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Alpha-lipoic acid or ALA is a naturally occurring compound that's made in the body. It serves vital functions at the cellular level, such as energy production. As long as you're healthy, the body can produce all the ALA it needs for these purposes. Despite that fact, there has been a lot of recent interest in using ALA supplements. Advocates of ALA make claims that range from beneficial effects for treating conditions such as diabetes and HIV to enhancing weight loss.

Research on the effects of ALA supplementation is sparse. What there is, though, does suggest some possible benefits. Here is what's known about the potential health benefits of using alpha-lipoic acid supplements.

ALA, the Antioxidant

ALA is an antioxidant. Antioxidants protect against damage to the body's cells.

There are food sources of ALA such as yeast, organ meats like liver and heart, spinach, broccoli, and potatoes. However, ALA from food does not appear to produce a noticeable increase in the level of free ALA in the body.

Some people take ALA supplements with the intent to improve a variety of health conditions. Scientific evidence for the health benefit of supplemental ALA has been inconclusive.

Studies show that about 30% to 40% of the oral dose of an ALA supplement is absorbed. ALA may be better absorbed if it is taken on an empty stomach.

ALA and Diabetes

While studies are still sparse, there is some evidence that ALA may have at least two positive benefits for individuals with type 2 diabetes. A few studies have suggested that alpha-lipoic acid supplements may enhance the body's ability to use its own insulin to lower blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes. ALA may help reduce the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy -- nerve damage that can be caused by diabetes.

In Europe, ALA has been used for years to provide relief from the pain, burning, tingling, and numbing caused by diabetic neuropathy. In particular, one large study strongly suggested that large intravenous doses of ALA were effective at relieving symptoms. But the evidence for oral doses is not as strong. More research is needed to establish the effectiveness of oral ALA supplements for diabetic neuropathy.

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