Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), also known as α-Lipoic acid and thioctic acid, is a vitamin-like compound that can be synthesized naturally in small amounts by plants and animals. It was discovered in 1930s and identified in 1951 as an important growth factor for many bacteria. Since 1980s, many researches have been done to explore more valuable functions and health benefits of this compound.
what is Alpha lipoic acid for?
ALA is both fat soluble and water soluble, function as cofactors of several important mitochondrial enzyme complexes, which is vital for metabolic reactions that convert nutrients (carbs, fats and protein) into usable energy (ATP).
However, ALA had been overlooked as a powerful antioxidant until 1980s. You might have heard a lot about many benefits of antioxidants; free radicals cause harmful chemical reactions that can damage cells, organs and tissues, making it harder for our body to fight off infections and lead to many degenerative diseases. Other antioxidants work only in water (vitamin C) or fatty tissues (vitamin E). But ALA is both water and fat soluble, that makes it attack free radicals more effectively throughout the body.
One of the main antioxidant activities of ALA is to regenerate several important antioxidants, including vitamin C, vitamin E, coenzyme Q10 and glutathione. After an antioxidant scavenged a free radical, it becomes oxidized and cannot do the job again. ALA is capable to reduce the oxidized antioxidant which will bring it back to work. This activity enhances antioxidant army, improves immune system and prevents premature aging.
Alpha-lipoic acid and diabetes
ALA has been using to control and treat physical consequences of diabetes and metabolic syndrome (A cluster of conditions that increase the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease). It is considered an effective drug for insulin resistance, high blood sugar and weight gain.
Researchers believe ALA helps improve insulin sensitivity. Diabetes mellitus (type 2) can elevate blood glucose levels the cells do not respond well to the presence of insulin, which reduce the glucose transport and metabolism. Enhanced insulin sensitivity may control and maintain blood glucose levels. In addition, ALA also supports blood pressure levels, particularly in the context of metabolic syndrome.
A major benefit of ALA has been found in the treatment of diabetic neuropathy, a type of nervous system damage caused by high glucose levels. As a side effect of diabetes, the symptoms include numbness, tingling, and pain in the arms and legs. Studies revealed the ALA treatment helps to relieve these complications by high dose supplementation.
Alpha-lipoic acid and brain health
ALA can get into the brain by passing the blood-brain barrier – keep out the substances that should not enter the brain. Given its strong power to neutralize the damages by oxidative stress, ALA fights off the free radicals from neurological system.
ALA can reach all parts of a nerve cell and prevent neuron damage, memory loss, and changes in cognitive functions. Some studies have shown that ALA can also reduce brain damage after a stroke and a better survival rate. This is related to its ability to regenerate the antioxidant glutathione. In addition, ALA may help prevent or manage Alzheimer’s disease; researchers believe that it may promote nervous system messengers which are found to be deficient in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients.
Consider our body can make small amount of ALA, 100mg is the recommended intake for antioxidant purposes in average healthy adults. Large doses up to 1,200mg per day are suggested for patients with diabetes or neurodegenerative disorders. ALA in supplement form is more effective compare to ALA in the diet, and it is recommended to be taken on an empty stomach.
Food sources of Alpha-lipoic acid: red meat, liver, heart, kidney, tomato, spinach, broccoli, Brussel sprout, carrot