Lipoic Acid or Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) is a sulphur-containing, vitamin-like substance which plays a two-fold role in our body. It is involved in metabolism and plays a key role in the production of energy molecule – ATP. It also acts as a powerful antioxidant. Alpha Lipoic Acid has been extensively studied in various state funded medical research related to diabetes, neurological disorders, diseases associated with oxidative stress, heart disease and atherosclerosis. It has also been used for treatment of the above conditions in clinical environment in Japan and some European countries.
As an antioxidant, ALA protects against both fat and water-soluble free radicals. It is also extends and enhances the effect of other antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, and helps to maintain healthy glutathione levels. ALA has been shown to prevent oxidative stress in neuronal (nerve) tissue. Some animal and human studies reveal protective effects of alpha lipoic acid in cerebral ischemia-reperfusion, excitotoxic amino acid brain injury, mitochondrial dysfunction, diabetes and diabetic neuropathy and other causes of acute or chronic damage to brain or neural tissue.
Alpha Lipoic Acid is involved in the metabolic process of converting carbohydrates into energy. The glucose is metabolised in the energy production cycle and converted into pyruvic acid. The pyruvate is broken down by an enzyme complex that contains lipoic acid, niacin (B3) and thiamine (B1).
Resent research suggests that administration of ALA in combination with other mitochondrial nutrients, such as acetyl-L-carnitine and coenzyme Q10 improves cognitive and oxidative mitochondrial dysfunction. This is beneficial for elderly and those with neurodegenerative diseases. R-(+)-lipoic acid (RLA) in particular might be beneficial for treatment of Alzheimer’s and related dementias. However, according to the standards set by medical and pharmaceutical industries, there’s not enough evidence to support ALA’s benefit for treatment of dementia.
Extra benefits of Alpha Lipoic Acid include:
- Blood sugar control and treatment of metabolic syndrome.
- Anti-ageing properties, especially in connection with brain ageing and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease.
- Liver support and detoxification due to increased production of glutathione.
- Skin health and wound healing due to enhanced properties of vitamins C and E, vital for skin regeneration.
- Treatment support for chronic diseases associated with oxidative stress.
- Reduction of iron and copper.
Food sources & Supplementation.
ALA can be found in small amounts in liver, beef, yeasts, spinach, broccoli, peas and brussel sprouts. Generally, the small amount we get from food and what we naturally produce in our body in a healthy state, should be adequate for a healthy metabolic process. However, when someone’s health is compromised, in order to maintain glutathione levels and to benefit from antioxidant effect of ALA – supplementation is necessary.
Although ALA deficiency states has never been demonstrated in humans, animal studies show that ALA deficiency may result in reduced muscle mass, increased lactic acid accumulation and brain atrophy. The human body tends to have only the minimum amount of alpha lipoic acid and extra supplementation might improve energy metabolism. ALA can be depleted with age and certain chronic medical conditions and supplementation would be even more beneficial in these cases.
The only effective form of ALA in a supplement is R-(+)-lipoic acid (RLA) as this is the molecule that exists in nature and acts as a cofactor in mitochondrial enzyme complexes. It can still be labelled by its more familiar name – Alpha Lipoic Acid, but there must be some indication that it is in fact RLA. Some supplements can be a mixture of R/S-lipoic acid (R/S-LA) and not as effective.
Typical intake as a supplement can range from 30mg to 200mg per day. Higher doses can be taken under medical supervision, e. g. for treating type II diabetes and improving its symptoms such as burning, pain, and numbness in the legs and arms: 600 or 1200 mg daily.
ALA can be combined with other supplements and provides even better results when used in combination with vitamins E and C, l-carnitine and CoQ10.
Alpha Lipoic Acid side effects and precautions.
ALA has not been associated with any harmful side effects and considered to be safe. There are however certain minor things to be aware of:
- those with thiamine (B1) deficiency should take B1 if taking ALA, especially if consuming alcohol as it further decreases thiamine levels.
- diabetics should take ALA under medical supervision as ALA lowers blood sugar level and might interfere with other medicines for blood sugar control.
- ALA might interfere with treatments for under- or over-active thyroid.
- ALA is best avoided during pregnancy and breast-feeding simply because there’s not enough known about its effect on the body during this time.