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What are Alpha Lipoic Acid Supplements?

By Jacquelyn Gilchrist
Updated May 17, 2024
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Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is an antioxidant and a fatty acid that is naturally present in every cell of the body. It is also sometimes called thioctic acid or lipoic acid. While the body naturally manufactures alpha lipoic acid, additional ALA can be obtained through dietary sources. Organ meats, red meats, and yeast contain this substance. Some people may also take alpha lipoic acid supplements, or a doctor may administer the compound in an injection.

This compound works in the body to help the cells turn glucose into energy. Its antioxidant properties help strengthen the body’s immune system and its ability to ward off infections by combating free radicals. Free radicals are harmful waste products that cause cell damage. Alpha lipoic acid is both water-soluble and fat-soluble, which means that it has the ability to fight free radicals in both fatty tissues and in water. These antioxidants can help prevent damage to organs and tissues.

Alpha lipoic acid supplements may also be taken by diabetic patients to help lower blood sugar levels. This compound may also reduce damage from a complication of diabetes, called neuropathy, or nerve damage. Patients who take alpha lipoic acid supplements for neuropathy may notice a reduction in the numbness, tingling, and pain caused by neuropathy.

Due to its antioxidant properties, alpha lipoic acid supplements may also help to safeguard the brain from free radical damage. Unlike other antioxidants, ALA is able to pass through the blood-brain barrier, which is composed of cells and very small blood vessels. While more scientific studies are needed in this area, this compound may help reduce brain damage in patients who have suffered a stroke.

There are other conditions that alpha lipoic acid supplements may alleviate, however, more research is needed. It has been suggested that it may help treat liver disease, or liver damage due to other causes. Some researchers have also proposed that it may also help glaucoma patients.

Patients who take alpha lipoic acid supplements should be aware of possible side effects. These may include muscle cramps, headaches, and a 'pins and needles' sensation in the limbs. Patients who experience these symptoms should seek their doctor’s advice. An allergic reaction to ALA requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms of a possible allergic reaction include hives, facial swelling, and respiratory difficulties.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not take alpha lipoic acid supplements without the approval of a doctor. Diabetic patients should only use ALA under their doctor’s direction, due to the risk of low blood sugar. Additionally, patients who have a vitamin B1 deficiency, or those who commonly consume excessive amounts of alcohol, should avoid this supplement.

Other medications and vitamins may interact with alpha lipoic acid supplements. Patients who seek to combine supplements or drugs should seek their doctor’s advice first. ALA may interact with diabetes medications, as well as drugs intended to regulate the thyroid.

There are no official recommended dosages for ALA supplements. Children should never take them, as possible risks are unknown. Adults who take them for general health may take between 20 to 50 milligrams (mg) daily. Diabetic patients who wish to control neuropathy symptoms may take up to 800 mg daily, in divided doses.

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