It’s now five months since I stopped taking alpha-lipoic acid to relieve symptoms of diabetic neuropathy and so far the problems with my feet have not become any worse. Here’s the story and my conclusions about the effectiveness of alpha-lipoic acid.
As readers of my beating-diabetes blog will know, on the 15th June 2013 I began taking 1200mg a day of Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) in the form of tablets manufactured by Olimp Laboratories.
The dosage was 400mg three times a day in the morning, at noon-time and at night. My purpose was to relieve symptoms of diabetic neuropathy, the bane of my existence.
Diabetic neuropathy is a type of nerve damage. It is a common but serious complication of diabetes in which high blood glucose levels injure nerve fibres throughout your body.
Though there are four types of diabetic neuropathy, the most common is peripheral neuropathy.
This type of neuropathy damages the nerves in your legs and feet and, usually at a later stage, the nerves in your hands and arms. When the nerves in your feet become damaged, the symptoms can be extremely unpleasant as I can assure you.
My feet very often feel numb and heavy, as if filled with lead. They can be cold to the touch even in summer. When I awake in the morning, they are stiff and it takes 10 minutes or so for them to free up.
Now and then I get little electric shocks, like tiny darts, running through my feet. At other times the soles feel as if they are burning, especially if I have been walking a lot. Sometimes, when I am sitting at my desk, my feet suddenly become ‘alive’ which can be quite distracting.
Your nerves transmit signals throughout your body. Nerve fibres are very delicate and are damaged by prolonged exposure to high blood glucose levels, which interferes with their ability to transmit signals.
High blood sugar also weakens the walls of the capillaries (small blood vessels) that supply the nerves with oxygen and nutrients.
The risk of neuropathy
Anyone with diabetes can develop neuropathy. However the risk is greatest where control of blood glucose is poor.
Smoking also contributes to the development of the disease because it narrows and hardens the arteries thus reducing blood flow to the legs and feet which in turn damages the nerves in your extremities.
Diabetes can damage the kidneys. If this happens, your kidneys will become less efficient at filtering your blood which could increase the toxins in your bloodstream and contribute to nerve damage.
In addition, the longer you have diabetes, the greater your risk of developing neuropathy. Indeed peripheral neuropathy is most common in people who have had diabetes for 25 years or more.
I guess I was unlucky … I’ve only had diabetes for about 12 years or so, half that time, yet I have been suffering from peripheral neuropathy for the last seven years.
When it first kicks in, peripheral neuropathy is an annoyance. Even when it becomes quite painful, the pains are intermittent and can be tolerated (after a fashion).
However, because you have a lack of feeling in your feet, cuts can go unnoticed until they become infected. The risk of infection is high because the flow of blood to the feet is reduced due to diabetes.
These infections can then spread to the bone and cause gangrene (death of tissue) which may be impossible to treat. The end result is often the amputation of a toe, foot or lower leg.
This is not uncommon … more than half the non-traumatic lower limb amputations performed in the USA every year are due to diabetes.
Peripheral neuropathy and alpha-lipoic acid
Once you have it, there is no cure for diabetic neuropathy. The best you can do is to slow its progress by controlling of your blood glucose levels tightly.
In early 2013 I read somewhere that that alpha-lipoic acid (aka thioctic acid) can relieve the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy. Naturally I was interested as the pains in my feet were coming more frequent and more intense.
Research on the internet, however, did not turn up any reputable clinical reports that proved the case, so I have begun a self-experiment to find out whether these claims have any substance in fact.
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is an antioxidant (a substance that prevents or delays some types of cell damage) which plays important roles in the mitochondria. The mitochondria in your cells convert energy into forms that can be used by those cells.
ALA works as a co-factor for several enzymes related to the metabolism of energy. It is produced naturally inside the body but you can also take it as a dietary supplement.
Taken as a supplement in high doses, ALA is said to act as an antioxidant and to increase insulin sensitivity and reduce the symptoms of nerve damage. It may also improve circulation.
According to the makers of ALA supplements these claims have been tested clinically but I have not been able to confirm these trials using internet research.
Though I am controlling my blood sugar levels using the plant-focused diet I describe in Beating Diabetes, I have been unable to alleviate the symptoms of neuropathy in my feet.
I feel that, though my diet has prevented these symptoms from getting worse, it most certainly has not reversed the underlying condition … which is why I began experimenting on myself to see if I could reduce the symptoms of neuropathy using the maximum dosage of ALA as recommended by Olimp Laboratories.
The word is that it takes at least six weeks before symptoms begin to reduce. I took alpha-lipoic acid for 60 days (8.5 weeks), more than the recommended time.
I can honestly say that it did not have any significant effect on my diabetic neuropathy symptoms.
Shortly after I stopped taking ALA, my symptoms seemed to get worse. Then they improved again. For the last few months, my peripheral neuropathy has been bothering me about the same as it was doing a year ago … no more and no less.
I don’t seem to be any better or worse off than I was a year ago and … to sum up my conclusions on this self-experiment … I feel that ALA had no effect on my neuropathy symptoms, one way or the other, at all.