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Alpha-Lipoic Acid

What is it?

Alpha-lipoic acid is an antioxidant that is made naturally in the body and also found in foods. It is used to break down carbohydrates and to make energy.

Alpha-lipoic acid can be eaten in foods, such as red meat, carrots, beets, spinach, broccoli, and potatoes. It is also available in supplements. Because alpha-lipoic acid seems to work like an antioxidant, it might provide protection to the brain and also be helpful in certain liver diseases.

People most commonly use alpha-lipoic acid for nerve pain in people with diabetes. It is also used for obesity, altitude sickness, aging skin, high levels of cholesterol or other fats in the blood, and many other purposes, but there is no good scientific evidence to support many of these other uses.

How effective is it?

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.

The effectiveness ratings for ALPHA-LIPOIC ACID are as follows:

Possibly effective for...

  • Nerve pain in people with diabetes (diabetic neuropathy). Taking 600-1800 mg of alpha-lipoic acid by mouth or by IV seems to improve symptoms such as burning, pain, and numbness in the legs and arms of people with diabetes. Lower doses of alpha-lipoic acid don't seem to work. IV products can only be given by a healthcare provider.
  • High levels of cholesterol or other fats (lipids) in the blood (hyperlipidemia). Taking alpha-lipoic acid by mouth for up to 4 years seems to lower total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") cholesterol in people with or without hyperlipidemia.
  • Obesity. Taking alpha-lipoic acid by mouth can slightly reduce body weight in adults who are overweight.

Possibly ineffective for...

  • Liver disease in people who drink alcohol. Taking alpha-lipoic acid by mouth daily for up to 6 months does not improve liver function or reduce liver damage in people with alcohol-related liver disease.
  • Altitude sickness. Taking alpha-lipoic acid by mouth along with vitamin C and vitamin E does not seem to prevent altitude sickness.
  • Nerve damage in the hands and feet caused by cancer drug treatment. Taking alpha-lipoic acid by mouth during chemotherapy with cisplatin or oxaliplatin doesn't seem to reduce nerve damage in the arms and legs that is caused by chemotherapy.
  • Kidney damage caused by contrast dyes (contrast induced nephropathy). Taking alpha-lipoic acid by mouth with or without standard hydration therapy during a coronary angiography doesn't seem to prevent kidney damage caused by contrast agents.
  • Diabetes. Taking alpha-lipoic acid by mouth or by IV does not improve blood sugar levels in people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
  • Vision problems in people with diabetes (diabetic retinopathy). Taking alpha-lipoic acid by mouth daily for 24 months doesn't improve eye damage from diabetes.
  • Dementia in people with advanced HIV/AIDS. Taking alpha-lipoic acid by mouth has no effect on thinking problems in people with HIV.
  • High levels of fats called triglycerides in the blood (hypertriglyceridemia). Taking alpha-lipoic acid by mouth doesn't seem to reduce triglyceride levels in most people.
There is interest in using alpha-lipoic acid for a number of other purposes, but there isn't enough reliable information to say whether it might be helpful.

How does it work?

Are there safety concerns?

When taken by mouth: Alpha-lipoic acid is possibly safe for most adults when taken for up to 4 years. It is usually well-tolerated. The most common side effects are headache, heartburn, nausea, and vomiting.

When applied to the skin: Alpha-lipoic acid is possibly safe for most adults when used as a cream for up to 12 weeks. It might cause a rash in some people.

Special precautions & warnings:

Pregnancy: When taken by mouth, alpha-lipoic acid is possibly safe. It's been used safely during pregnancy in doses of up to 600 mg daily for up to 4 weeks.

Breastfeeding: There isn't enough reliable information to know if alpha-lipoic acid is safe to use when breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.

Children: Alpha-lipoic acid is possibly safe in children aged 10-17 years when taken by mouth in doses up to 600 mg daily for 3 months. But it is possibly unsafe for children to take large amounts of alpha-lipoic acid by mouth. Seizures, vomiting, and unconsciousness have been reported for children aged 14 months to 16 years who took up to 2400 mg of alpha-lipoic acid as a single dose.

