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What are the Benefits of Alpha Lipoic Acid?

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The benefits of alpha-lipoic acid are extensive.

Also written as alpha-lipoic acid or ALA, this is a powerful dietary supplement and a fatty acid you can get from certain foods. The fatty acid is sometimes referred to as thioctic acid or (R)-Alpha-Lipoic acid. 

ALA is an antioxidant that your body produces naturally. Along with occurring in some foods, you can take it as a supplement. As we age, we produce less, increasing the need for supplementation.

Research finds ALA may help with weight loss and diabetes, along with other health conditions.

Below we’ll cover what you should know about the benefits of these health supplements and what to know about the beneficial effects of alpha-lipoic acid supplementation. 

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Overview of the Benefits of Alpha Lipoic Acid

R-lipoic acid is an organic compound that’s in all of our cells. Your mitochondria produce ALA. There, ALA helps enzymes transform nutrients into energy to fuel your body.

Key things to know about ALA include:

  • Free radicals cause harmful reactions in our bodies that damage cells, organs, and tissues. ALA is a powerful antioxidant that fights free radicals.
  • A-lipoic acid is fat and water-soluble, so it can work throughout your entire body. This double-solubility is one of the most exciting and compelling benefits of the chemical structure and benefits. 
  • Alpha-linolenic acid is not the same thing. 
  • Many studies are showing ALA can help lower blood sugar levels.
  • Taking an ALA supplement may help with diabetic neuropathy.
  • This fatty acid passes into the brain quickly, so it may help prevent conditions like dementia and be beneficial as part of a treatment plan for stroke.
  • ALA can bind with toxic metals to help eliminate them.
  • There may be benefits for the skin, such as reducing the appearance of sun damage.
  • Some people use it for altitude sickness, although there is less research on this than other benefits. 

A few foods have this fatty acid, including red meat, organ meats like liver, and yeasts such as brewer’s yeasts. If you’re a vegetarian or don’t eat many of these items, you might want to take a supplement.

Key Benefits of Alpha Lipoic Acid

You may be asking yourself, what is alpha lipoic acid good for? Below, we’re going to go into some of the research-backed health benefits.

Weight Loss

Supplementation for weight loss is one of the most common reasons people use this antioxidant and is one of the most compelling effects of lipoic acid for overweight and obese patients. 

First, animal studies show it can reduce the activity of an enzyme, AMP-activated protein kinase or AMPK. AMPK is in the hypothalamus of your brain.

When AMPK is active, it can increase how hungry you feel. When you suppress its activity, you can feel less hungry and increase the calories you burn at rest, impacting energy metabolism and oxidative metabolism. 

Diabetes and Diabetic Neuropathy 

Hundreds of millions of people worldwide have the health condition diabetes and more specifically, diabetes mellitus.

  • The key symptoms are high blood sugar and decreased insulin sensitivity in people with diabetes.
  • Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to complications like diabetic retinopathy, heart disease, kidney failure, vision loss, and perhaps most commonly, diabetic neuropathy. 
  • Alpha-lipoic acid, in human studies and animal studies, has been shown to lower blood sugar levels.
  • In animal studies, alpha-lipoic acid supplementation lowers blood sugar by up to 64%.
  • In studies of adults with metabolic syndrome and obese subjects, ALA has lowered insulin resistance and increased insulin sensitivity.
  • The supplement has also been shown to reduce fasting blood glucose and HbA1c levels.

So, why the beneficial effects for diabetes and diabetes mellitus patients?

Doctors and researchers, based on clinical trials, believe that antioxidant therapy promotes processes that remove the fat accumulated in muscle cells, based on clinical trials. That accumulation otherwise makes insulin less effective in people with diabetes. These benefits are based on a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. 

Taking an ALA supplement by patients with diabetes mellitus can also reduce nerve damage symptoms and the risk of eye damage common in diabetic patients. These benefits likely stem from the fact that the fatty acid provides antioxidant defense and free radical scavenging capacity. 

Nerve Pain

This was briefly touched on above as far as the benefits for diabetes, but it’s something worth talking about individually as well—one of the big reasons people use it as a supplement is because it can potentially help with nerve damage, pain, and peripheral neuropathy

Nerve pain can be caused by oxidative stress from a number of chronic diseases such as Lyme disease, shingles, and kidney failure, in addition to diabetes.

Some research finds ALA has positive benefits on nerve function, can help with symptoms of carpal tunnel, and may also be beneficial for autonomic neuropathy. 

