Alpha Lipoic Acid:Benefits, Side Effects and More
Last Updated: April 20, 2022
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Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA) is a powerful antioxidant that is involved in energy metabolism.
In supplement form, Alpha-Lipoic Acid may protect from heart diseases and liver diseases, diabetes and neurological decline.
Studies have found that ALA supplementation may result in smoother skin, increased fat loss and collagen production.
As an antioxidant, Alpha-Lipoic Acid supplements can lead to protection from neurological decline associated with aging and improves blood sugar control.
What is Alpha-Lipoic Acid?
The organic compound Alpha-Lipoic acid (ALA) is made by mitochondria in your body. ALA is both fat and water soluble.
ALA is needed to turn the food you eat into energy you can use.
Lipid (fat) solubility enables storage of energy whilst water solubility allows rapid energy use.
Generally, antioxidants are either fat or water soluble but ALA is both. This means ALA is rare and more beneficial than many other antioxidants.
As a result of its solubility, ALA can exert its antioxidant effect on more cells.
In diabetics, supplementing ALA can improve body composition by increasing creatine uptake into muscle cells, lower weight and body fat and improve neuropathy.
The Best Alpha Lipoic Acid Supplements
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The literature has shown ALA to have exceptional effects on fighting oxidation. Humans produce ALA however these amounts are low compared to dietary sources. This is where supplements may benefit.
- Best Alpha Lipoic Acid Overall: Thorne Alpha-Lipoic Acid
- Best R-Lipoic Acid Overall: Thorne R-Lipoic Acid
- Best Alpha Lipoic Acid for Stress: NaturesPlus Beyond (Includes Coenzyme Q10 which in conjunction with ALA reduced stress response in studies)
- Best Alpha Lipoic Acid for Skin Health: LIFE Extension ALA with Biotin
- Best Alpha Lipoic Acid for PCOS: Fairhaven Health FH Pro
(Myoinositol has been shown to improve PCOS symptoms in conjunction with ALA)
How it works
The mechanism that ALA employs is both direct and indirect.
ALA provides a strong burst of antioxidant activity whilst boosting other antioxidants.
Primarily Alpha-Lipoic Acid eats up reactive oxygen species and free radicals. Free radicals are unstable compounds that have unpaired electron.
In performing their function of neutralizing free radicals, antioxidants are modified to become free radicals themselves. Converting them back to their “antioxidant” state is the role of ALA.
Alpha-Lipoic acid recycles antioxidants such as CoQ10, glutathione, vitamin E, vitamin C. A 2012 study showed that a combination of ALA and CoQ10 improves stress response and replenishes your bodys antioxidant levels.
Alpha-Lipoic Acid secondarily works by naturally chelating transition metals (chelate means binding).
The chelation ALA performs works in a similar vein to chelation therapy which is a medical intervention used to lower lead, mercury or other transition metals from the body.
1. Possible reduces fat levels
A meta-analysis of 10 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies involving Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA) found a statistically significant mean weight loss in ALA-treated groups compared with no ALA supplementation.
Meta-analyses suggest doses larger than or equal to 600mg daily were non-significantly more effective than lower doses for reducing inflammation in people with metabolic disease.
Yet for weight loss, the same meta-analyses found that ALA intake less than or equal to 600mg were non-significantly effective than higher doses in losing weight.
Lipid weight loss from ALA supplementation may be driven by Sirtuin 1 (SIRT1) – a longevity-associated protein.
AMPK /Sirtuin 1 regulates energy metabolism and lifespan in response to nutrient deprivation.
In animal models, by exerting a lipid-lowering effect by activating SIRT1, ALA was shown to dramatically reduced the body weight and visceral fat content in one study.
More studies are needed to determine the longer efficacy of supplementation however general trends illustrate huge potential for positive health.
2. May have Anti-aging properties
Alpha-Lipoic acid has found use in skin care products due to its ability to combat wrinkles and prevent numerous indicators of aging.
