Diabetic Neuropathy and Alpha-Lipoic Acid: Can Supplementation Help?

Diabetic Neuropathy and Alpha-Lipoic Acid: Can Supplementation Help?

Diabetes is a chronic condition characterized by elevated blood sugar levels. 

Long-term elevations in blood glucose can lead to a wide range of health issues, including blindness and major organ damage (kidneys, heart, etc.). 

One common problem in patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes is neuropathy. Stick around to learn what it is, why it occurs, and if certain supplements can reduce the long-term risks.

What is Diabetic Neuropathy?

Diabetic neuropathy is a relatively common condition that occurs in people with diabetes. It refers to peripheral nerve damage that results from chronically elevated blood sugar levels (1). 

The rate of progression varies from person to person. It can sometimes develop slowly over several decades. Some of the earliest symptoms are numbness in the limbs (particularly the toes) and a tingling or burning sensation in the feet, toes, hands, and fingers (1). 

Neuropathy doesn’t always progress further, but it can be quite dangerous. A more advanced form of the condition could result in foot ulcers that take much longer to heal. In more extreme cases, the feet and legs could become more prone to infections that necessitate amputation.

In addition to numbness, tingling, and a burning sensation, other symptoms include:

  • Extreme sensitivity
  • Loss of sense when touching something
  • Coordination issues 

What Is Alpha-Lipoic Acid And Can It Help With Neuropathy?

Alpha-lipoic acid, also known as ALA or α-lipoic acid, is an antioxidant produced in the body that helps in numerous ways. Most notably, ALA protects healthy cells of the body from reactive oxygen species (ROS) that accumulate as the result of everyday metabolic functions (2). 

If left unchecked, ROS cause oxidative stress, increasing the risk of disease and speeding up the aging process (3, 4).

In the context of diabetes, some research suggests that ALA can improve insulin sensitivity, leading to a significant reduction in blood glucose levels (5). Some of the experiments are done by administering ALA intravenously, but there is also data to suggest that oral intake can have similar effects (6). 

One potential mechanism behind ALA’s beneficial impact on blood glucose is its ability to flush out fat contents that may accumulate in muscle cells and cause insulin resistance (5, 7). 

Healthy blood sugar levels can reduce the risk of neuropathy or, if the condition exists, prevent it from progressing further.

Should You Take Alpha Lipoic Acid For Diabetic Neuropathy?

Controlling your diabetes through well-studied and established methods should be priority number one. Some of these tactics include:

  • Take your prescribed insulin and go for regular check-ups
  • Have a blood glucose monitor and track your values multiple times per day
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Engage in regular, moderately-intense physical exercise
  • Eat mostly whole and nutritious foods
  • Remove processed junk from your diet

With that said, so long as you’ve covered all the basics, it never hurts to try new tactics, so long as you discuss them with your doctor first. 

At its core, ALA is a supplement, not a drug. Because of that, you shouldn’t solely rely on it to manage your diabetes. 

The silver lining is that we have some promising research, and ALA could very well end up being an effective addition to diabetes treatment.