In a new study published in the November issue of the journal Diabetes Care, the antioxidant alpha-lipoic acid (or ALA), taken in pill form, lessened pain in people with diabetic neuropathy, or nerve damage resulting from diabetes. Previous research has shown that intravenous ALA therapy can help to reduce pain and numbness due to diabetic neuropathy, but treatment with ALA in pill form has not been widely studied.
In this study, 166 people with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes were divided into four groups. Three of the groups received different doses of ALA, while the fourth group received a placebo (or inactive pill). After five weeks of once-daily treatment, all three groups that had been taking ALA experienced reductions in total neuropathy symptoms, stabbing pain, and burning pain compared to the placebo group. (There were, however, no significant differences between the treatment and placebo groups in numbness.)
Because all three doses of ALA were similarly effective and the side effects of treatment—nausea, vomiting, and dizziness—increased with the dose, the researchers concluded that the lowest studied dose of 600 milligrams once daily appeared to be the most effective.
ALA is a sulfur-containing compound that is made in small amounts in the body but is not found in food. Other studies have shown that its action as an antioxidant may not only help protect against neuropathy pain, but may also enhance insulin action, improve blood circulation, and decrease oxidative stress in people with diabetes.
If you are interested in trying ALA therapy, it’s important to discuss taking it with your health-care provider before you start. There is some chance that ALA could increase the risk of hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) in people who use insulin or certain oral diabetes drugs. It may also interfere with absorption of the vitamin biotin. Finally, keep in mind that ALA supplements, like all supplements, are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for quality or effectiveness.