Alpha Lipoic Acid
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA, also known as lipoic acid or thioctic acid) is a chemical that is similar to a vitamin. It is an antioxidant--a substance that prevents cell damage caused by substances called free radicals in a process called oxidative stress. High levels of blood glucose are one cause of oxidative stress. ALA is found in some foods, such as liver, spinach, broccoli, and potatoes. ALA can also be made in the laboratory. ALA supplements are marketed as tablets or capsules.
- It is theorized that ALA may be beneficial because of its antioxidant activity.
- There is some use, reported from outside the United States, of ALA delivered intravenously (IV). These trials are not discussed in this report.
Summary of the research findings
The evidence on ALA for type 2 diabetes and obesity is limited. There are a number of small studies in animals and in people that have shown hints of beneficial effects. In a few of these studies, some possible benefit from ALA was seen in glucose uptake in muscle; sensitivity of the body to insulin; diabetic neuropathy; and/or weight loss. More research is needed to document whether there is any benefit of ALA in diabetes and to better understand how ALA works.
Side effects and possible risks
While ALA appears to be safe for the general adult population, people with diabetes need to know that ALA might lower blood sugar too much, and thus they would need to monitor their blood sugar level especially carefully. ALA may also lower blood levels of minerals, such as iron; interact with some medicines, such as antacids; and decrease the effectiveness of some anti-cancer drugs. Other possible side effects of ALA include headache, skin rash, and stomach upset.
- There is limited scientific evidence on the effectiveness of dietary supplements as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)A group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine. Complementary medicine is used together with conventional medicine, and alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine. for type 2 diabetes. The evidence that is available is not sufficiently strong to prove that any of the six supplements discussed in this report have benefits for type 2 diabetes or its complications. A possible exception may be the use of omega-3 fatty acidsEssential nutrients that the body cannot make on its own but can obtain from foods such as fish and flaxseed, or from dietary supplements. to lower triglyceridea levels.
- It is very important not to replace conventional medical therapy for diabetes with an unproven CAM therapy.
- To ensure a safe and coordinated course of care, people should inform their health care providers about any CAM therapy that they are currently using or considering.
- The dietary supplements reviewed in this section appear to be generally safe at low-to-moderate doses. However, each can interact with various prescription medications, affecting the action of the medications. People with type 2 diabetes need to know about these risks and discuss them with their health care provider. Prescribed medicines may need to be adjusted if a person is also using a CAM therapy.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Research Report: Treating Type 2 Diabetes with Dietary Supplements (PDF). (Accessed 5/7/08.)
Reviewed by Susan Weiner, R.D., M.S., C.D.E., C.D.N. 10/08
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