Surgery: Alpha-lipoic acid can decrease blood sugar levels. Alpha-lipoic acid might interfere with blood sugar control during and after surgery. Stop taking alpha-lipoic acid 2 weeks before elective surgical procedures.

Excessive use of alcohol/thiamine deficiency: Alcohol can lower the amount of thiamine (vitamin B1) in the body. Taking alpha-lipoic acid when there is a shortage of thiamine might cause serious health problems. If you drink a lot of alcohol and take alpha-lipoic acid, you should take a thiamine supplement.

Are there interactions with medications?

Moderate
Be cautious with this combination.
Medications for cancer (Alkylating Agents)
Alpha-lipoic acid is an antioxidant. There is some concern that antioxidants might decrease the effects of some medications used for cancer. If you are taking medications for cancer, check with your healthcare provider before taking alpha-lipoic acid.
Medications for cancer (Antitumor antibiotics)
Alpha-lipoic acid is an antioxidant. There is some concern that antioxidants might decrease the effects of medications used for cancer. If you are taking medications for cancer, check with your healthcare provider before taking alpha-lipoic acid.
Medications that slow blood clotting (Anticoagulant / Antiplatelet drugs)
Alpha-lipoic acid might slow blood clotting. Taking alpha-lipoic acid along with medications that also slow blood clotting might increase the risk of bruising and bleeding.
Thyroid hormone
Alpha-lipoic acid seems to decrease how well thyroid hormone works in the body. Taking alpha-lipoic acid with thyroid hormone might decrease the effects of the thyroid hormone.
Minor
Be watchful with this combination.
Medications for diabetes (Antidiabetes drugs)
Alpha-lipoic acid might lower blood sugar levels. Taking alpha-lipoic acid along with diabetes medications might cause blood sugar to drop too low. Monitor your blood sugar closely.

Are there interactions with herbs and supplements?

Herbs and supplements that might lower blood sugar
Alpha-lipoic acid might lower blood sugar. Taking it with other supplements with similar effects might lower blood sugar too much. Examples of supplements with this effect include aloe, bitter melon, cassia cinnamon, chromium, and prickly pear cactus.
Herbs and supplements that might slow blood clotting
Alpha-lipoic acid might slow blood clotting and increase the risk of bleeding. Taking it with other supplements with similar effects might increase the risk of bleeding in some people. Examples of supplements with this effect include garlic, ginger, ginkgo, nattokinase, and Panax ginseng.
Thyroid extract
Alpha-lipoic acid seems to decrease how well thyroid hormone works in the body. Taking alpha-lipoic acid with thyroid extract might decrease the effects of the thyroid extract.

Are there interactions with foods?

There are no known interactions with foods.

What dose is used?

Alpha-lipoic acid has most often been used by adults in doses of 600-1800 mg by mouth daily for up to 6 months. Speak with a healthcare provider to find out what dose might be best for a specific condition.

Other names

A-Lipoic Acid, Acetate Replacing Factor, Acide Alpha-Lipoïque, Acide Alpha-Lipoïque R, Acide DL-Alpha-Lipoïque,Acide Lipoïque, Acide Thioctique, Acide 1,2-dithiolane-3-pentanoïque, Acide 1,2-dithiolane-3-valérique, Acide 5 Valérique (1,2-dithiolan-3-yl), Acide 6,8-dithiooctanoïque, Acide 6,8-Thioctique, Acido Alfa Lipoico, ALA, Biletan, DHLA, Dihydrolipoic Acid, Extrait d'acide Alpha-Lipoïque, Lipoic Acid, Lipoicin, R-ALA, R-Alpha-Lipoic Acid, (+-)-1,2-Dithiolane-3-Pentanoic Acid, (R)-Dithiolane-3-Pentanoic Acid,R, S-Alpha Lipoic Acid, (R)-Lipoic Acid, R-Lipoic Acid, RS-Alpha-Lipoic Acid, S-Alpha-Lipoic Acid, S-Lipoic Acid, Sodium-R-Lipoate, Thioctacid, Thioctan,Thioctic Acid.

Methodology

To learn more about how this article was written, please see the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database methodology.

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Last reviewed - 08/17/2021