ALA, alpha-lipoic acid, TA, thioctic acid
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.
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.
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.
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.
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