Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a type of central nervous system disorder and is considered a neurodegenerative disease.

MS is characterized by the loss of the protective myelin sheath, a layer of proteins and fats that covers nerves in your spine to protect them. The breakdown of the myelin sheath causes chronic inflammation, pain, and motor function difficulties.

As nerve damage progresses, MS can be debilitating and significantly affect your quality of life.

Medical experts do not yet fully understand the exact causes of MS, and prescription pain relievers are sometimes ineffective in managing MS-related pain. Therefore, scientists are exploring alternative treatments that may benefit people living with MS.

Researchers are studying many antioxidants, including alpha-lipoic acid, for their potential roles in relieving symptoms associated with neurodegenerative conditions, including MS.

This article explains all you need to know about alpha-lipoic acid, its potential benefits for people living with MS, its downsides, and other suggestions for managing your MS symptoms.

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Alpha-lipoic acid — “lipoic acid,” for short — is a natural compound produced in small amounts by the livers of animals, including humans.

It’s also found in foods such as:

Plus, it’s available in larger doses in the form of over-the-counter dietary supplements.

Lipoic acid is recognized as a potent universal antioxidant, which means it can protect cells and tissues from the harmful effects of free radicals that can accumulate in the body and cause oxidative stress.

In addition, this compound has anti-inflammatory properties and the potential to support the management of conditions associated with nerve-related pain, including MS, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes.

MS is a pro-inflammatory condition.

The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits of lipoic acid make it a promising alternative therapy for the management of neurodegenerative conditions, including MS.

Here are some ways lipoic acid may affect MS.

1. May reduce inflammation

Several laboratory, animal, and human studies have demonstrated the anti-inflammatory effects of lipoic acid for MS.

For instance, a review of two animal studies found that animals treated with lipoic acid showed less nerve damage than a control group. Higher doses and administration via injections were most protective.

A 2018 study among animals with experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis — the animal equivalent of MS — also suggests that the anti-inflammatory effects of lipoic acid make it a promising treatment for MS.

Additionally, test-tube research suggests that lipoic acid inhibits the release of inflammatory cytokines from MS-associated cells found in the brain.

2. May reduce chronic pain

The loss of the myelin sheath and the inflammation of damaged nerve cells in people living with MS trigger chronic neuropathic (nerve-related) pain.

However, lipoic acid’s anti-inflammatory features and its ability to slow the death of nerve cells, as demonstrated in test-tube and animal research, may mean that it can help treat the chronic neuropathic pain that MS causes.

Research on the use of lipoic acid for the management of neuropathic pain in people with diabetic neuropathy has demonstrated this effect.

In a small 2018 study in 72 people, participants reported reduced pain after taking 600 mg of lipoic acid by mouth each day for 40 days.

3. May improve walking ability

Spinal nerve damage resulting from MS commonly impairs people’s ability to walk.

A 2-year experimental randomized controlled trial with 134 participants found that daily supplementation with 1,200 mg of lipoic acid had a positive effect on the walking ability of people with progressive MS (a form of the condition that gets worse over time).

Similarly, a 2022 systematic review of 12 human trials found that participants showed improvements in walking performance and experienced minimal or no side effects when taking lipoic acid as an oral supplement.

Learn more about alpha-lipoic acid’s potential to improve walking ability.

To date, most of the research on the potential role of lipoic acid in the management of MS has been focused on test-tube and animal research.

Although the results of human trials have been promising so far, more research is needed to determine whether lipoic acid can become an approved alternative therapy for MS.

The acids in the stomach can quickly break down lipoic acid in its natural form, and lipoic acid may be poorly absorbed when taken orally.

Thus, its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects may be limited unless people take higher doses via special oral formulations or injections.

Other antioxidants, such as kynurenic acid and pantethine, are also emerging as promising therapies for the management of neurodegenerative conditions like MS.

Large clinical trials are investigating the B vitamin biotin for its potential role as an alternative therapy for MS.

However, research published in 2018 suggests that vitamin D is the only vitamin with sufficient scientific evidence to support its routine supplementation among people with MS.

Learn more about vitamin D and MS.

Remember: Some supplements can have harmful side effects, especially if you’re taking other medications or living with a health condition.

It’s important to talk with a healthcare professional before taking alpha-lipoic acid — or any other compound, herb, or supplement — to manage MS. They can confirm whether it’s safe and determine the right dose.

Here are some questions people often ask about alpha-lipoic acid and MS.

What triggers the onset of multiple sclerosis?

The etiology, or exact trigger, for the development of multiple sclerosis remains unknown.

However, some research suggests that the accumulation of inflammatory cytokines, oxidative stress, and the presence of excess free radicals may contribute to the damage and degradation of nerve cells in the brain and spine.

Nerve damage to regions of the central nervous system is responsible for the progressive disability that MS causes.

How much alpha-lipoic acid should I take for MS?

Human clinical trials using 1,200 mg of lipoic acid daily for periods ranging from 48 hours to 2 years have shown positive effects at the cellular level, which have translated to positive physical outcomes in people living with MS.

However, despite these promising findings, lipoic acid is not currently approved as a therapy for MS. Research on its effectiveness for MS in humans is ongoing.

Please consult with an experienced healthcare professional before taking any supplement or using any alternative therapy to manage your MS.

Does alpha-lipoic acid repair nerve damage?

Lipoic acid has not be found to repair nerve damage.

However, it may slow the progression of further nerve damage by inhibiting the migration of inflammatory cytokines that damage nerves and by slowing cell death of nerves in the brain and spine.

MS is a neurodegenerative condition that affects the central nervous system. It breaks down the protective myelin sheath. This can lead to chronic inflammation, pain, impaired motor function, and disability.

Its exact cause remains poorly understood, and conventional pain relievers are not always successful in managing MS pain. The search for effective alternative therapies in ongoing.

Lipoic acid is one alternative therapy that has been studied for treating MS.

More specifically called alpha-lipoic acid, it is found in some foods and available in supplement form. Its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects may reduce chronic neuropathic pain and improve walking ability in some people with MS.

However, it is not yet approved as a treatment for MS, and there isn’t a standard recommended dosage. Always talk with a qualified healthcare professional before supplementing with alpha-lipoic acid or any other compound.