Originally published December 23 2008
Alpha Lipoic Acid: The Multi-Tasking Supplement
by Teya Skae
(NaturalNews) If there is one highly competent, yet underrated supplement, it would have to be Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA). ALA is not to be confused with the alpha-linolenic acid (also called ALA) found in flax, canola oil and walnuts. Lipoic acid, or thioctic acid is slowly being recognized for its ability to assist the body in a number of significant energy production and physiological functions. For this reason it deserves the title of a multi-tasking supplement.
Let's have a look at why…
Lipoic acid is an antioxidant that is naturally produced in the body; hence, it is often called a metabolic antioxidant. First discovered in the 1930's, it was not until the 1950's that researchers began to take an interest in lipoic acid as a serious supplement. As a result of these studies, lipoic acid was labeled a 'universal' antioxidant. Why? Because it helps to recycle other important antioxidants such as, vitamin C and E, in the body. Remember, antioxidants are the good guys that assist the body from oxidizing too much and too quickly, due to over production of free radicals – a very common physiological phenomena that results from stress, metabolic wastes and physical exercise. As we know, too much free radical damage causes inflammation, heart disease and premature aging. The only way to halt this process is to ensure the body has plenty of bioavailable antioxidants to counteract the free radical damage.
What is so special about Lipoic Acid?
Unlike other antioxidants which are either fat soluble or water soluble, lipoic acid simultaneously acts as both a fat and a water-soluble antioxidant in the body. This allows it to be easily absorbed and transported across cell membranes. This unique quality of lipoic acid offers protection against free radicals both inside and outside the cell, whereas other antioxidants only provide protection outside the cells and not inside, where a lot of action takes place.
In addition to being a powerful antioxidant, alpha lipoic acid helps the body use glucose; hence, it is useful in lowering blood sugar levels and in the management of diabetes.
Diabetes Mellitus is a degenerative condition associated with abnormally high levels of sugar in the blood. Glucose (sugar) builds up in the bloodstream as a result of the body's inability to produce insulin (which regulates blood/sugar levels) or the inability of insulin in the body to control sugar levels.
This is where lipoic acid is of benefit, as studies have shown that lipoic acid speeds the removal of glucose (sugar) from the blood in people with diabetes.
Lipoic acid functions as a co-factor for a number of important enzymes responsible for the conversion of our food to energy, known as Adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP). ATP is required to provide energy for cellular function and is the energy source our muscles use for short bursts of power.
Over the past few years, the pace of research into lipoic acid has increased dramatically. In 1995, Lester Packer, PhD, a professor of molecular biology at 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).
According to Professor Packer, lipoic acid "could have far-reaching consequences in the search for prevention and therapy of chronic degenerative conditions".
Several studies suggest that treatment with lipoic acid may help reduce pain, burning, itching, tingling, and numbness in people who have nerve damage (called peripheral neuropathy) caused by diabetes. Lipoic acid has been used for years for this purpose in Europe.
The fact that lipoic acid has a beneficial impact on diabetic neuropathy is also supported by other leading doctors in this field such as Dr. Ira D. Goldfine, director, Division of Diabetes & Endocrine Research, Mount Zion Medical Center, University of California San Francisco. However, the current oral formulations of lipoic acid are not of therapeutic value, and typically remain in the blood only a very short time, requiring either multiple daily doses or intravenous infusions. While more clinical studies are needed with controlled-release oral formulations of alpha-lipoic acid, it is already evident that such preparations should be very helpful for diabetics suffering from neuropathy.
For well over 30 years physicians in Germany have been clinically treating diabetics with lipoic acid and in Germany to date, alpha-lipoic acid is an approved medical treatment for peripheral neuropathy, a common complication of diabetes. This is due to the fact that lipoic acid 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. However, we need to note that 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. In Australia it is usually 100mg as either S-Alpha Lipoic Acid, a synthetic, or R-S Alpha Lipoic Acid, a mixture of real and synthetic. Definitely not the therapeutic dose needed to provide the results that the German physicians are accustomed to working with.
How to get the best sources?
Even though our bodies are capable of manufacturing lipoic acid, we still need to get additional supply from our diet or from supplements. In nature, the richest food source of alpha-lipoic acid is red meat, other sources include, spinach, broccoli, yeast (particularly Brewer's yeast), and certain organ meats (such as kidney and heart).
The two types of Alpha Lipoic acid
Not all lipoic acid supplements are the same; this is the sad bit about this wonderful antioxidant. Most of the Lipoic Acid on the market in Australia is not pure lipoic acid, known as R- Alpha Lipoic Acid. There is a pure R form of lipoic acid on the market but, it is a practitioner product and, you would need to ask for it specifically, otherwise we are wasting our money on the S form of lipoic acid, (S-Alpha Lipoic Acid), which is synthetic. A number of health supplement companies make a mixture of real and synthetic lipoic acid displayed on the label as R,S – Alpha Lipoic Acid. This means that you are buying both the natural and the synthetic form of lipoic in one. The only drawback is that you would not know how much of the R or S is in the formula.
As consumers, we have a lot of power in relation to the formulations of the supplements. All it takes is for us to be wiser and more selective. As supply and demand still dictates quality and quantity, if we only choose to use the R form lipoic acid, companies will inevitably succumb to this demand, in order to ensure their sales stay up and not down. When it comes to our health and supplements we deserve the highest and best quality and standards in supplements, otherwise there is no point in taking these supplements as we are not getting what we need!
The other advantage of taking the R form only is that we would use a smaller dose; 50 mg of R-Lipoic Acid is equivalent to 100 mg of synthetic lipoic acid. A further advantage is that the body assimilates the R form much more readily than the S form.
There is a clear advantage in adding the multi-tasking lipoic acid supplement to our health regime; first, it recycles other antioxidants, the good guys who halt premature ageing as well as degenerative conditions and, secondly, lipoic acid improves blood sugar levels in our blood and energy production in our muscles However, the wonderful advantages from lipoic come only from the R-form. Even if our diet is high in red meat and spinach taking a little extra lipoic acid would prove beneficial for anyone who is active, lives a full life, likes occasional sweets and even if they do not have blood sugar irregularities, having an antioxidant recycling facility in our bodies would be a good start towards wellness and longevity.
Nickander KK, McPhee BR, Low PA, Tritschler H. Alpha-lipoic acid: antioxidant potency against lipid peroxidation of neural tissues in vitro and implications for diabetic neuropathy. Free Rad Biol Med. 1996; 21:631-639.
Packer L, Witt EH, Tritschler, HJ. Alpha-lipoic as a biological antioxidant. Free Rad Biol Med. 1995; 19:227-250.
Wagh SS, Natraj CV, Menon KKG. Mode of action of lipoic acid in diabetes. J Biosci. 1987; 11:59-74.
Ziegler D, Hanefeld M, Ruhnau KJ, et al. Treatment of symptomatic diabetic peripheral neuropathy with the antioxidant alpha-lipoic acid. A three-week multicentre randomized controlled trial (ALADIN study). Diabetologia. 1995; 38:1425-1433.
Nagamatsu, M., et al. "Lipoic acid improves nerve blood flow, reduces oxidative stress and improves distal nerve conduction in experimental diabetic neuropathy." Diabetes Care, 18: 1160-67, 1995.
About the authorTeya Skae M.A. ATMS
Corporate Wellness Presenter/Researcher and Author
As the founder of Empowered Living Teya has developed a results based I.D.E.A.L Solutions for increasing your energy, focus and personal Success!
Teya is also a QUIT smoking specialist with proven results in one session guaranteed.
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