Alpha Lipoic Acid Neuropathy

Alpha lipoic acid can be used in the management of diabetic neuropathy.  Diabetic neuropathy is a common side effect of type 1 and type 2 diabetes, affecting about 15 to 18 million people in the US.  It affects about 70 percent of type 2 diabetics or about 20 million people in the US alone.  While neuropathy can be caused by a variety of symptoms, the most common cause of neuropathy is type 2 diabetes, which affects approximately 33 percent of cases of neuropathy.

Alpha lipoic acid

Typical signs and symptoms a type 2 diabetic might have when developing diabetic neuropathy include burning or lancinating pain in the feet, weakness of the muscles of the lower leg and feet, and numbness of the feet.  While the feet are the most common areas of diabetic neuropathy, the disease can also affect the hands, leading to the same symptoms as can be found in the feet.

According to researchers in Europe, an effective treatment for diabetic neuropathy is alpha lipoic acid.  It is commonly used in Europe for type 1 and type 2 diabetics who develop diabetic neuropathy as a result of having blood sugars that are not in good control.

Unfortunately, the news of the effectiveness of alpha lipoic acid hasn’t yet been recognized by healthcare practitioners in the US.  Most people with diabetic neuropathy in the US aren’t treated with supplements but instead are treated with medications, even though there are many clinical trials on alpha lipoic acid that show its effectiveness against the disease.

What is Alpha Lipoic Acid?

Alpha lipoic acid is an extremely powerful antioxidant that is soluble in both water and fat.  By being soluble in both of these bodily tissues, alpha lipoic acid can get into the cells and tissues of the body very effectively and can reach tissues of the nerves and brain.

Along with being an antioxidant, alpha lipoic acid is a heavy metal chelator.  Heavy metal chelators help diabetic patients by ridding the body of metals that can be toxic to the nerves.  These include mercury and lead, which can be consumed in both the water and food we eat.

Alpha lipoic acid also helps maintain high levels of glutathione in the system.  Glutathione is a vital antioxidant in the brain, protecting the diabetic from nerve cell damage in the cells of the brain.  This is another reason why alpha lipoic acid is a good supplement to take for diabetic patients with or without diabetic neuropathy.

Function of Alpha Lipoic Acid

As mentioned, alpha lipoic acid is an antioxidant supplement.  Antioxidants work by scavenging for oxygen free radicals in the cells.  Oxygen free radicals are molecules that are the byproducts of cellular metabolism that can damage the DNA and other structures inside cells, and can lead to various diseases caused by cellular damage, including cancer.

Alpha lipoic acid also helps turn the glucose we take in as part of carbohydrate metabolism turn into cellular fuel.  Without glucose, the cells cannot make energy and they become starved, leading to even more cellular damage.  When the cells are damaged, they cannot repair themselves and the cellular structures are sometimes irreparably damaged.

Alpha lipoic acid also helps decrease the risk of infection in the diabetic patient with neuropathy.  It keeps the immune cells of the body functioning at a maximal level so that they can fight off pathogens that threaten to invade the body, causing infection of the bladder, skin, and other tissues.

While most antioxidants only function in water or fat, alpha lipoic acid is both fat soluble and water soluble.  This makes it effective in all parts of the body.  Besides being an antioxidant in its own right, alpha lipoic acid might be helpful in regenerating other antioxidants in the body so that they can be more effective in reducing oxygen free radicals.

Alpha lipoic acid must be changed to dihydrolipoic acid in order to act as a functional antioxidant.  Alpha lipoic acid is sometimes confused with alpha linolenic acid, which is not an antioxidant but is instead an omega 3 fatty acid.  Both are sometimes abbreviated as ALA; however, many researchers use the designation “LA” to mean lipoic acid so as not to confuse it with “ALA”, which is alpha linolenic acid.

Alpha Lipoic Acid in Diabetes

Several research studies have been done on the use of the supplement in managing diabetes.  The results of these studies indicate that alpha lipoic acid is effective in reducing blood glucose levels.  In addition, its use as an antioxidant means that it can destroy oxygen free radicals that have been implicated in the pathophysiology of diabetic peripheral neuropathy.

Scientists have also discovered that alpha lipoic acid improves the sensitivity of the cells to insulin, also referred to as “insulin sensitivity”.  Diabetics with type 2 diabetes have insulin resistance, which means the insulin cannot put glucose into the cells of the body.  By improving insulin resistance, alpha lipoic acid can lower blood glucose levels and reduce the signs and symptoms of diabetic neuropathy in those type 2 diabetics who take the supplement.

Alpha lipoic acid is used in Germany to treat diabetic neuropathy.  Unfortunately, most of the research studies on alpha lipoic acid have used injectable alpha lipoic acid, in which the participants got the supplement intravenously.  No one knows whether or not alpha lipoic acid given by mouth has the same effect as IV alpha lipoic acid.  In addition, most research on alpha lipoic acid for the treatment of diabetic neuropathy has involved very small numbers of participants.

Clearly, more research on alpha lipoic acid needs to be done, preferably by using alpha lipoic acid orally against giving placebo medications on larger numbers of people.  If such research shows that oral alpha lipoic acid is successful in treating diabetic neuropathy, perhaps more doctors in the US will begin to recommend the supplement to diabetic patients instead of prescribing medications for the disease.

Alpha lipoic acid may also help diabetics who have autonomic neuropathy.  Autonomic neuropathy is different from diabetic peripheral neuropathy in that it affects the nerves that supply the organs of the body.  In one study involving more than 70 participants who had autonomic neuropathy of the heart, those who received 800 milligrams of alpha lipoic acid by mouth had decreased evidence of autonomic neuropathy when compared to participants who took a placebo drug.

References:

  1. Alpha-Lipoic Acid – A Viable Treatment For Diabetic Neuropathy. http://www.drperlmutter.com/lipoic-acid-powerfully-effective-treating-diabetic-neuropathy/#sthash.er7UZsYI.dpuf. Accessed 5/31/16.
  2. Alpha lipoic acid. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/alphalipoic-acid.  Accessed 5/31/16.
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