Lipoic acid

Lipoic acid (also known as alpha lipoic acid) is a tablet being developed for relapsing remitting and secondary progressive MS, and is currently in phase 2 and 3 clinical trials.

Current phase of trial: phase 2 and 3

Type of MS: relapsing and secondary progressive MS

How does lipoic acid work?

Lipoic acid is widely available as an over-the-counter supplement that is thought to act as an antioxidant. Studies in animal models of MS have shown that lipoic acid may alter the behaviour of certain immune cells, preventing them from entering the central nervous system. If correct, this could stop the immune cells from attacking and damaging myelin.

Research has also suggested that lipoic acid could also help to protect nerves from damage (neuroprotection).

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How is lipoic acid taken?

It is a tablet taken once a day.

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Latest research

Phase 2/3 trial

Results were published in June 2017. Researchers found that treatment with lipoic acid reduced brain atrophy (shrinkage) by 68% compared with placebo. The treatment was reported to be safe and well tolerated. Common side effects were injuries, infections and gastrointestinal disorders.

The study involved 54 people with secondary progressive MS, who took either 1,200mg of lipoic acid  or a placebo (dummy) drug every day for two years.

Phase 2 trial

A phase 2 trial testing lipoic acid and omega-3 fatty acids as a treatment for MS (both relapsing remitting and secondary progressive) began in 2014.

The trial will involve 53 people who will take a daily combination of 1,200mg lipoic acid and 3.3g of omega-3 fatty acids or a placebo for 12 weeks. The trial aims to determine whether lipoic acid and omega-3 fatty acids can improve cognitive function for people with MS.

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What are the side effects of lipoic acid?

Data on the side effects of lipoic acid in MS is not yet available, but some side effects reported in other conditions include headache, pins and needles, skin rash and muscle cramps.

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How does lipoic acid compare with current therapies?

Lipoic acid has not yet been compared with current therapies in clinical trials, so it isn't possible to draw conclusions about its relative effectiveness at this time.

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When is lipoic acid likely to become available?

The results of the phase 2 trial could encourage larger, phase 3 trials. This process is likely to take several years – we will keep you updated on the progress of lipoic acid.

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