Science Update

Recent Randomized Controlled Trial Explores Supportive Role of ALA for Migraines

Migraines are considered a chronic neurovascular disorder affecting more than 15% of the worldwide population. This disorder can severely impair daily activities and is considered one of the primary causes of disability. Some micronutrients, such as alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), have been studied in recent research for their potential to support the body’s response to conditions such as migraines.

ALA is a molecule found in the mitochondria, and it acts as a cofactor for some enzymatic reactions related to cellular energy production and glucose metabolism. ALA plays many roles in the human body, as it is involved in glucose and lipid metabolism and supports health during oxidative stress. ALA has been shown to provide support in the presence of diabetic polyneuropathy. It has also been shown to modulate the activities of certain pro-inflammatory cytokines (e.g., nuclear factor kappa B), the scavenging of reactive oxygen species, the activities of some metal chelating, and the restoring of endogenous antioxidants (e.g., glutathione).

ALA may also support neurological health, as indicated by a recently published randomized controlled trial by Kelishadi and colleagues that assessed the efficacy of supplementation with ALA in the presence of episodic migraines. The inclusion criteria for this study involved individuals with at least two migraine episodes per month without auras. There were 92 participants in the study between the ages of 20 and 50 years. Participants were randomized to either a placebo group or a treatment arm consisting of supplementation with 300 mg of ALA twice daily for 12 weeks. The study parameters assessed quality of life indices and biomarkers associated with inflammation and migraines, including serum lactate and vascular cell adhesion molecules (VCAM).

Study results indicated that the treatment group experienced significant reductions in serum lactate levels and VCAM-1 concentration as compared to a placebo. Questionnaires related to headache quality and impact on daily life also indicated improvements in symptoms and conditions related to migraines for the treatment group. The authors concluded that supplementation with ALA may play a supportive role in individuals with migraines. It was postulated that this conclusion may be due to the role of ALA in support of mitochondrial function and endothelial health. Limitations of the study included a small sample size and a relatively short treatment period. 

ALA may support cellular, cognitive, and metabolic health, and the body’s response to oxidative stress and inflammation. The study by Kelishadi and colleagues indicated ALA may provide support for neurological health in the presence of migraines. However, further studies will need to be conducted. The health-supportive nutrient of ALA can be obtained from fruits and vegetables, such as spinach, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and tomatoes.

By Colleen Ambrose, ND, MAT