocking diagnosis because she always thought she had good sugar control. She had a mixture of both numbness and pain – cannot feel the soles of her feet but had shooting excruciating pain up and down the leg. Had to rely on a walking cane as it affected her balance and gait and she couldn’t climb stairs. Eventually had an early retirement, she could no longer get to the second floor of her workplace. Is alpha-Lipoic acid a good option for her? Let’s review the data.

What is alpha-lipoic acid?

Of lipoic acid is a natural compound your own body produces. It is an antioxidant.

Alpha-lipoic acid:

  • reduces cell damage, converts glucose into energy
  • linked to reduced inflammation, lower blood glucose, improvement in nerve function
  • humans produce a small amount (we need to get extra from our diet/supplements)

Alpha-lipoic acid Sources

  • Alpha-lipoic acid is present in red meat (beef, lamb, etc), organ meats (liver and heart), Brussel sprouts, broccoli, spinach, potatoes as well as alpha-lipoic acid supplements

All the Benefits of  Alpha-lipoic acid 600 mg a day

Lose a little weight. An analysis of studies shows that people lost 1.27 more kg after an average of 23 weeks of consumption. That’s more than 5 months. Not a very significant difference in weight loss, almost negligible.

May reduce skin aging and protect skin from harmful UV rays (due to its antioxidant properties)

May slow progression of Alzheimer’s/memory loss (but is not a cure) – Memory loss is due to oxidative stress and ALA is an antioxidant.

May prevent heart disease and liver disease. Heart disease is responsible for 1 in 5 deaths in America. ALA can reduce oxidative stress which is also one of the causes of heart disease. And can lower bad cholesterol and fats in the blood.

ALA (alpha-lipoic acid) may help in reducing blood glucose levels (though research findings are still inconclusive) – ALA can reduce insulin resistance and help your body cells use more insulin. This reduces blood sugar levels.

The most famous and widely studied benefit is regarding neuropathy – damage to the nerves.

Up to 50% of people with diabetes end up with neuropathy! Commonly affects the legs and feet first before the rest of the body. Can cause discomfort, pain/ burning in the affected area. Or loss of feeling – unable to detect wounds and cuts/feel hypoglycaemic symptoms. Eventually affects a nerve in the heart, urinary tract, and digestive tract.

You know there’s this thing called Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. It’s numbness and weakness at the side of your hand due to damage to one of the nerves in your hand. Many people think it’s cause you type too much on the keyboard! But Scientists don’t know the exact cause and diabetes is a possible risk factor. Scientists were so interested in how ALA can help with nerves. They recruited 20 people who had this disease that was so severe they needed surgery. They gave some of them 600 mg of ALA and the rest of them got a placebo (substance with no therapeutic effect). After 8 weeks, scientists asked them about their symptoms. Many of them who took ALA felt huge improvements even before the surgery and their outcomes were better post-surgery. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29356576/)

Diabetic neuropathy has no known cure – prevent it or slow the progression/improve symptoms. The longer you have diabetes, the higher the risk.

ALA has been shown in many studies to help relieve and ease these symptoms by promoting healthy nerve function, especially with diabetic neuropathy.

Alpha-lipoic acid supplements can contain up to 1000 times more ALA than foods. 300-600mg daily is safe and sufficient. Talk about your own supplement briefly

  • Warning/caution

Of course, these supplements cannot replace your diabetes medications. Follow your doctor’s instructions. The best way to prevent diabetic neuropathy is to manage your blood sugar well. My other videos teach on that!

What dose of Alpha-Lipoic Acid is Needed to Help Improve Neuropathy?

Several prospective trials have evaluated ALA in patients with painful diabetic neuropathy. In an initial trial, daily IV ALA for three weeks was associated with reduced pain and numbness compared with placebo infusions. In a second trial, oral ALA (600, 1200, or 1800 mg daily) versus placebo researchers studies 181 patients with diabetic neuropathy. All three doses of oral alpha-lipoic acid treatment were associated with a reduction in the neuropathy total symptoms in stabbing pain, burning pain, paresthesia, numbness compared with placebo. The benefit of ALA did not change by dose. A more than 50 percent reduction in neuropathic symptoms was observed in 50 to 62 percent of patients with ALA vs 26% with placebo.

What are the Side effects of Alpha-Lipoic Acid?

Doses higher than 600 mg daily can cause side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and dizziness without increasing efficacy.

A Study Regarding ALA(alpha-lipoic acid) and Diabetic Neuropathy

  • A study was conducted with 200 participants. They were all diagnosed with diabetic neuropathy. Scientists gave one group 600mg of ALA twice daily. They gave another group placebo (substance with no therapeutic effect). After 1 month, 3 months, and 6 months, scientists asked them about their symptoms. Those who took ALA experienced significant improvement in their symptoms! Though 6 patients reported mild nausea, one side effect from ALA.

AHMET ERGIN, MD, FACE, CDCES, ECNU
ENDOCRINOLOGIST

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