Alpha Lipoic Acid

Alpha-Lipoic Acid

ALA is another huge favorite of ours, and we think the eminent researcher and physician Burt Berkson talks about it better than anyone else: “This remarkable coenzyme, which occurs naturally in younger bodies, but gradually diminishes with age, may very well be one of your best defenses against disease and aging... ALA modifies certain chemicals that are required for energy metabolism, thereby providing the means by which these essential substances can enter the mitochondrion (the powerhouse of the cell).

Sufficient intake of ALA can greatly increase the amount of fuel burned in the cell, thereby augmenting the amount of energy available to your body for tasks such as muscle movement, growth, and repair of tissues."

Scientific testing has confirmed ALA’s ability to increase the sugar-burning capacity of insulin and in some cases has resulted in less insulin dependency. This fact alone makes ALA a very valuable therapeutic agent and should supplement the diet of diabetics. Each bottle contains 180 capsules of 100mg for a three to six-month supply.

Alpha-Lipoic Acid

Quite Possibly the "Universal" Antioxidant

If it's essential role in health is any indication, alpha-lipoic acid may very well join the ranks of vitamins C and E as part of your first-line of defense against free radicals. Discovered in 1951, it serves as a coenzyme in the Krebs cycle and in the production of cellular energy. In the late 1980s, researchers realized that alpha-lipoic acid had been overlooked as a powerful antioxidant.

Over the past few years, the pace of research on lipoic acid has increased dramatically. Last year, Lester Packer, PhD, of the University of California, Berkeley, published a lengthy review article on alpha-lipoic acid in Free Radical Biology & Medicine (1995;19:227-50). In April 1996, he presented a short review of it in the same journal (FRBM;20:625-6).

Several qualities distinguish alpha-lipoic acid from other antioxidants, and Packer has described it at various times as the "universal," "ideal," and "metabolic" antioxidant. It neutralizes free radicals in both the fatty and watery regions of cells, in contrast to vitamin C (which is water soluble) and vitamin E (which is fat soluble).

The body routinely converts some alpha-lipoic acid to dihydrolipoic acid, which appears to be an even more powerful antioxidant. Both forms of lipoic acid quench peroxynitrite radicals, an especially dangerous type consisting of both oxygen and nitrogen, according to a recent paper in FEBS Letters (Whiteman M, et al., FEBS Letters, 1996; 379:74-6). Peroxynitrite radicals play a role in the development of atherosclerosis, lung disease, chronic inflammation, and neurological disorders.

Alpha-lipoic acid also plays an important role in the synergism of antioxidants, what Packer prefers to call the body's "antioxidant network." It directly recycles and extends the metabolic lifespans of vitamin C, glutathione, and coenzyme Q10, and it indirectly renews vitamin E.

In Germany, alpha-lipoic acid is an approved medical treatment for peripheral neuropathy, a common complication of diabetes. It speeds the removal of glucose from the bloodstream, at least partly by enhancing insulin function, and it reduces insulin resistance, an underpinning of many cases of coronary heart disease and obesity. The therapeutic dose for lipoic acid is 600 mg/day. In the United States, it is sold as a dietary supplement, usually as 50 mg tablets. (The richest food source of alpha-lipoic acid is red meat.)

"From a therapeutic viewpoint, few natural antioxidants are ideal," Packer recently explained in Free Radical Biology & Medicine. "An ideal therapeutic antioxidant would fulfill several criteria. These include absorption from the diet, conversion in cells and tissues into usable form, a variety of antioxidant actions (including interactions with other antioxidants) in both membrane and aqueous phases, and low toxicity."

"Alpha-lipoic unique among natural antioxidants in its ability to fulfill all of these requirements," he continued, "making it a potentially highly effective therapeutic agent in a number of conditions in which oxidative damage has been implicated."

Other research on alpha-lipoic acid has shown that it might:

  • help people with genetic defects leading to muscle myopathies (Barbiroli B, et al., Journal of Neurology, 1995;242:472-7);
  • reduce ischemia/reperfusion injury to the heart and brain. (Schonheit K, et al., Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, 1995;1271:335-42; and Cao X and Phillis JW, Free Radical Research, 1995;23:365-70); and
  • inhibit the activation of "nuclear factor kappa-B," a protein complex involved in cancer and the progression of AIDS. (Suzuki YJ, et al., Biochemical & Biophysical Research Communications, 1992;189:1709-15).

"The therapeutic potential of alpha-lipoic acid is just beginning to be explored," observed Packer, "but this compound holds great promise."

The information provided by Jack Challem and The Nutrition Reporter™ newsletter is strictly educational and not intended as medical advice. For diagnosis and treatment, consult your physician.

Copyright © 1996 by Jack Challem, The Nutrition Reporter™
All rights reserved. This article originally appeared in the July 1996 issue of The Nutrition Reporter™ newsletter.

Anti-Oxidants, Fountain of youth?

For years you’ve been told to eat your fruits and vegetables in order to be healthy, and now science is discovering why. Fruits, vegetables, and berries are important sources of antioxidants, which are showing great promise in the fight against aging and age-related diseases. Many of the conditions and ailments associated with aging happen at a genetic level. As our bodies age, they no longer heal and repair at the cellular level as well as they once did. With the combination of poor eating habits, stress, and environmental toxins, our cells are constantly being attacked by toxins known as free radicals.

Ironically, most of the free radicals attacking our cells from the inside come from a natural cause, eating. As the body metabolizes food, it breaks it down into individual components. Some of these components are free radicals, atoms that are missing an electron in their outer shell. These atoms attempt to stabilize by “stealing” an electron, typically from a healthy cell. As these free radicals scavenge your body for electrons, they damage cells and DNA. This natural process is called oxidation. This same oxidative process is what causes iron to rust when it comes in contact with water. Your cells are literally “rusting” away from the constant attack of these unstable free radicals.

Our bodies protect themselves with the antioxidants that we get from food. Antioxidants block the oxidation process by neutralizing these free radicals. The anti-oxidants give up the extra electron, thus preventing it from being taken from a healthy cell. As these anti-oxidants are used up in the process, there is a constant need to replenish the body’s antioxidant resources.

Your body can not make antioxidants, it relies on getting them from food and supplements. The antioxidants in food are typically found in the highest concentration in berries and fruit, but most people don’t consume nearly enough of these foods to adequately stock their antioxidant resources. Supplements can be used to provide your body with natural antioxidant sources to protect you from the effects of aging. Resveratrol, vitamins, A, C, and E, and proanthrocyanidins are just a few of the multitude of antioxidant supplements available without a prescription. The most effective antioxidant supplements are those that use natural sources, instead of synthetic vitamins, to derive their free-radical neutralizing ingredients.

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