Lipoic acid is an antioxidant molecule that is available as a nutritional supplement, and is being investigated as a potential treatment for multiple sclerosis. As an antioxidant, lipoic acid can lower the amount of toxic oxidative molecules that contribute to MS and other neurological diseases. Data also suggests that lipoic acid can reduce the number of inflammatory immune cells that enter the nervous system, and that it may have other immune-modulating properties that could reduce the autoimmune attack that drives MS.
In the U.S., lipoic acid is marketed as a dietary supplement. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates such supplements as food, not medication. This essentially means that lipoic acid can be sold in the same way that any food would be, so long as it is properly produced and labeled. In multiple sclerosis, the therapy has shown promising results in Phase 2 and Phase 3 trials in multiple forms of the disease, but it may still take several years before lipoic acid gains a potential FDA approval as a treatment for the condition.
Clinical trials testing lipoic acid in multiple sclerosis have not included participants who were pregnant or breastfeeding, so it is not known if the supplement is safe for use in these individuals.
In a Phase 2/3 clinical trial that enrolled 52 adults with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, treatment with lipoic acid significantly increased the clearance of harmful oxidative substances and lowered markers of inflammation within 12 weeks. However, it remains unclear when the first signs of efficacy begin to be observed in people with multiple sclerosis.
Neither hair loss nor weight gain has been reported as a side effect of lipoic acid in multiple sclerosis clinical trials. However, data from clinical trials in other conditions have suggested that taking lipoic acid may lead to a reduction in body weight.
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