Alpha Lipoic Acid

Other Name(s):

ALA, alpha-lipoic acid, TA, thioctic acid

General Description:

Alpha lipoic acid (ALA), or thioctic acid, is a naturally occurring sulfur-containing organic acid that was discovered in 1951. It is used in the treatment of diabetes and lead and mercury poisoning. ALA is a growth factor in bacteria and single-celled animals and a substrate in plants and animal tissues. It is insoluble in water but soluble in fatty solvents.

Demonstrated Uses:

The primary established use for ALA is the treatment of diabetic neuropathy. Neuropathy consists of sensory changes, sometimes described as stinging, burning, painful, numb, etc., that are localized to areas of the skin. Intravenous ALA is used to treat neuropathy associated with long-standing diabetes and poorly controlled blood sugar.

Advanced diabetic neuropathy leads to numbness. With loss of feeling the patient becomes unaware of trauma to the area, and sores may go unnoticed until they become serious or even life threatening. This is common in the feet. Treatment with ALA appears to slow or stop progression of the neuropathy, and in the case of minimal early damage to the nerves it may even reverse some of the nerve damage.

ALA has also been shown to improve cardiac autonomic dysfunction associated with diabetes.

ALA is a potent antioxidant. This antioxidant function is thought to protect nerve tissue from damage. Diseases or conditions (such as heavy metal poisoning, diabetes, etc.) that cause oxidative stress appear to be helped in varying degrees by antioxidants such as ALA.

ALA has been used to treat lead poisoning. ALA appears to block the nerve damage done by oxidative stress caused by the lead. ALA has also been used to treat mercury poisoning. In both cases, ALA is used in conjunction with other medications and not as the sole treatment.


Please note that this section reports on claims that have NOT yet been substantiated through scientific studies.

ALA may also be useful in helping control blood sugar in diabetes and may play a role in preventing diabetes and cataracts.

Suggested Dosage:

ALA is available in commercial preparations for the treatment of diabetic neuropathy. Registered names are Biletan, Thioctacid, Thioctan, and Tioctan.

Typical doses of ALA range from 200 to 800 mg per day.

Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should consult a physician before taking any dietary supplements.

Side Effects:

There are no side effects at recommended doses. Toxicity is extremely low.


There are no known significant food or drug interactions, except for the fact that ALA can reduce the required insulin or oral diabetes drugs doses. Close monitoring of blood sugar levels is recommended.

Web Sites with Additional Information:

Click here for a list of reputable Web sites with general information on nutrition.


  1. Ziegler D, Gries FA. Alpha-lipoic acid in the treatment of diabetic peripheral and cardiac autonomic neuropathy. Diabetes, 46 Suppl 2. 1997;S62-6.

  2. Lykkesfeldt J, Hagen TM, Vinarsky V, Ames BN. Age-associated decline in ascorbic acid concentration, recycling, and biosynthesis in rat hepatocytes--reversal with (R)-alpha-lipoic acid supplementation. FASEB J. 1998;12(12):1183-9.

  3. Anuradha B, Varalakshmi P. Protective role of DL-alpha-lipoic acid against mercury-induced neural lipid peroxidation. Pharmacol Res. 1999;39(1):67-80.

  4. Konrad T, Vicini P, Kusterer K, Hoflich A, Assadkhani A, Bohles HJ, Sewell A, Tritschler HJ, Cobelli C, Usadel KH. Alpha-Lipoic acid treatment decreases serum lactate and pyruvate concentrations and improves glucose effectiveness in lean and obese patients with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 1999;22(2):280-7.

  5. Haak ES, Usadel KH, Kohleisen M, Yilmaz A, Kusterer K, Haak T. The effect of alpha-lipoic acid on the neurovascular reflex arc in patients with diabetic neuropathy assessed by capillary microscopy. Microvasc Res. 1999;58(1):28-34.

  6. Tirosh O, Sen CK, Roy S, Kobayashi MS, and Packer L. Neuroprotective effects of alpha-lipoic acid and its positively charged amide analogue. Free Radic Biol Med. 1999;26(11-12):1418-26.

  7. Borcea V, Nourooz-Zadeh J, Wolff SP, Klevesath M, Hofmann M, Urich H, Wahl P, Ziegler R, Tritschler H, Halliwell B, Nawroth PP. Alpha-Lipoic acid decreases oxidative stress even in diabetic patients with poor glycemic control and albuminuria. Free Radic Biol Med. 1999;26(11-12):1495-500.

  8. Gurer H, Ozgunes H, Oztezcan S, Ercal N. Antioxidant role of alpha-lipoic acid in lead toxicity. Free Radic Biol Med. 1999;27(1-2):75-81.

  9. Reljanovic M, Reichel G, Rett K, Lobisch M, Schuette K, Moller W, Tritschler HJ, Mehnert H. Treatment of diabetic polyneuropathy with the antioxidant thioctic acid (alpha-lipoic acid): a two year multicenter randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial (ALADIN II). Alpha Lipoic Acid in Diabetic Neuropathy. Free Radic Res. 1999;31(3):171-9.

  10. Kishi Y, Schmelzer JD, Yao JK, Zollman PJ, Nickander KK, Tritschler HJ, Low PA. Alpha-lipoic acid: effect on glucose uptake, sorbitol pathway, and energy metabolism in experimental diabetic neuropathy. Diabetes. 1999;48(10):2045-51.

  11. The Review of Natural Products by Facts and Comparisons. St. Louis, MO:Wolters Kluwer Co., 1999.

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