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Anticancer Benefits

There’s ongoing research looking at the benefits of ALA to help prevent or slow cancer.

In breast cancer, ovarian, and other cell lines, ALA appears to reduce growth and proliferation. ALA alone has also been shown in cell studies to be synergistic and work together with chemotherapy. In a mouse model, ALA suppressed the growth of tumors alone. Along with a chemotherapy medication, it also helped suppress the growth of several types of tumors.

Some case reports indicate ALA, often in combination with other treatments, can help patients who have advanced metastatic cancers. For example, in a case report of four patients with pancreatic cancer, there was a complete response after receiving intravenous ALA twice a week and oral low-dose naltrexone.

There was a similar case report in a patient with non-Hodgkin lymphoma who didn’t receive conventional treatment.

Anti-Inflammatory Effect

ALA’s many benefits include the fact that it’s a potent anti-inflammatory.

In a systematic review of randomized controlled trials, ALA was found to significantly impact inflammatory markers in people with metabolic syndrome and related disorders. For example, ALA can substantially lower C-reactive protein levels (CRP).

CRP is a marker that may indicate ongoing inflammation and is linked to chronic diseases like cancer and diabetes.

Since ALA may reduce oxidative stress, it also has the potential to improve heart health. Oxidative stress is a primary cause of cardiovascular disease.

ALA may help with liver diseases that stem from inflammation too, and it may help if you have an autoimmune syndrome since these have links with inflammation. 

Sun Damage

Among the benefits is its ability to help your skin look better, based on experimental studies.

For example, ALA as a powerful antioxidant may help prevent or reverse sun damage. ALA as a supplement may also help combat other signs of skin aging like fine lines and wrinkles.

The fatty acid may raise your levels of other antioxidants, too, like glutathione, further reducing the signs of aging.

Memory Loss

Taking this fatty acid may slow memory loss, according to results from experimental studies. 

This particular ALA effect is likely because it is an antioxidant. Oxidative stress is thought to play a role in memory loss.

Human and lab studies show ALA can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s through the suppression of inflammation and by neutralizing free radicals.

Researchers also believe since ALA has a positive benefit on blood sugar metabolism and insulin resistance, it could help slow Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative disorders. Diabetes is an Alzheimer’s risk factor.

Heart Health

Heart disease is responsible for one out of every four American deaths. Research in the lab, as well as in animals and humans, shows the fatty acid can lower heart disease risk factors.

There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, the properties of alpha lipoic acid are antioxidants, so it can neutralize free radicals. ALA benefits also include the reduction of oxidative stress. Both can lead to damage that increases the risk of heart disease.

ALA benefits also include improvements in endothelial function and endothelial cells. Endothelial dysfunction is a condition where your blood vessels can’t properly dilate. That leads to a higher risk of stroke and heart attack.

A review of studies also found these biological antioxidants help lower triglycerides and LDL levels in adults with metabolic disease.

Metal Chelation

A-lipoic acid can protect you against toxic metals that are in our food and our environment. When you take an ALA supplement, it may chelate mercury, lead, and other dangerous contaminants. Essentially, chelating these heavy metals means the ALA can make them inactive so your body can remove them.

In one study, ALA protected arsenic poison and protected the liver from the harmful effects of cadmium exposure. Another study found ALA helped protect the nervous system from the dangers of mercury poisoning.

Migraine Prevention

There’s a bit of evidence ALA benefits could extend to migraine sufferers.

In a study of people with migraines, participants took a 600 mg alpha-lipoic acid supplement every day for three months.

Following those three months, study participants reported fewer headache days. Participants also said the intensity and frequency of their migraines went down.

Are There Any Common Side Effects of Alpha Lipoic Acid?

Overall, one of the alpha lipoic acid benefits we like is that it’s considered very safe, with few adverse effects for most people. In research, adults have taken up to 2,400 mg of ALA without adverse events. You shouldn’t take doses greater than that because there aren’t any known benefits of doing so.

Animal research has found that if you take very high doses of alpha-lipoic acid, it could affect your liver enzymes and strain the tissue of the breasts and liver.

If you have diabetes and are thinking about taking ALA, you should talk to your healthcare provider to ensure it won’t interact with your medication to lower blood sugar levels.

Occasionally people might experience mild A-Lipoic acid side effects such as rashes, itching, or nausea.

