Researchers at the Russian Medical Academy for Advanced Studies in Moscow theorized that because the potent antioxidant alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) helps the overall health of the nerves, it may help improve symptoms of diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage).

In this double-blind study, a group of 120 patients with diabetic neuropathy were given either 600 mg of ALA or a placebo, infused intravenously for five days a week for 14 treatments. After 14 treatments, test results showed that positive sensory symptoms in the ALA group had improved more than three times as much as those in the placebo group. Negative symptoms, including pain, numbness and prickling, were also greatly improved in the ALA group. The researchers concluded that because ALA is safe and has a positive effect on the nerves, it might be a useful supplementary treatment for diabetic neuropathy.

Another recent study showed that ALA could be beneficial for diabetic neuropathy, even in the short term. In this German study, 24 patients with diabetes type 2 were given either 600 mg of ALA or a placebo daily for three weeks. Neuropathic symptoms such as pain, burning and numbness in the feet were scored at weekly intervals. Before the study, the scores were similar between the two groups. After the three-week trial, scores for overall symptoms had decreased by 60% in the ALA group compared to only 29% in the placebo group. There were no adverse effects reported during the study.

ALA has also been studied for its benefits in the treatment of hepatitis C, Alzheimer’s disease, HIV and cataracts. It is known as the “universal antioxidant” because it is both fat and water soluble.

Sources: Diabetes Care. 2003 Mar;26(3):770-6; Diabet Med. 1999 Dec;16(12):1040-3