Alpha-lipoic acid: Benefits and Side Effects

In recent years, Alpha lipoic acid, a powerful antioxidant, has recieved growing attention.

This organic compound, made in small amounts by your body but also found in foods and as a supplement, has been studied for its extensive health benefits.

Research suggests that it may play a role in weight loss, diabetes, and other health conditions.

However, many people wonder whether it’s effective.

Here is everything you need to know about alpha-lipoic acid.

What is Alpha Lipoic Acid?

Alpha-lipoic acid is a naturally occurring compound that is made in the mitochondria of plant and animal cells.

It is a fatty acid and a potent antioxidant, which can be used to fight the effects of oxidative stress caused by free radicals on the cells in our bodies.

Alpha-lipoic acid is unique in that it can cross the blood-brain barrier. This makes it even more useful than some other antioxidants.

Our bodies also naturally make alpha-lipoic acid (or ALA), and you can find it in various foods like spinach, broccoli, potatoes, liver, kidneys, red meat, and brewer’s yeast.

Alpha-lipoic acid is sometimes used as an alternative treatment of diabetic polyneuropathy. This is because ALA can treat neuropathic pain caused by nerve damage.

Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include burning, stinging, tingling, and numbness in both the legs and feet of diabetic patients.

ALA is also used for diabetic patients as a natural way to lower blood sugar levels. Those with diabetes must keep their blood glucose levels in safe ranges to avoid severe complications from this disease.

ALA works with the body’s insulin, produced by the liver, to reduce blood sugar naturally.

ALA can also be used for a variety of other conditions. These include obesity, brain diseases (like Alzheimer’s disease), heart disease, high blood pressure, glaucoma, fatty liver disease (thought this must be the type not caused by alcohol), osteoporosis, burning mouth syndrome, and even some types of cancer.

However, more research needs to be done to understand exactly how alpha-lipoic acid treats these diseases or if it helps at all.

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Benefits and Uses of Alpha Lipoic Acid

Diabetic neuropathy

ALA can be used as a treatment for diabetic patients to help lower blood sugar and ease the pain caused by diabetic peripheral neuropathy, Neuropathy is another word for nerve damage caused by type 2 diabetes. Most often, neuropathy manifests as pain and tingling in the feet. Neuropathy is a frequent side effect of type 2 diabetes and can very serious. It cannot be healed and depending on the symptoms, it can be challenging to treat.


Alpha-lipoic acid can lower something called the C-reactive protein. This protein, also known as CRP, is an inflammation marker. When this is found in the blood, it is often linked to high levels of inflammation caused by both type 2 diabetes and cancer.

In addition to lowering C-reactive proteins, ALA can decrease tumor necrosis factor-alpha. This is another compound that can be found in your blood and is usually a marker for inflammation. Tumor necrosis factor-alpha is also a marker for cardiovascular disease, so decreasing these levels is incredibly important for our overall health.


ALA may also help improve your brain functioning. This is because of its powerful antioxidant properties.

Oxidative stress can cause memory loss and diminish your overall brain health. Research is also being done on ALA’s ability to slow the progression of some types of dementia, like Alzheimer’s disease.

In the case of Alzheimer’s disease, it is often linked to high blood sugar. ALA has a positive impact on your body’s ability to metabolize blood sugar. This reduces the amount of blood sugar left in your blood, which greatly reduces your risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

Weight loss

Finally, weight loss is another result of ALA. This is because ALA uses the carbs that are stored in your body for fuel. It breaks them down and uses them as energy for other organs to use. Fewer carbohydrates mean less sugar and less fat storage.

However, human studies show that alpha-lipoic acid only slightly impacts weight loss.

An analysis of 12 studies discovered that people who took an alpha-lipoic acid supplement lost an average of 1.52 pounds (0.69 kg) more than those taking a placebo over an average of 14 weeks 

Multiple sclerosis

Finally, alpha-lipoic acid may slow the progression of multiple sclerosis. Randomized controlled clinical trials are ongoing to study the effect of this fatty acid and its ability to stop diseased cells from spreading in the body.

Another way ALA can help those with MS is by reducing inflammation and thereby reducing pain and symptoms of the disease.

Side effects of Alpha Lipoic Acid

Even though alpha-lipoic acid is a potent antioxidant, it is considered very safe to take. Most people can take supplements with ALA and experience no side effects.

Adults can usually take up to 2,400 mg of ALA with no fear of side effects. Taking higher doses is not recommended since there is no research supporting the benefits of the higher dosage.

It’s always best to consult with your doctor, who can give you the recommended dosage. They can consider your other medications and prescribe the correct dose.

While side effects are rare with alpha-lipoic acid, they can occur. Most people who had side effects from taking high doses of ALA reported itching, rashes, and nausea. Fortunately, these effects are usually mild.

type 2 diabetes supplement

What drug interactions does Alpha Lipoic Acid have?

Alpha-lipoic acid can interact negatively with some medications. You should not take ALA without talking with your doctor if you take insulin or other oral diabetes medicines.

This is because ALA can lower your blood sugar levels and, when combined with your current diabetic medication, may cause your blood sugar to dip into dangerously low levels.

ALA also negatively interacts with levothyroxine and other medicines for underactive thyroids. It may also cause complications if you are undergoing chemotherapy.

In addition to these medications, ALA should not be taken with other health supplements that naturally lower your blood sugar. There are a wide variety of herbs and supplements available that are advertised to lower your blood sugar.

These include, but are not limited to, garlic, fenugreek, horse chestnut, psyllium, devil’s claw, guar gum, and both Panax and Siberian ginseng. If you combine these supplements, you may force your blood sugar to dip too low and cause a medical emergency.

How to take alpha-lipoic acid

While your body does make alpha-lipoic acid on its own, it is only in small amounts. The ALA amounts found in our foods are also minimal but some good sources of alpha-lipoic acid include:

  • red meats

  • liver, heart, kidney

  • broccoli

  • spinach

  • tomatoes

  • brussels sprouts

  • potatoes

  • green peas

  • rice bran

Alpha-lipoic acid is also available as a supplement and can be found in many health stores and online. Supplements can contain up to 1,000 times more alpha-lipoic acid than foods. Keep in mind that only 30 – 40% of ALA is actually absorbed by your gut. Therefore, you may get better results if you always take your supplement on an empty stomach.

When choosing a supplement, look for ones that are certified by a third party. Unfortunately, many supplements claim to have quality ingredients, but cannot support their claims.

Many supplements package more than one ingredient together to provide the best supplementation for your health. Be sure to read the labels carefully to see if there are additional vitamins or minerals included.


A diabetes diagnosis has a significant impact on your life. However, it does not mean that you can no longer have fun or enjoy life! Instead, it means that you need to make adjustments to your lifestyle and diet to live a healthy, happy life.

In addition to regular exercise, a healthy diet, and weight loss, supplementation with alpha-lipoic acid is a great way to increase insulin sensitivity and lower your blood sugar levels.

This is especially important as high blood glucose numbers can cause serious complications from diabetes like diabetic polyneuropathy.

In addition to providing treatment for the symptoms of neuropathy, ALA can also make you healthier overall. This will improve your quality of life and reduce the risk of developing more severe complications from diabetes.

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