In a recent article in the journal CNS Drugs, Michael Youle, MD, a noted HIV specialist at London’s Royal Free Hospital, claims that acetyl-L-carnitine (LAC), an over-the-counter amino acid supplement, is a promising treatment for a condition known as peripheral neuropathy. Characterized by alternating numbness, tingling and pain in the feet, legs, hands and arms, peripheral neuropathy is nerve damage that can result from the use of certain antiretroviral medications, predominantly Videx (didanosine) and Zerit (stavudine). There are currently few treatments for neuropathy, and none are highly effective.

In the article, Dr. Youle reviews several small studies that have explored whether taking LAC can protect people from developing neuropathy or treat people who have already developed it. One early study found that people who took LAC (1500 mg twice a day) showed evidence of both nerve regeneration and a reduction in painful symptoms. A somewhat larger study, published early this year, found that LAC was significantly better able than a placebo to alleviate neuropathy symptoms.

Many people with HIV have developed resistance to a number of antiretroviral medications and must use drugs like Videx and Zerit to build an effective antiretroviral regimen. Physicians need an effective method to prevent neuropathy from developing, if possible, and to treat it when prevention is not possible, writes Dr. Youle. He concludes that LAC shows promise in this regard and deserves larger studies to prove its effectiveness.