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Lester Packer and colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, presented research that demonstrates for the first time that free alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is detectable in nerves, and that its level does not depend on the route of administration, but rather on the treatment dose. The study also shows that blood levels of ALA do not reflect its concentrations in nerve or other tissues. The research was presented at the American Diabetes Association's scientific sessions in June.
In a related story that first appeared in the September 1997 issue of Diabetes Care, daily intravenous treatment with 600 mg. of ALA over a three-week period was discovered to be a safe and effective way to reduce symptoms of diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Also, daily oral treatment with 800 mg. of ALA for four months improved cardiac autonomic dysfunction in people with type 2 diabetes.
Ziegler D. Gries and colleagues at the Diabetes Research Institute at Heinrich Heine University in Dusseldorf, Germany, conducted multicenter, randomized, double-blind trials on patients with type 2 diabetes and peripheral neuropathy. For the Alpha-Lipoic Acid in Diabetic Neuropathy Study, 328 patients were randomly assigned to treatment with intravenous infusion of 1,200, 600 or 100 mg. doses of ALA, or placebo, for three weeks. In patients taking 1,200 and 600 mg. doses of ALA, pain, burning, skin irritation and numbness in the feet decreased significantly after 19 days.
In a separate study, 73 patients with type 2 diabetes and cardiac autonomic neuropathy were randomly assigned to daily treatment with an 800 mg. oral dose of ALA or placebo for four months. Heart rate variability showed significant improvement in the ALA group, compared with the placebo group.
Phillip Low, MD, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic, says that ALA promotes blood flow to nerves to help repair damage caused by neuropathy. Currently, ALA, a vitamin-like oxidant, is used in Europe to treat and prevent complications associated with diabetic neuropathy, as well as cataracts.
"The therapeutic potential of alpha-lipoic acid is just beginning to be explored," says Packer, a professor of molecular biology at the University of California, Berkeley. "This compound holds great promise."
ALA is found in small amounts in spinach, potatoes and red meat. A bottle of 50 tablets of 50 to 100 mg. can cost from $12 to $20.
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