Lower your blood sugar and prevent nerve damage linked to diabetes with alpha-lipoic acid By Virgilio Marin for Prevention
Alpha-lipoic acid, or ALA, is an organic compound that acts as a powerful antioxidant. It’s both water- and fat-soluble, which means it can work in every cell or tissue in the body.
The antioxidant properties of ALA are linked to several health benefits, including lower blood sugar levels, reduced inflammation and improved nerve function. For these reasons, experts suggest that ALA may help people with Type 2 diabetes and prevent peripheral neuropathy – nerve damage that often leads to numbness, tingling and muscle weakness in the affected area.
Diabetes is the leading cause of peripheral neuropathy in the U.S. In fact, about 60 to 70 percent of diabetic patients have neuropathy. The condition could develop over months to years, though in some cases it can appear more rapidly and then continue to get worse. There are more than 100 types of peripheral neuropathy, and each of them may develop differently.
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The symptoms of the condition include:
- Tingling or numbness, especially in the hands and feet
- Sharp pain
- Abnormalities in sensation
- Loss of coordination
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle twitching, cramps or spasms
- Paralysis in one part of the body
- Low blood pressure or abnormal heart rate
- Abnormal sweating
- Digestive and urinary problems
- Sexual function problems
- Unintentional weight loss
Health benefits of ALA
ALA is stored in cells to help convert glucose into energy, so it’s thought to help people with Type 2 diabetes by improving their biological response to sugar and reducing insulin resistance. In addition, it may promote processes that can remove fat in muscle cells. Too much of this fat is said to make insulin less effective.
Research further supports ALA’s health benefits. One study found that overweight adults with Type 2 diabetes experienced dramatic improvements in insulin sensitivity after taking ALA supplementation over the course of four weeks. Moreover, their bodies converted glucose into energy more efficiently.
Meanwhile, one study found that intravenous ALA could lower both fasting and average glucose and improve cholesterol levels. It also reduced important markers of inflammation and oxidative stress, including measures of tumor necrosis factor, interleukin-6, 8-isoprostandin, and malondialdehyde. These are typically elevated in diabetes.
The researchers further discovered a statistical link between each of those markers and insulin sensitivity. This supports the idea that by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, ALA may increase insulin sensitivity and improve blood sugar.
Other studies found that ALA may reduce symptoms of autonomic neuropathy, which affects the nerves that control involuntary bodily functions. In one study, participants with cardiac autonomic neuropathy reported experiencing fewer symptoms when taking 800 milligrams (mg) of oral ALA compared to placebo.
Scientists posit that the finding likely stems from ALA’s antioxidant properties, which fight free radicals that may aggravate Type 2 diabetes and lead to such complications as peripheral neuropathy. (Related: Discover the power of alpha lipoic acid for removing heavy metals, taming diabetes and protecting against Alzheimer’s.)
Adding ALA to your diet
The body only produces small amounts of ALA, so supplementation and having a balanced diet are important to optimize your intake.
Foods rich in ALA include broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts and tomatoes, as well as animal meats like red and organ meat. Supplements are excellent sources too as they are packed with 1,000 times more ALA than most food sources.
ALA is considered generally safe, though in some cases, people may experience mild symptoms like itching, rashes and nausea. Experts recommend limiting intake to 2,400 mg to avoid any side effects.