Alpha-lipoic acid is an antioxidant that's made naturally in our bodies, is found in some foods - and is also available as a dietary supplement.
Most healthy people make enough alpha-lipoic acid naturally from diet. Alpha-lipoic acid is found in yeast, red meat and organ meats, such as liver.
Alpha-lipoic acid is a source of antioxidants. In dietary and nutritional therapy, these are thought to possibly be helpful in 'disarming' damaging chemicals called free radicals and preventing cell damage.
Why do people take alpha-lipoic acid?
Some research suggests that alpha-lipoic acid supplements may help with type 2 diabetes. Several studies have found that they can lower blood sugar levels, and some studies suggest they may improve insulin resistance.
Some studies suggested that alpha-lipoic acid supplements can help with peripheral neuropathy, nerve damage caused by diabetes. Some research found symptoms like pain, tingling and prickling in the feet and legs were helped. It may also help protect the retina from some of the damage that can occur in people with diabetes. Other research did not find alpha-lipoic acid to be beneficial in diabetic neuropathy.
Although these uses may be promising in future, conditions like diabetes still require conventional medical treatment. Seek medical advice before taking supplements in case these may detrimentally affect existing medical conditions or medicines taken for health conditions. During pregnancy and when breast-feeding, always seek medical advice before taking supplements of ALA.
There's some early evidence that long-term use of alpha-lipoic acid might help with the symptoms of dementia. Other studies suggest that an alpha-lipoic acid cream might help skin damage related to ageing. However, more research needs to be done.
Alpha-lipoic acid has also been researched as a treatment for other conditions, including glaucoma, kidney disease, migraines and peripheral arterial disease. So far, the evidence is not clear.
One University of Liverpool study on rats found alpha-lipoic acid might help with weight loss.
No approved health claims
None of the research published into alpha-lipoic acid so far has convinced the European Food Safety Authority to allow companies to make health claims about the substance in any products they sell.
Claims which have been assessed but not authorised include:
- That it helps contribute to the maintenance of healthy blood glucose levels
- That it helps to keep normal level of blood cholesterol and has positive effects in fat burning
- That it helps to reduce oxidative stress or restore intracellular antioxidants
What are the risks of taking alpha-lipoic acid?
Because alpha-lipoic acid can lower blood sugar levels, people with diabetes should seek medical advice before using it. Other possible side effects include skin rash.