The nutritional supplement alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is touted as a treatment for cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS and liver disease. ALA was identified as a vitamin-like substance more than 50 years ago. It is produced in the cells of the body and also is found in small amounts in certain foods, such as broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, peas, Brussels sprouts and liver.
ALA is a unique antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals (potentially harmful negatively charged molecules). ALA is absorbed into water-soluble and fat-soluble tissues, thereby providing antioxidant protection to all cells of the body. Another important feature of ALA is that it facilitates the regeneration of antioxidants. This is helpful because antioxidants become inactivated after neutralizing free radicals. ALA reactivates these antioxidants, including vitamins E and C, coenzyme Q10 and glutathione, a group of nutrients considered to be the most powerful of the antioxidant network.
THE SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE
There is reliable research supporting the use of ALA in the treatment of type 2 diabetes. Daily supplementation with ALA has been shown to improve blood sugar (glucose) uptake by cells and insulin resistance (allowing insulin to transport glucose into cells more effectively) and reduce nerve damage and pain associated with diabetic neuropathy.
A four-week, placebo-controlled multicenter study measured the effects of ALA on insulin sensitivity (the ability of the body's cells to recognize and respond to insulin). Seventy-four patients with type 2 diabetes were randomized to receive either a placebo or 600 mg of ALA once, twice or three times daily. Blood glucose and insulin levels were measured before and at the end of the study. Those receiving ALA had a 25% improvement in insulin sensitivity after the four weeks of treatment. All three doses of ALA had the same effect.
There is additional research showing that AIA at doses of 500 mg to 1,200 mg daily is helpful in alleviating diabetic neuropathy, a condition in which nerve damage causes pain, burning or numbness, especially in the lower legs and feet. Improvement with ALA can take three to five weeks.
In one Russian study, nearly half of glaucoma patients who took 150 mg of ALA daily for one month experienced improved vision. It is thought that the antioxidant properties of ALA improve the health of eye tissue and help the vision of people with glaucoma.
For the treatment of type 2 diabetes and diabetic neuropathy, I recommend taking 600 mg to 1,200 mg of ALA daily. For glaucoma, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome and liver disease, I recommend 300 mg to 1,200 mg of ALA daily. Its antioxidant and blood sugar-regulating properties support better immune function as well as energy production. ALA also can be taken at a dosage of 50 mg to 100 mg daily by anyone who wants to benefit from its immune-boosting property.
For optimal absorption, take supplemental ALA on an empty stomach. There are two main supplemental forms of ALA. The R form is found in plants and animals. The S form is a synthetic version. Recent data has found the R form to be more active in the body than the S form. I recommend taking the R form, which is commonly available in tablets at health-food stores. Side effects, including skin rash and digestive upset, are rare.