Alpha-Lipoic Acid and Neuropathy

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The term neuropathy refers to a condition characterized by damage to nerves of the peripheral nervous system, the nerves that are not part of the brain and spinal cord. Doctors often refer to the condition as peripheral neuropathy, and symptoms may include numbness or a tingling or burning sensation in the hands and feet. In the United States, about 20 million people suffer from peripheral neuropathy, according to Alpha-lipoic acid, an antioxidant produced by the body, is one possible treatment for peripheral neuropathy.

Neuropathy Defined

A nerve cell consists of the cell body, the dendrites and a single axon. The axon is a long projection from the cell body that carries nerve impulses away from the nerve cell and toward a receiving dendrite of a neighboring cell. Patients with neuropathy incur damage to the axon of peripheral nerve cells. In about a third of neuropathy cases, the damage arises from factors such as traumatic injury, alcoholism, tumors, genetic disorders or exposure to toxic substances or drugs like those used in cancer therapy. In another third of cases, diabetes is the cause of the nerve damage, according to About half of all diabetics get some type of neuropathy. The remaining cases are of unknown origin. Treatments for peripheral neuropathy include prescription medications, topical anesthetics, and alternative medicines such as Botulinum toxin, cannabinoids and alph-lipoic acid.

Description of Alpha-lipoic Acid

Alpha-lipoic acid is an organic molecule produced by the body, and it is soluble in both fat and water. It occurs in all cells, and plays a role in the metabolism of glucose. Alpha-lipoic acid also serves as an antioxidant that can work to neutralize harmful free radicals throughout the body, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Its antioxidant activity may be responsible for its ability to alleviate the tingling, burning and numbness in people who have experienced the nerve damage associated with peripheral neuropathy.

Intravenous Treatment

In the February 2004 issue of "Diabetic Medicine," researchers describe their meta-analysis of clinical data on the intravenous treatment of diabetic neuropathy with alpha-lipoic acid. Their analysis indicates that a treatment regimen consisting of an intravenous dose of 600 mg of alpha-lipoic acid per day for three weeks significantly alleviates the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy. In addition, patients receiving this therapy did not experience any serious side effects.

Oral Treatment

In the November 2006 issue of "Diabetes Care," researchers describe a clinical trial of orally administered alpha-lipoic acid. The trial was multicentered and conducted in Russia and Israel. The scientists studied doses of 600 mg, 1200 mg and 1800 mg separately in three groups of patients. After five weeks of once-a-day treatment, it was clear that the 600 mg dose alleviated neuropathy symptoms and kept side effects of nausea, vomiting and vertigo at acceptable levels. Higher doses increased the incidence of these side effects.

Patients should be aware that oral formulations of alpha-lipoic acid for the treatment of diabetic neuropathy are available in Germany but not in the United States. In the United States, alpha-lipoic acid is approved only for use as an over-the-counter dietary supplement. This means that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not evaluated it for safety and efficacy. Patients should consult their doctor before taking any dietary supplement.