How to Get the Benefits of Alpha Lipoic Acid

If you’d like to discover the health benefits of alpha lipoic acid, you can get it directly from the foods you eat. Our body’s natural production of lipoic acid goes down as we age, creating the possibility for damage for free radicals. Food sources to combat this include dark leafy greens and organ meat.

Most people find it’s more beneficial for them to take an alpha-lipoic acid by mouth as a supplement rather than getting it from food sources.

Most studies use doses of 300 to 1800 mg per day. For the best effects, you should consider taking a vitamin B complex supplement with biotin along with ALA.

Alpha Lipoic Acid Benefits—Final Thoughts

Inflammation and oxidative damage are associated with some of the most severe effects of aging and the development of chronic diseases. ALA can be a powerful way to combat these effects. Research shows us alpha lipoic acid benefits include everything from helping with diabetes and metabolic disorders to preventing or slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s.

ALA oral supplementation may help reduce the effects of inflammatory cytokines and help with healthy nerve function. 

The antioxidant alpha-lipoic acid is well-supported by experimental studies, including clinical studies and human-based research, like many other omega-3 fatty acids. Observational studies also support the use of these health supplements in clinical practice. 

 

References

Becker, S., Schmidt, C., Berghaus, A., Tschiesner, U., Olzowy, B., and Reichel, O. Does laryngopharyngeal reflux cause intraoral burning sensations? A preliminary study. Eur Arch.Otorhinolaryngol. 2011;268(9):1375-1381. 

Berkson, B. M., Rubin, D. M., and Berkson, A. J. Revisiting the ALA/N (alpha-lipoic acid/low-dose naltrexone) protocol for people with metastatic and nonmetastatic pancreatic cancer: a report of 3 new cases. Integr Cancer Ther 2009;8(4):416-422. 

Borcea, V., Nourooz-Zadeh, J., Wolff, S. P., Klevesath, M., Hofmann, M., Urich, H., Wahl, P., Ziegler, R., Tritschler HJ, Halliwell, B., and Nawroth, P. P. alpha-Lipoic acid decreases oxidative stress even in diabetic patients with poor glycemic control and albuminuria. Free Radic.Biol.Med. 1999;22(11-12):1495-1500. 

Bregovskii, V. B., Posokhina, O. V., and Karpova, I. A. [Predictors of alpha-lipoic acid treatment efficacy in diabetic polyneuropathy of the lower limbs]. Ter.Arkh. 2005;77(10):15-19. 

Ametov A. S., Novosadova M. V., Barinov A. N., Samigullin R., Trischler H. J. [Long-term effect of 3-week intravenous alpha-lipoic acid administration in symptomatic diabetic polyneutropathy with clinical manifestations]. Ter Arkh 2010;82(12):61-64. 

Becker, S., Schmidt, C., Berghaus, A., Tschiesner, U., Olzowy, B., and Reichel G, O. Does laryngopharyngeal reflux cause intraoral burning sensations? A preliminary study. Eur Arch.Otorhinolaryngol. 2011;268(9):1375-1381. 

Ruhnau KJ, Meissner HP, Finn JR, et al. Effects of 3-week oral treatment with the antioxidant thioctic acid (alpha-lipoic acid) in symptomatic diabetic polyneuropathy. Diabet Med 1999;16:1040-3. 

Ziegler D, Hanefeld M, Ruhnau K, et al. Treatment of symptomatic diabetic polyneuropathy with the antioxidant alpha-lipoic acid: A 7-month, multicenter, randomized, controlled trial (ALADIN III Study). Diabetes Care 1999;22:1296-301. 

Henriksen EJ, Jacob, S., Streeper, R. S., Fogt, D. L., Hokama, J. Y., and Tritschler, H. J. Stimulation by alpha-lipoic acid of glucose transport activity in skeletal muscle of lean and obese Zucker rats. Life Sci 1997;61(8):805-812. 

Mitsui, Y., Schmelzer, J. D., Zollman, P. J., Mitsui, M., Tritschler H., and Low, P. A. Alpha-lipoic acid provides neuroprotection from ischemia-reperfusion injury of peripheral nerve. J Neurol.Sci. 2-1-1999;163(1):11-16. 

Hager K, Marahrens A, Kenklies M, Riederer P, Munch G. Alpha-lipoic acid as a new treatment option for Azheimer type dementia. Arch Gerontol Geriatr 2001;32(3);275-282.

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