Peripheral neuropathy is a condition characterized by pain and numbness in the hands and feet that occurs in patients with diabetes, nerve pressure (from abnormal bone growth or a tumor), vitamin deficiency, kidney or liver disease and alcoholism. Cancer treatment chemicals can also cause it and HIV patients are prone to it .
More than 20 percent of diabetic patients develop peripheral neuropathy — the leading cause of lower limb amputation. Oral and intravenous ALA is approved for use in Germany for treatment of diabetic neuropathy and in the U.S., research has shown that ALA may be helpful in treating nerve damage in diabetics and in cancer patients .
In a clinical trial, diabetic patients suffering from peripheral neuropathy who were given 200 mg of ALA intravenously for 21 days reported a reduction in pain. A larger study of diabetics with peripheral neuropathy who were injected with 600 mg of ALA a day for three weeks, followed by 12 weeks of oral supplements, also experienced relief .
A small study in Austria found that more than half of the cancer patients who took ALA after getting the chemotherapy drug oxaliplatin reported an improvement in neuropathy symptoms . The National Cancer Institute is currently conducting a phase-3 study on ALA’s use in preventing peripheral neuropathy in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment .
Alpha lipoic acid enhances glucose uptake in type 2 diabetes, inhibits glycosylation (the abnormal attachment of sugar to protein), and has been used to improve diabetic nerve damage and reduce pain associated with that nerve damage.
Over the past 20 years, the number of adults diagnosed with diabetes has more than doubled, and children are being diagnosed with diabetes in alarming numbers. Diabetes has rapidly emerged as a leading culprit in the epidemic of heart disease that is sweeping the country, and it is a leading cause of amputation and blindness among adults.
As a powerful antioxidant, alpha lipoic acid positively affects important aspects of diabetes, including blood sugar control and the development of long-term complications such as disease of the heart, kidneys, and small blood vessels.
“Intravenous racemic ALA, a potent antioxidant, rapidly and to a significant and meaningful degree, improved such positive neuropathic sensory symptoms as pain and several other neuropathic end points. This improvement of symptoms was attributed to improved nerve pathophysiology, not to increased nerve fiber degeneration,” the authors write. “Because of its safety profile and its effect on positive neuropathic sensory symptoms and other neuropathic end points, this drug appears to be a useful ancillary treatment for the symptoms of diabetic polyneuropathy.”