Alpha lipoic acid (aka: lipoic acid, thioctic acid, ALA) is an antioxidant found naturally inside every cell in the body. It is quickly absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract and is needed to produce energy for our body's normal functions. Alpha lipoic acid converts glucose (blood sugar) into energy.
Alpha-lipoic acid is also an antioxidant, a substance that neutralizes potentially harmful chemicals called free radicals. What makes alpha-lipoic acid unique is it is able to function in both water and fat. Typically an antioxidant functions in one or the other. For example, the more common antioxidant vitamins C functions in water and vitamin E functions in fat.
Alpha lipoic acid also appears to be able to recycle antioxidants such as vitamin C and glutathione after they have been used up. Glutathione is an important antioxidant that helps the body eliminate potentially harmful substances. Alpha lipoic acid increases the formation of glutathione.
Alpha lipoic acid is made by the body and can be found in very small amounts in foods such as spinach, broccoli, peas, Brewer's yeast, Brussel sprouts, rice bran, and organ meats.
Alpha lipoic acid supplements are available in capsule form at health food stores, some drugstores, and online. For maximum absorption, the supplements should be taken on an empty stomach.
Why People Use Alpha Lipoic Acid
When the nerves are damaged, it can cause sensory changes on the skin. Nerve damage can be caused by injury, nutritional deficiencies, chemotherapy, or imbalances in blood sugar levels. It may feel like pain, burning, numbness, tingling, weakness, and itching.
Alpha lipoic acid is thought to work as an antioxidant in both water and fatty tissue, enabling it to enter all parts of the nerve cell and protect it from damage.
Blood Sugar Support
Alpha lipoic acid is shown to promote cellular glucose uptake.
Alpha lipoic acid can cross the blood-brain barrier, a wall of tiny vessels and structural cells, and pass easily into the brain. It is thought to protect brain and nerve tissue by neutralizing free radicals.
Side effects of alpha lipoic acid may include headache, tingling or a "pins and needles" sensation, skin rash, or muscle cramps.
There have been a few reports in Japan of a rare condition called insulin autoimmune syndrome in people using alpha lipoic acid. The condition causes hypoglycemia and antibodies directed against the body's own insulin without previous insulin therapy.
The safety of alpha lipoic acid in pregnant or nursing women, children, or people with kidney or liver disease is unknown.
Possible Drug Interactions
Alpha lipoic acid may improve blood sugar control, so people with diabetes who are taking medication to lower blood sugar, such as metformin (Glucophage) or glyburide (DiaBeta, Glynase), should only take alpha lipoic acid under the supervision of a qualified health professional and have their blood sugar levels carefully monitored.
Animal studies indicate alpha lipoic acid may alter thyroid hormone levels, so it could theoretically have the same effect in humans. People taking thyroid medications such as levothyroxine should be monitored by their healthcare provider.
Article courtesy of About.com's Alternative Medicine, found with sources, here.