Alpha Lipoic Acid, a vitamin-like nutrient that helps convert the foods we eat into energy, may protect against heart disease, diabetes and aging. Even ABC News has reported “groundbreaking research” at UC Berkeley, home to more than 60 studies on Alpha Lipoic Acid (also referred to as “Lipoic Acid”). Their conclusion: this “remarkable simple nutrient” may provide benefit to virtually anyone.
Lipoic Acid is a vitamin-like nutrient that helps convert the foods we eat into energy. It is a fundamental coenzyme in two reactions that take place inside the body’s cellular energy factory. Lipoic Acid increases both the availability of energy to the brain as well as skeletal muscle performance. It also helps control blood sugar which may benefit those with insulin-resistant diabetes.[2,4]
Its “Universal Antioxidant” powers help protect the entire body against free radical destruction and it restores other antioxidants that have been “used up.”[2,5]
What Makes ‘Free Radicals’ So Deadly?
Oxygen can be both friend and foe. We need oxygen to live, but it can also kill us. The human body requires oxygen for cellular energy production from foods and nutrients. However, this process can also wreak havoc in the body because it produces unstable oxygen molecules called free radicals. In an effort to regain stability, these “chemical terrorists” damage and disrupt cells by stealing electrons from nearby molecules, a process called oxidation.
Without sufficient antioxidant protection, billions of free radicals may be produced within the body causing damage similar to the effects of radiation poisoning. In fact, what makes radiation exposure so dangerous is that it triggers the production of the lethal hydroxyl radical, considered the most powerful and deadly free radical known. The hydroxyl radical is so reactive that it destroys everything in its path. It’s virtually impossible to stop without strong antioxidant protection.
During the 1950’s, Dr. Denham Harman, a Berkeley researcher, was the first to discover a connection between free radicals produced by radiation exposure and those produced as a byproduct of normal cellular energy production. Noticing the premature aging associated with mild radiation exposure, Dr. Harman believed that normal exposure to free radicals may cause the effects of aging which occur over a longer period of time. Now, after nearly fifty years, Dr. Harman’s free radical theory of aging has gained widespread acceptance. In fact, many scientists now believe that free radicals may be partially responsible for nearly every known ailment including heart disease, arthritis, cancers and cataracts.[6,7,8] In addition, free radicals are considered a major contributor to the aging process itself.
ALA Effective Against Radiation Poisoning
Lipoic Acid has been shown to prevent radiation damage and normalize the functioning of the body’s organs after radiation exposure.
One of the most harmful and far-reaching nuclear accidents in history took place in Chernobyl, Russia in 1986. Russian scientists desperate to help victims of this disaster found that Lipoic Acid was an effective treatment for radiation poisoning.
Vital to Your Health: The Primary Antioxidants
The job of protecting the body against free radicals falls to the “antioxidant defense network,” a group of compounds uniquely qualified to disarm free radicals before they attack their target tissue. Maintaining the proper ratio of antioxidants to free radicals is essential for good health. Scientists now realize that certain antioxidants must work together in our bodies to protect us from disease.
Within the body, there is a dynamic interplay between five primary antioxidants: Lipoic Acid, Coenzyme Q10, Glutathione, and Vitamins C and E. As the body’s protectors, these antioxidants enhance one another, scavenging free radicals before they can destroy your body’s cells and tissues. However, during this process the antioxidant itself becomes a free radical. Although weak and relatively harmless, the used-up antioxidant is no longer capable of defending against free radicals. This explains why network antioxidants, working in combination, are so important: they recycle and restore each other, vastly improving the body’s defenses against the ravages of time and diseases of aging.
Widespread Protection Against Free Radicals
Of all the network antioxidants, however, Alpha Lipoic Acid is the most versatile because it boosts the entire antioxidant defense network. Lipoic Acid is also able to provide more widespread protection because it is both water-soluble and fat-soluble. Although Vitamin E and Coenzyme Q10 protect the fatty portion of the cell membrane from free radical attack, these antioxidants offer virtually no protection to the watery portions of the cell. Lipoic Acid, by comparison, is far more versatile because it can function in both fatty and watery portions of the cell to neutralize free radicals. It also recycles and recharges the other network antioxidants (both water-soluble and fat-soluble).[2,5]
Is There an “Ideal” Antioxidant?
