What if I told you there was a supplement available that could help control blood sugar, protect the liver and the brain, and just might turn out to be one of your most powerful weapons in the fight against unhealthy aging?
Meet alpha-lipoic acid.
First discovered about 50 years ago, alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is one of the most potent antioxidants in the human body, where it’s normally synthesized in small amounts. In fact, Lester Packer, PhD, a senior researcher at the University of California for over 40 years has called it, “probably the most potent naturally occurring antioxidant known to man”.
Antioxidants — as readers of this blog know — are substances that help protect cells and DNA from the damage done by rogue molecules called “free radicals”. This harm — called oxidative damage — has been implicated in virtually every degenerative disease from cancer to Alzheimer’s.
Oxidative damage is almost certainly one of the processes that ages us on a cellular level. Antioxidants fight this damage and are therefore potent weapons against disease and aging.
Other antioxidants like vitamin C are water soluble while still others like vitamin E are fat soluble. But ALA isn’t just any ordinary antioxidant — it can go anywhere, acting as an antioxidant in both fat and water as well as in intracellular and extracellular environments.
Best of all, it’s a virtual antioxidant wrangler. When antioxidants have scavenged free radicals, they basically become useless, having used up their ammunition in the fight against oxidative damage.
Alpha Lipoic Acid on the other hand, serves as a kind of “rest and recuperation” station for these exhausted sentries, refueling and rearming them for battle. It literally regenerates vitamin C, vitamin E and Coenzyme Q10 — turbo charging their antioxidant power while providing additional antioxidant firepower of its own.
ALA also regenerates glutathione, another of the body’s most important antioxidants, and one which is very difficult to absorb from supplements or food. According to neurosurgeon Russell Blaylock, MD,(1) studies have shown that the lower a person’s glutathione levels, the greater their risk of cancer. We need all the glutathione we can get, and ALA helps the body create more of it.
Possibly because it is such a powerful antioxidant, its actions are particularly important for regions of the body that are highly susceptible to oxidative damage, like the brain. Rats fed an ALA supplemented diet showed significant reversals in signs of aging compared to a non-supplemented group — and the reversal was seen in as little as two weeks.(2)
And it’s probably not an accident that ALA is showing up as a key ingredient in some of the best skin care formulas, where it’s said to help repair some of the oxidative damage of the sun. According to Burt Berkson, MD, PhD, author of The Alpha Lipoic Acid Breakthrough, ALA protects collagen in the skin from cross-linking, thus preventing wrinkling and ultimately the appearance of an aging of the body.(3)
ALA is a go-to supplement for diabetics or people with blood sugar issues. It appears to enhance insulin signaling, helping to bind it to its receptors and increasing the ability of the cells to take in glucose — possibly lowering insulin resistance (the signature feature of Metabolic Syndrome).
This action makes ALA a great tool for managing blood sugar. It’s hardly coincidental that in Germany, ALA is an approved drug for diabetic neuropathy, the painful degeneration of nerves in the arms and legs.
It’s also remarkable for liver function. Berkson3 has long been a champion of using ALA as part of a treatment protocol for hepatitis C. He has seen people recover from severe mushroom poisoning of the liver with a treatment plan that included intravenous ALA.
“I believe ALA deficiency is at the root of many common yet serious health problems”, says Berkson. “It works on the cellular level to produce energy”.
But as we age, we synthesize less and less of this important molecule. If you are over 40 you can never obtain ideal amounts of ALA from food alone. “You’d have to eat about 100 pounds of spinach just to get enough of the stuff to fill a 100 mg capsule” says Berkson. Clearly, supplements are the obvious choice.
How much? If you’re over 40, 100 mg should do for a basic protective dose, though some experts recommend anywhere from 100-300 mg. If you’re diabetic, have blood sugar problems or liver disease, a dose of anywhere from 300-1200 mg is in order.
Because the structure of lipoic acid is similar to that of the B vitamin, biotin, they both may compete for transport across cell membranes. It’s unknown whether taking ALA requires extra biotin, but many of the best formulas include some biotin just in case. Since biotin has beneficial effects on blood sugar, this is a good thing, especially for people with blood sugar issues.
1. Blaylock, R, Health and Nutrition Secrets that can Save your Life, Health Press, 2006.
2. Hagen, TM et al. FASEB J. 1999; 13:41-418.
3. Berkson, B The Alpha Lipoic Acid Breakthrough, Three Rivers Press, 1998.