As of 2012, 9.3 percent of the U.S. population—29.1 million people of all ages—have diabetes, according the 2014 National Diabetes Statistics Report.1 Researchers have been searching for new ways to help those with the disease for years, and some studies have found that certain supplements, such as alpha-lipoic acid, can make an impact.
What is alpha-lipoic acid?
Made naturally in the body and found in every cell, alpha lipoic acid is an antioxidant that helps turn glucose into energy. Unlike other antioxidants, it is both fat- and water-soluble, which means it can work anywhere in the body.2 Small amounts of alpha-liopic acid are found in many foods, including spinach, broccoli, carrots, potatoes, and red meats, to name a few.3
According to WebMD, “We have strong evidence that alpha-lipoic acid supplements help with type 2 diabetes. Several studies have found that they can improve insulin resistance … [and] can help with neuropathy.” Researchers are also exploring the benefits of this acid for conditions such as kidney disease, migraines, glaucoma, and peripheral arterial disease.3
How does it help those with diabetes?
Several studies have found that alpha-lipoic acid helps to lower blood sugar levels. That, paired with its ability to kill free radicals, “may help people with diabetic peripheral neuropathy, who have pain, burning, itching, tingling, and numbness in arms and legs from nerve damage,” according to an article published by the University of Maryland Medical Center. It can also help with autonomic neuropathy, another diabetes-related condition, which affects everything from the nerves to internal organs.2
A study published in 2012 reviewed “the potential benefits of alpha-lipoic acid with respect to glycemic control, improved insulin sensitivity, oxidative stress, and neuropathy in diabetic patients.” The researchers concluded “that the major benefit of LA (alpha-lipoic acid) supplementation is in patients with diabetic neuropathy.”4
Another study, conducted in 2011, supported the use of alpha-lipoic acid “as an antioxidant in the care of diabetic patients.” Researchers examined the treatment for “two months on fasting blood glucose (FBG), insulin resistance (IR), and glutathione peroxidase (GH-Px) activity in type 2 diabetes (T2DM) patients.” Results showed significant decreases in FBG and PPG levels in comparison to the placebo group.5
Are there side effects?
Some side effects are associated with taking alpha-lipoic acid as a supplement, including nausea, dizziness, or rash; however, they are fairly uncommon. Anyone looking to add a supplement to their daily routine should consult a doctor—especially so with alpha-lipoic acid, as it can lower blood sugar.3
1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2014.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pubs/statsreport14.htm. Updated July 2014. Accessed October 2014.
2Ehrlich S. “Alpha-lipoic acid.” University of Maryland Medical Center. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/alphalipoic-acid. Updated April 2011. Accessed October 2014.
3Johnson K. “Vitamins and Supplements Lifestyle Guide: Alpha-Lipoic Acid.” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/lifestyle-guide-11/supplement-guide-alpha-lipoic-acid. Updated October 2012. Accessed October 2014.
4Jialal I, Singh U. Alpha-lipoic acid supplementation and diabetes. Nutr Rev. 2008:66(11);646-657.
5Ansar H, Hejazi N, Kazemi F, Mazloom Z. Effect of alpha-lipoic acid on blood glucose, insulin resistance and glutathione peroxidase of type 2 diabetic patients. Saudi Med J. 2011:32(6);584-588.