Research and Literature

Alpha-Lipoic Acid

January 11, 2017   /
Elaine M. Hinzey, RD, LDN

Alpha-lipoic acid is a natural antioxidant that is made in the body and found in every cell.

Alpha-lipoic acid also is found in:

  • Red meat
  • Organ meats
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Tomatoes
  • Yams
  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Potatoes
  • Garden peas
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Rice bran
  • Yeast (especially brewer’s yeast)

Biosynthesis of alpha-lipoic acid decreases with age and is reduced in people with chronic disease. It plays in integral part in your ability to use glucose for energy. Alpha-lipoic acid is soluble in both water and fat, and can therefore work in many different parts of the body. Alpha-lipoic acid appears to help other antioxidants work in the body. Oxidative stress is believed to play a pivotal role in the onset and progression of diabetes complications.

Alpha-lipoic acid was found in numerous studies to aid in blood glucose control. It also is believed to benefit people with diabetes who suffer from peripheral neuropathy and/or autonomic neuropathy. Alpha-lipoic acid is approved for the treatment of diabetic neuropathies and is available by prescription in Germany. Many studies have shown that alpha-lipoic acid likely increases glucose utilization and insulin sensitivity, and helps prevent oxidative stress-induced changes in patients with diabetes.

Some, but not all, studies have shown that alpha-lipoic acid may improve vasodilation and thus decrease risk of endothelial dysfunction in patients with diabetes. This may help to protect against retinopathy.

Some evidence shows that alpha-lipoic acid can protect the brain and nerve tissue. Studies are looking at its possible influence on patients who have suffered stroke or who have other problems such as dementia. Research is not conclusive at this time. Other areas of interest include alpha-lipoic acid’s influence on glaucoma, migraines, peripheral arterial disease, multiple sclerosis, and sun-damaged skin.

Most studies done on alpha-lipoic acid and diabetes used intravenous alpha-lipoic acid. It is not known if oral supplements are as effective, and some studies have found that oral preparations are not beneficial.

Reported side effects of alpha-lipoic acid include:

  • Skin rash
  • Stomach upset
  • Overstimulation
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Decreased blood glucose levels

Most experts in favor of alpha-lipoic supplementation for adults with diabetes most commonly recommend 300–600 milligrams/day.

Animal studies have determined that people with thiamine deficiency may want to avoid alpha-lipoic supplements. Thiamine deficiency is most commonly found in people with long-term alcohol abuse.

Researchers have not studied the effect of alpha-lipoic acid in children or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Some evidence shows that alpha-lipoic acid may decrease thyroid level. Food intake is reported to reduce the bioavailability of alpha-lipoic acid, so it is generally recommended that individuals take it on an empty stomach.


References and recommended readings

Singh U, Jialal I. Alpha-lipoic acid supplementation and diabetes. Nutr Rev [serial online]. 2008;66:646-657. Available at: Accessed August 25, 2012.

University of Maryland Medical Center. Alpha-lipoic acid. Available at: Accessed August 25, 2012.

WebMD®. Alpha-lipoic acid. Available at: Accessed August 25, 2012.