Alpha Lipoic Acid Alleviates Diabetic Nerve Pain
If you’re diabetic, chances are that, over time, you will develop some symptoms of nerve damage in your feet and lower legs. The symptoms–burning pain, prickling and numbness–can creep up on you, slowly, over the years, and eventually make you miserable.
Several studies have suggested that taking alpha lipoic acid (ALA) helps relieve the symptoms of diabetic nerve pain. Now, a new multi-center study, organized by researchers at the Mayo Clinic, adds further support to the use of ALA for diabetics.
The study included 181 people, average age 58, who’d had either type 1 or 2 diabetes for at least one year. Most had had type 2 diabetes for about 14 years, with symptoms of nerve damage for about 5 years. They were assessed for neuropathy, then randomly selected to take either a placebo or one of three oral doses of ALA; 600 mg, 1200 mg or 1800 mg, for five weeks. At the end of that time, they were reassessed.
Overall, people receiving ALA reported a significant reduction in sensations of pain and burning, with 62% of the 600 mg group, 50% of the 1200 mg group, and 71% of the 1800 mg group reporting good or very good pain relief (compared to 29% for the placebo group).
ALA is a vitamin-like substance that acts as a co-factor in energy production in the body, so it may help preserve energy production in diabetes-compromised cells. It also acts as anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, and, because it is both fat- and water-soluble, has a special affinity for nerve and brain cells, which are surrounded by fatty sheaths.
Although there was no improvement in nerve function seen in this study, researchers speculate that treatment with ALA might help improve nerve function if it’s started when people first have symptoms of nerve pain, before they develop irreversible nerve damage. They also note that this was a short study, and that longer follow-up might also have resulted in continued benefits. (Tang, J. et al. The Neurologist May, 2007, 13(3):164-7.)
These large doses of ALA are available only by taking supplements, which can be purchased without a prescription. If you have diabetes-related nerve pain, talk with your doctor before taking ALA. Side effects may include nausea or vomiting at high doses, and ALA may decrease blood sugar levels, requiring adjustments in insulin dosage. Also, you may need to take additional thiamin, since ALA can increase the need for this B vitamin. (This is especially important if you are a heavy drinker.)