While well-known antioxidants like Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and beta-carotene neutralize some free radicals, their effectiveness is limited. The problem is three-fold. First, most antioxidants are specialized in function and only work against certain free radicals. Second, most antioxidants are either water-soluble or fat-soluble, which means they can only work in certain parts of the body. Third, once an antioxidant is used up it’s no longer capable of scavenging free radicals.[2,5]
Alpha Lipoic Acid, often described as the “Ideal Antioxidant,” neutralizes a wide spectrum of free radicals throughout the entire body. Both water-soluble and fat-soluble, it can enter any of the body’s cells to neutralize free radicals. It also enhances and restores other antioxidants that have been used up. Many of the beneficial effects of Alpha Lipoic Acid are likely due to its regeneration of glutathione, an important antioxidant that helps prevent cataracts and cancer, protects the liver and immune system, and detoxifies heavy metals. In addition, Alpha Lipoic Acid itself chelates toxic cadmium, lead and mercury.[2,11,12,13]
Glutathione is Necessary For Life
Glutathione, the most abundant antioxidant in the network, is critical for life. In fact, low levels of glutathione are a marker for death at any age. Without sufficient levels of glutathione we become vulnerable to premature aging, disease and possibly death. By the time we reach the age of 40 glutathione begins to decline, dropping to almost 20% at 60 years of age.
During times of illness, for example, glutathione levels plummet, as a sign of oxidative stress. Under the circumstances, it appears the body cannot make enough glutathione to meet its never-ending demand. Keeping your glutathione levels high could very well save your life.
Unfortunately, oral glutathione supplementation appears to be ineffective due to poor absorption. As a large molecule, most glutathione is broken down by digestive enzymes prior to absorption. So what can we do to boost our glutathione levels?
ALA Increases Glutathione Levels
Another renowned Berkeley researcher, Dr. Lester Packer, believes that he may have the answer. In fact, his research has shown that taking Lipoic Acid may be the most effective way to boost your glutathione levels. Of all the antioxidants found in the body, Dr. Packer discovered that Lipoic Acid was the most similar in action to glutathione. As a result, he conducted various research studies (both in vitro and in vivo) to determine whether or not Lipoic Acid has any effect on glutathione.
His experiments were more successful than anyone anticipated because Lipoic Acid succeeded where other antioxidants and drugs have failed. To Dr. Packer’s amazement, Lipoic Acid boosted cellular levels of glutathione by an astonishing 30%. Levels were increased throughout the entire body including the lungs, liver and blood. Very importantly, glutathione was replenished in the tissues and cells, where it is most needed.
Used Successfully to Help Diabetics
Research shows that Alpha Lipoic Acid may be especially helpful for diabetics. It has been used successfully in Europe for more than 30 years to prevent and reduce the complications of diabetes, including cataract formation, retinal damage, heart disease and neuropathy (nerve damage). Alpha Lipoic Acid has also been used to increase energy levels. It improves glucose metabolism and lowers insulin requirements. Reducing excess blood sugar protects proteins in skin, blood vessels, connective tissue and myelin surrounding the nerve cells. This action may lower the risk of heart disease, nerve damage and other diabetic complications. [2,4,15,16]
Preventing Heart Disease and Stroke
High blood cholesterol increases the risk for heart disease and atherosclerosis. Oxidized LDL cholesterol is especially dangerous because it sticks to the walls of the arteries causing a buildup of plaque, heart attacks and stroke. Alpha Lipoic Acid helps prevent heart disease by reducing glycation and preventing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol.
Antioxidants, such as Vitamin E, also keep LDL cholesterol from oxidizing, but they are quickly used up. Alpha Lipoic Acid restores the effectiveness of Vitamin E and other antioxidants.
