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ALPHA LIPOIC ACID
TRADE NAME: Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA)
Chemical Name: Alpha lipoic acid or thioctic acid
Type of Supplement: Don't worry. We'll fill in.
WHAT IT IS: ALA is a vitamin-like substance that functions as a co-factor for energy production. As both a water soluble and a fat soluble antioxidant, it provides internal cell protection and cell membrane (external) protection against free radicals. While the body can make ALA on its own, levels decline with age and stress.
HOW IT WORKS: Upon ingestion, ALA is absorbed by the small intestine, enters the bloodstream and crosses the blood-brain barrier and is found within cells, between cell tissue and within the mitochondria (the cell’s powerhouse). In fact, when the body makes its own ALA, it synthesizes it in the mitochondria. As an antioxidant, ALA prevents reactive oxygen species (free radicals) from damaging cell membranes.
PRIMARY EFFECTS: ALA provides antioxidant protection inside and outside of cells. It also recycles other antioxidants circulating in the body, such as vitamins C, E, CoQ10 and glutathione. Evidence shows ALA, when ingested, reduces urinary markers of oxidative stress. As such a powerful free radical-fighter, ALA reduces oxidative damage caused in heart disease, toxin ingestion, and neurodegenerative diseases. Research looks promising in its role in slowing brain aging. In diabetic patients with neuropathy, ALA reverses nerve vascular resistance and improves blood flow and nerve conduction velocity. It also participates in new neurite growth and in improving glucose uptake. However, most research suggests several years of ALA supplementation may be needed to improve neuropathy. When tissue damage occurs (such as in a heart attack or stroke), ALA prevents or at least reduces cell and tissue damage. Heavy metal and mushroom poisoning have been reversed in those consuming ALA1.
EFFECTIVE DOSAGE LEVEL: ALA is most effective between 300-600mg/day; up to 1200mg/day has been used in research showing improvement in diabetic polyneuropathy.
SUPPLEMENT CONFLICTS: Those on medication for diabetes may want to check with an allied health professional before using high doses of ALA, since ALA may lower blood glucose levels.
SIDE EFFECTS: There are no reports of overdosage of ALA.
WEIGHT LOSS AND LONGEVITY
ADDITIONAL RESEARCH IN LONGEVITY: Oxidative stress to the mitochondria is a sure sign of aging within cells. ALA contributes antioxidant protection and regeneration of serum antioxidants to counter oxidative stress. As a component of mitochondrial function, ALA was found to alleviate age-related decline in activity of the mitochondria2. Recently, a study supplementing ALA and L-carnitine to young and aging rats found a correlation between supplementation of the above two nutrients to the aging rat group improved respiration of the skeletal muscle mitochondria which increases ATP (energy production)3. Another study validated the beneficial effects of ALA and L-carnitine supplementation in raising energy production in the mitochondria, and actually identified the mechanism responsible—by improving specific enzymes necessary for mitochondrial function that normally decline with age4.
In the aging process, the brain is particularly susceptible to mitochondrial degradation. ALA has been reported to improve enzyme activity in the brain5. Considered a neuroprotective nutrient, ALA was shown to have anti-inflammatory effects and improvements in spatial and temporal memory function. Another study notes ALA improved excitotoxic amino acid injury5.
1. Physician’s Desk Reference for Nutritional Supplements, 2001. Medical Economics, Thompson Healthcare.
2. Sethumadhavan S., et al. L-carnitine and alpha-lipoic acid improve age-associated decline in mitochondrial respiratory chain activity of ra heart muscle. J Gerontol A boil Sci Med Sic, 2006 Jul;61(7):650-9.
3. Kumaran S., et al. Age-associated deficit of mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation in skeletal muscle: role of carnitine and lipoic acid. Mol Cell Biochem, 2005 Dec;280(1-2):83-9.
4. Savitha S., et al. Efficacy of levo carnitine and alpha lipoic acid in ameliorating the decline in mitochondrial enzymes during aging. Clin Nutr, 2005 Oct;24(5):794-800.
5. Kidd, PM. Neurodegeneration from Mitochondrial Insufficiency: Nutrients, Stem Cells, Growth Factors, and Prospects for Brain Rebuilding Using Integrative Management. Alternative Medicine Review, Vol.10, No.4, 2005.