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An Inquiry into Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA)

Posted Jan 26 2009 4:35pm
By Dr. Christine Gonzalez (PharmD, CHC)

As part of my daily experience, I am often asked about dietary supplements by patients and colleagues alike. This happened a couple of weeks ago at the pharmacy when my co-worker asked me whether we carried alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) and inquisitively inquired about its use. I was caught off-guard for a moment because the only thing I could recall was that it is an antioxidant. I figured that was a humbling sign that I should read up on this one more...

Alpha-lipoic acid, sometimes referred to as just lipoic acid, is a naturally occurring nutrient that functions as an antioxidant and with glucose conversion into energy. It works in both fat and water environments, unlike vitamin E (only fat soluble) and vitamin C (only water soluble). There is a lot of evidence related to its beneficial effects for diabetic patients, such as minimizing peripheral neuropathy (tingling in the hands and feet), improving blood sugar control by improving the cell’s response to insulin, and lessening damage of the heart, kidney, and small blood vessels. There have also been preliminary studies on its role in age-related hearing and vision loss, heart disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and cancer. It is said to improve energy, muscle strength, brain function, and immunity. It is also being studied for HIV disease and multiple sclerosis. There is currently a trial at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center evaluating the role of ALA in preventing peripheral neuropathy in patients receiving certain chemotherapy drugs.

Most healthy people make enough ALA to meet the body’s requirement. ALA is found in liver, spinach, broccoli, potatoes, and yeast but supplementation is usually necessary to get therapeutic dosages. For use as a general antioxidant, lower dosages are recommended. For specific conditions, such as peripheral neuropathy, higher dosages are recommended and often divided throughout the day. Diabetics should work with their healthcare provider while taking this supplement, since it may change their medication requirements. Some people also report worsening skin sensations when they start therapy. The fact that there is so much attention and new research on this nutrient will continue to open people’s minds to the role of prudent supplementation to balance chronic diseases or toxicities from treatments. I was pleasantly surprised at what I found and will certainly keep reading up on ALA. Please feel free to join in and share your knowledge. We all can learn so much from each other!

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