In animal research, Alpha Lipoic Acid reduced total blood cholesterol by 40% and LDL cholesterol by 45%. These studies show that Alpha Lipoic Acid increases the amount of oxygen actually reaching the heart, arteries, liver and other vital organs. These results are very encouraging for those interested in preventing and treating atherosclerosis. Lipoic Acid also directly inhibits lipid peroxidation, the primary free radical destructive process in cardiovascular disease. In similar research, Lipoic Acid increased the rate of recovery from heart attacks to almost 60%, more than double the rate of recovery without Lipoic Acid. This remarkable nutrient may be especially helpful for diabetics who are typically at high risk for cardiovascular disease.
Alpha Lipoic Acid
has been proven to be a safe, natural supplement with no serious adverse effects. Nevertheless, it is not recommended for pregnant or lactating women. Diabetics using Alpha Lipoic Acid should monitor their glucose levels and use the supplement under the guidance of nutritionally oriented physician. The typical adult dosage for preventive use is 100 mg. Higher daily dosages of up to 200 mg may be recommended, depending on individual needs.
1. ABC Network News Report, September 29, 1997.
2. Lipoic acid as a potential therapy for chronic diseases associated with oxidative stress, Smith AR, Shenvi SV, Widlansky M, Suh JH, Hagen TM, Curr Med Chem, 11(9):1135-46, May 2004.
3. Lipoic Acid Increases Brain Energy Availability and Skeletal Muscle Performance, Barbiroli, B., et al, J Neur, 242(7) pp 472-7, July 1995.
4. Enhancement of glucose disposal in patients with type 2 diabetes by alpha- lipoic acid, Jacob S, et al, Arzneimittelforschung, 45(8) pp 872-4, Aug 1995.
5. Lipoic Acid Basics, Passwater RA, PhD, Whole Foods, pp 49-53, January 1996.
6. Aspects of Free Radical Reactions in Biological Systems: Aging, Leibovitz BE and Siegel BV, J Gerontol, 35(1)45-56, January 1980.
7. Free Radical Theory of Aging: History, Harman, Denham, EXS, 62(1): 1–10, 1992.
8. Packer, Lester, Ph.D., The Antioxidant Miracle, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1999.
9. Lipoic Acid: Energy Production, Antioxidant Activity and Health Effects, Eds: Patel, Mulchand S, and Packer Lester, Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2008.
10. The Alpha Lipoic Acid Breakthrough, Berkson, MD, PhD, NY: Three Rivers Press, 1998.
11. Alpha-Lipoic Acid Prevents Buthionine Sulfoximine-Induced Cataract Formation in Newborn Rats, Maitra I, et al, Free Radic Biol Med, 18(4):823-9, April 1995.
12. Prevention of Acetaminophen and Naphthalene- induced Cataract and Glutathione Loss by CySSME, Rathbun, W.B., et al, Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci, 37:5, pp 923-9, Apr 1996.
13. Thioctic (lipoic) Acid: a Therapeutic Metal-Chelating Antioxidant? Ou P, Tritschler HJ and Wolff SP, Biochem Pharmacol, 50(1):123-126, 1995.
14. Passwater, Richard A., Ph.D, Lipoic Acid–The Metabolic Antioxidant, New Canaan, CT: Keats Publishing; 1996.
15. Review of diabetes: identification of markers for early detection, glycemic control, and monitoring clinical complications, Wu, J.T., J Clin Lab Anal, 7(5):293-300, 1993.
16. Treatment of symptomatic diabetic peripheral neuropathy with the anti-oxidant alpha-lipoic acid. A 3-week multicentre randomized controlled trial (ALADIN Study), Ziegler D, et al, Diabetologia, 38(12): 1425-33, Dec 1995.
17. Alpha-Lipoic acid as a biological antioxidant, Packer L, Witt EH, Tritschler HJ, Free Radic Biol Med, 19(2):227-50, Aug 1995.
NOTICE: The information herein is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, prescribe, treat or prevent any disease or endorse any brand or product. For medical advice consult a health care professional.
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