Among its many uses, alpha lipoic acid, also known as ALA, is most often used to help with type 2 diabetes. It's a fatty acid that occurs naturally in food—albeit in tiny amounts. You’ll find it in yams, broccoli, spinach, potatoes, yeast, beets, carrots, Brussels sprouts, yeast, and tomatoes. It also appears in red meat, and organ meat in particular, but most supplements use LAL produced in a lab.
Multiple studies show that ALA supplements improve insulin resistance. They also relieve pain, burning, tingling, numbness in the arms and legs, and other nerve-related symptoms of diabetes. The German government has gone so far as to approve high doses of ALA specifically to treat these symptoms. The antioxidant might also protect the retina from diabetes-related damage.
How does it work? As a potent antioxidant, ALA seems to help prevent some cell damage in the body, while restoring levels of vitamins E and C (also antioxidants). There’s also evidence that the body uses ALA to break down carbohydrates, says Junella Chin, an osteopathic physician in New York City who specializes in functional medicine. “I tend to prescribe [ALA] for its antioxidant benefits and for weight loss,” she says. Other early but promising research links ALA supplements with wound healing and even the treatment of vitiligo, a condition where the skin looks patchy.
How to Use It
Studies on diabetic and pre-diabetic patients tend to use 600 or 1200 milligrams (mg) of ALA daily, while weight loss research has generally used 1800 mg daily. “Be cautious if you’re on blood thinners,” says Chin. They can interact with ALA. ”And for maximum benefit, take it for five days a week, then take two days off.”