Alpha Lipoic Acid

Alpha-lipoic acid is a compound found naturally inside every cell of the human body. Its primary role is to convert blood sugar (glucose) into energy using oxygen, a process referred to as aerobic metabolism. Alpha-lipoic acid is also considered an antioxidant, meaning that it can neutralize harmful compounds called free radicals that damage cells at the genetic level.

What makes alpha-lipoic acid so unique is that it is soluble in both water and fat. That means that it can deliver energy immediately or warehouse it for future use.

Alpha-lipoic acid can also recycle “used” antioxidants, including vitamin C, vitamin E, and a potent amino acid compound known as glutathione.1 Whenever these antioxidants neutralize a free radical, they destabilize and become free radicals themselves. Alpha-lipoic acid helps restore them by absorbing excess electrons and converting them to the back to their stable form.

Alpha-lipoic acid is sometimes taken as a supplement under the presumption it can improve certain metabolic functions, including fat burning, collagen production, and blood glucose control. There is growing evidence of at least some of these claims.

In addition to supplements, alpha-lipoic acid is synthesized in the body and found in many of the foods we eat, especially Brussels sprouts, spinach, broccoli, peas, brewer’s yeast, potato, yams, carrots, rice bran, and organ meats.

Health Benefits

Much of the research involving alpha-lipoic acid has been centered on the prevention of diabetes and the management of diabetic nerve pain.

In addition, many alternative practitioners contend that alpha-lipoic acid can prevent or treat a multitude of health conditions, including alcoholic liver disease, HIV, Alzheimer’s disease, bipolar disorder, cardiac arrhythmia, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, premature labor, schizophrenia, and erectile dysfunction, among others. To date, there is little evidence to support these claims.

Here are some of the more promising findings related to alpha-lipoic acid use:


It has long been presumed that alpha-lipoic acid can aid in the control of glucose by increasing the speed in which the blood sugar is metabolized. This could potentially aid in the treatment of diabetes, a disease characterized by abnormally high blood glucose levels.

A 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis of 20 randomized controlled trials of people with metabolic disorders (some had type 2 diabetes, others had other metabolic disorders) found that lipoic acid supplementation lowered fasting blood glucose, insulin concentration, insulin resistance, and blood hemoglobin A1c levels.2

Some scientists believe that oral supplements will not provide the therapeutic effect needed to prevent or treat diabetes and have begun investigating whether an intravenous (IV) infusion might help.

A 2011 study from China provided a compelling proof-of-concept of the hypothesis: 12 obese adults with prediabetes experienced improvements in insulin resistance after two weeks of daily 600-mg alpha-lipoic acid infusions.3

While this approach would be impractical in clinical practice, it does hint at the potential benefit of alpha-lipoic acid in preventing the onset of type 2 diabetes. By contrast, there is no evidence that the supplement can prevent or treat type 1 diabetes, the form of the disease typically associated with an immune system malfunction.

Nerve Pain

Neuropathy is the medical term used to describe the pain, numbness, and abnormal sensations caused by nerve damage. Oftentimes, the damage is caused by the oxidative stress placed on the nerves by chronic diseases such as diabetes, Lyme disease, shingles, thyroid disease, kidney failure, and HIV.

It is believed by some that alpha-lipoic acid, given in large enough doses, can counter this stress by exerting potent antioxidant activity. There has been evidence of this effect in people with diabetic neuropathy, a potentially debilitating condition experienced in people with advanced diabetes.

A 2012 review of studies from the Netherlands concluded that a daily 600-mg intravenous dose of alpha-lipoic acid given over three weeks provided “significant and clinically relevant reduction in neuropathic pain.”4

As with the previous diabetes studies, oral alpha-lipoic acid supplements were generally less effective or had no effect at all.

Other studies have explored the effect alpha-lipoic acid might have in treating other forms of neuropathy. To date, there have been no suggestions of a benefit, either in dealing with infectious causes of neuropathy or neuropathy induces by medications (such as chemotherapy).

Currently, only Germany has approved the use of intravenous alpha-lipoic acid for the treatment of diabetic neuropathy.

Weight Loss

Alpha-lipoic acid’s ability to enhance calorie burning and promote weight loss has been exaggerated by many diet gurus and supplements manufacturers. With that being said, there is growing evidence that alpha-lipoic acid can influence weight, albeit modestly.

A 2017 review of studies from the Yale University found that alpha-lipoic acid supplements, ranging in dose from 300 to 1,800 mg daily, helped prompt an average weight loss of 2.8 pounds compared to a placebo.5

There was no association between the alpha-lipoic supplement dose and the amount of weight loss. Moreover, the duration of treatment appears to influence a person’s body mass index (BMI), but not the person’s actual weight.

What this means is that, while it appears you can only lose so much weight with alpha-lipoic acid, your body composition may improve as fat is gradually replaced by lean muscle.

High Cholesterol

Alpha-lipoic acid has long been believed to influence weight and health by altering the lipid (fat) composition in the blood. This includes increasing “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol while lowering “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides. Recent research suggests this may not be so.

In a 2011 study from Korea, 180 adults provided 1,200 to 1,800 mg of alpha-lipoic acid lost 21 percent more weight than the placebo group after 20 weeks but experienced no improvements in total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, or triglycerides.6

In fact, higher doses of alpha-lipoic acid conferred to increases in total cholesterol and LDL in the study participants.

Sun-Damaged Skin

Cosmetics manufacturers often like to boast that their products benefit from the “anti-aging” properties of alpha-lipoic acid. Research suggests that there may some credence to these claims. A review article notes that it is a powerful antioxidant and has been studied for its protective effects against radiation damage.