Lipoic acid

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

Current phase of trial: phase 2

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 trial

This trial began in 2017 and will involve 100 people with progressive MS. It will test if a daily dose of 1,200mg lipoic acid can help to maintain levels of mobility over two years. Researchers will also test if lipoic acid can protect nerves from damage using MRI scans.

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, but there was no significant difference in disability scores. 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 - cognition

Another phase 2 trial tested if  a combination of lipoic acid and omega-3 fatty acids could improve cognitive function in relapsing or secondary progressive MS. It finished in 2017, but results have not yet been published.

The trial involved 54 people who took a daily combination of 1,200mg lipoic acid and 3.3g of omega-3 fatty acids or a placebo for 12 weeks.

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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. Clincial trials of high doses for MS have reported gastrointestinal upset and kidney failure.

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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.

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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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