PORTLAND, OR—While not many treatment options exist for patients with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, a new study is suggesting that an over-the-counter remedy might improve quality of life.

Research published in the journal Neuroimmunology & Neuroinflammation noted that the antioxidant lipoic acid could hold promise in bettering patients’ lives.1

The randomized double-blind study, funded by the VA and conducted by VA Portland Health Care System and Oregon Health & Science University researchers, involved 51 participants who completed a two-year trial. In the pilot trial, which is being used to design an expanded multisite investigation, 27 patients were given a 1,200-milogram daily dose of lipoic acid, with the remaining 24 participants given a placebo.

“These are high doses,” said lead author Rebecca Spain, MD, MSPH, an assistant professor of neurology in the OHSU School of Medicine. “And while it seems safe, we won’t know whether it actually improves the lives of people with MS until we can replicate the results in the pilot study through a much bigger clinical trial. Fortunately, we’re going to be able to answer that question with the participation of kind volunteers.”

The small study suggested that lipoic acid arrested the rate of whole brain atrophy, as measured through magnetic resonance imaging. Results indicated a 68% improvement over the placebo in slowing the rate of whole brain atrophy in patients with secondary progressive MS.

Participants in the intervention group also appeared to have improved walking times and fewer falls.

A companion study, published concurrently by Neuroimmunology & Neuroinflammation, measured the rate of absorption and clearance of lipoic acid through periodic blood tests of pilot study participants. Lipoic acid was determined to be safe and well-tolerated by pilot study participants, with minor gastrointestinal issues being the most frequent side effects.

  1. Spain R, Powers K, Murchison C, Heriza E, Winges K, Yadav V, Cameron M, Kim E, Horak F, Simon J, Bourdette D. Lipoic acid in secondary progressive MS: A randomized controlled pilot trial. Neurol Neuroimmunol Neuroinflamm. 2017 Jun 28;4(5):e374. doi: 10.1212/NXI.0000000000000374. eCollection 2017 Sep. PubMed PMID: 28680916; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5489387.