Alpha lipoic acid is a natural substance found in every cell in the human body. This acid is also present in many of the foods that people eat. Creams including alpha lipoic acid are used to make softer, more youthful-looking skin. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate alpha lipoic acid cream, nor does the FDA support any medical claims for the cream.
One of the functions of alpha lipoic acid, which is also an antioxidant, is to help cells convert glucose into energy. Whenever the body converts food to energy, the body produces free radicals, a waste byproduct that can cause chemical reactions that can be harmful. The body also uses alpha lipoic acid's antioxidant properties to protect itself from free radicals.
Alpha lipoic acid stands out among antioxidants. Unlike many other antioxidants, alpha lipoic acid is effective throughout the body because the acid is both fat- and water-soluble. In addition, antioxidants usually get weaker as they work against free radicals. Studies indicate that alpha lipoic acid may actually help revive other antioxidants.
Many common foods contain alpha lipoic acid. Vegetables that have this acid include Brussels sprouts, spinach and broccoli. Meats such as beef steaks and beef organs also have alpha lipoic acid content.
Alpha lipoic acid is currently being used in Europe to treat diabetes. The acid reduces the amount of sugar in the blood stream. Europeans also use alpha lipoic acid to reduce the pain and itching that diabetics feel as a result of damaged nerves.
In addition to treating diabetes, alpha lipoic acid has been suggested as a possible medication for treating glaucoma. Under lab conditions, alpha lipoic acid seems to slow the growth of the HIV virus, although no human testing has been done. The acid may also eventually be used as a treatment to prevent strokes.
The cream form of this acid is used to help remove and prevent wrinkles in the skin. Not enough scientific studies have been done on alpha lipoic acid cream to prove that the cream is effective. Because the FDA does not treat alpha lipoic acid cream as if the cream were a medication, there are no regulations that control the strength or quality of a given product.
Alpha lipoic acid cream, pills, and injections typically do not have side effects, although some people do get rashes. Pregnant women, women who are breast feeding, and young children should avoid taking alpha lipoic acid as studies have not yet been undertaken to determine the safety of this product for these groups. In addition, alpha lipoic acid may interact with other drugs, particularly drugs that lower blood pressure and drugs that are used to control the thyroid.