Alpha-lipoic acid is present in mitochondria, which produce energy within cells. It is an antioxidant, and as such it acts to reduce damage done by free radicals.
Studies conducted at the Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) have found that alpha-lipoic acid may decrease the severity of EAE, an animal model of MS. It is hypothesized that this is because alpha-lipoic acid has the ability to block the flow of immune cells into the central nervous system from the blood. A small study of alpha-lipoic acid treatment in people with MS was conducted at the same university. This study found the compound to be well tolerated and also suggested that it was capable of inhibiting MMP-9 and sICAM-1, two proteins responsible for moving immune cells into the central nervous system. Other research projects aimed at evaluating the effectiveness of alpha-lipoic acid in MS are in progress at OHSU.
Some research suggests alpha-lipoic acid may help with diabetes, another autoimmune disorder, or with diabetes-associated polyneuropathy, a condition of the peripheral nervous system. The available safety data for alpha-lipoic acid is limited, particularly for people with MS and for long-term use.
References and Additional Reading
Bowling AC. Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Multiple Sclerosis. New York: Demos Medical Publishing, 2007.
Bowling AC, Stewart TS. Dietary Supplements and Multiple Sclerosis: A Health Professional’s Guide. New York: Demos Medical Publishing, 2004.
Jellin JM, Batz F, Hitchens K, et al. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Stockton, CA: Therapeutic Research Faculty, 2009.
Ulbricht CE, Basch EM, eds. Natural Standard Herb and Supplement Reference: Evidence-Based Clinical Reviews. St. Louis: Elsevier-Mosby, 2005.