Antioxidant treatment has been shown to prevent nerve dysfunction in experimental diabetes, providing a rationale for a potential therapeutic value in diabetic patients. The effects of the antioxidant alpha-lipoic acid (thioctic acid) were studied in two multicenter, randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trials. In the Alpha-Lipoic Acid in Diabetic Neuropathy Study, 328 patients with NIDDM and symptomatic peripheral neuropathy were randomly assigned to treatment with intravenous infusion of alpha-lipoic acid using three doses (ALA 1,200 mg; 600 mg; 100 mg) or placebo (PLAC) over 3 weeks. The total symptom score (TSS) (pain, burning, paresthesia, and numbness) in the feet decreased significantly from baseline to day 19 in ALA 1,200 and ALA 600 vs. PLAC. Each of the four individual symptom scores was significantly lower in ALA 600 than in PLAC after 19 days (all P < 0.05). The total scale of the Hamburg Pain Adjective List (HPAL) was significantly reduced in ALA 1,200 and ALA 600 compared with PLAC after 19 days (both P < 0.05). In the Deutsche Kardiale Autonome Neuropathie Studie, patients with NIDDM and cardiac autonomic neuropathy diagnosed by reduced heart rate variability were randomly assigned to treatment with a daily oral dose of 800 mg alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) (n = 39) or placebo (n = 34) for 4 months. Two out of four parameters of heart rate variability at rest were significantly improved in ALA compared with placebo. A trend toward a favorable effect of ALA was noted for the remaining two indexes. In both studies, no significant adverse events were observed. In conclusion, intravenous treatment with alpha-lipoic acid (600 mg/day) over 3 weeks is safe and effective in reducing symptoms of diabetic peripheral neuropathy, and oral treatment with 800 mg/day for 4 months may improve cardiac autonomic dysfunction in NIDDM.