This is a brief overview on alpha lipoic acid, a much-studied antioxidant that holds special interest to those with chronic liver disease and/or HIV. If you’re one of those people who like their information in capsule summary form (with further details and references attached), this may be just the ticket to get you started. The full entry can be found on the University of Maryland Medical Center’s website –another in a growing set of mainstream medical information resources that host serious information on “integrative medicine,” including dietary supplements.
Alpha-lipoic acid is an antioxidant that is manufactured in the human body. Antioxidants are substances that work by attacking “free radicals,” waste products created when the body turns food into energy. There are also many sources of free radicals in the environment such as ultraviolet rays, radiation, and toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke, car exhaust, and pesticides. Free radicals cause harmful chemical reactions that can damage cells in the body, making it harder for the body to fight off infections. As a result a person becomes more susceptible to long term diseases such as diabetes and liver damage.
Alpha-lipoic acid works together with other antioxidants such as vitamins C and E. It is important for growth, helps to prevent cell damage, and helps the body rid itself of harmful substances.
Several studies suggest that treatment with ALA may help reduce pain, burning, itching, tingling, and numbness in people who have nerve damage (called peripheral neuropathy) caused by diabetes. Alpha-lipoic acid has been used for years for this purpose in Europe. Other studies have shown that alpha-lipoic acid speeds the removal of glucose (sugar) from the blood of people with diabetes and that this antioxidant may prevent kidney damage associated with diabetes in animals.
Alpha-lipoic acid may prove useful in the treatment of chronic hepatitis because it relieves stress on the liver and helps rid the body of toxins. There have been several case reports of use of alpha-lipoic acid in combination with silymarin (milk thistle) and selenium (a substance with liver-protecting and antioxidant properties) to help treat hepatitis C (a serious type of hepatitis contracted from blood and bodily fluids that does not have an adequate cure or treatment).
It has also been used in conjunction with silymarin to treat Amanita poisoning. Amanita is a highly poisonous mushroom that causes liver damage.
Brain Function and Stroke
Because alpha-lipoic acid can pass easily into the brain, it has protective effects on brain and nerve tissue and shows promise as a treatment for stroke and other brain disorders involving free radical damage. Animals treated with alpha-lipoic acid, for example, suffered less brain damage and had a four times greater survival rate after a stroke than the animals who did not receive this supplement. While animal studies are encouraging, more research is needed to understand whether this benefit applies to people as well.
Additional conditions for which alpha-lipoic acid may prove useful include heart failure, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), cataracts, and glaucoma. More research is underway in these areas.