In one study from Japan, supplementation of ALA led resulted in increased collagen production which can lead to a reduction in wrinkles.
Another study from Japan found ALA to offer skin protection from the sun and photoaging.
Therefore, the antioxidant activity of ALA potent so it can act as a powerful anti-ageing agent with appropriate dosage.
A clinical trial of 33 women (average age of 54.4 years) showed 5% ALA cream applied to one side of the face led to superior self-evaluation, clinical evaluation, photographic evaluation and laser profilometry scores compared to placebo.
The most accurate measure, laser profilometry indicated a decrease in skin roughness of 50.8% (44.9-54.0%) compared to placebo decrease of 40.7% (32.4-48.7%), a large difference.
The power of ALA to heal skin was examined in an a study where topical ALA was applied to surgical wounds.
Animals treated with lipoic acid showed increased healing rate (60.7%) compared to 43% in the group that received no ALA treatment. [LN]
3. Possible improves Type 2 Diabetes symptoms
Alpha-Lipoic acid appears to cause an increase in glucose uptake which may be helpful to those who suffer from diabetes or high blood glucose levels.
A meta-analysis consisting of 24 trials of people who had metabolic disorders including type 2 diabetes revealed that ALA supplementation significantly improved markers of:
- fasting blood glucose
- insulin levels
- insulin resistance
A 2011 study from China found that prediabetic, obese adults who received 600 mg ALA for 2 weeks experienced statistically significant improvements in insulin resistance markers. ALA supplementation may prevent the onset of Type 2 Diabetes secondarily.
4. Possible improves neuropathy
Neuropathy is the medical term used to describe pain and numbness associated with nerve damage. Peripheral neuropathy incidence is highest in older adults.
Diabetic neuropathy is a condition that results from oxidative stress.
Alpha-Lipoic acid can ease symptoms of neuropathy that occurs in uncontrolled diabetes by reducing oxidative stress.
A double-blind study found that oral supplementation of ALA at 600mg for 5 weeks reduced stabbing pain and numbness of the feet in diabetic patients compared to placebo.
A four-year study reported that ALA supplementation of 600mg per day led to improvement and slowed neuropathy in 460 participants. The participants in the study had type 2 diabetes with mild-to-moderate symptoms.
As a result ALA may be a promising non-pharmaceutical choice for those persons struggling with peripheral neuropathy and its debilitating symptoms.
Conditions such as shingles, Cancer treatment, HIV, Lyme disease, kidney and Thyroid disease may cause symptoms of peripheral neuropathy such as tingling in the extremities. Supplementing ALA can help due to its effects on oxidative stress.
5. ALA benefits dementia symptoms
Long-term use of Alpha-lipoic acid may lead to improved symptoms in those who have dementia. It can also slow Alzheimer’s disease and reduce symptoms. Supplementation of ALA leads to increased synthesis of acetylcholine, glutathione and eliminates free radicals. ALA causes a reduction of systemic inflammation that may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
6. Improves Stroke Survival Rates (in mice)
One animal study demonstrated the antioxidant potential of ALA as it was able to neutralize the damaging effects of oxidative stress.
In rats that suffered stroke, Alpha-Lipoic acid reduced the rate of death from 78% to 26% in the next 24 hours, reducing mortality rate by 200%.
7. Can improve fertility
A 2015 study of 65 normal-weight women who had PCOS found that myo-inositol and ALA may improve reproductive outcome in IVF and metabolic profiles.
8. Reduces Inflammation
A 2018 meta-analyses found that supplementation of ALA led to a decrease in C-reactive protein levels, a key marker of inflammation.
ALA only exerted this effect when trial duration was greater than 8 weeks.
9. Alpha-Lipoic acid helps prevent Fatty Liver
A beneficial effect has been shown in some studies where long-term ALA treatment had a positive impact on liver health.
In certain disease states, ALA at higher doses of 950-2200mg were shown to be beneficial but higher doses in healthy livers show the opposite effect – it harms an otherwise healthy liver.
Many foods contain Alpha-Lipoic acid in miniscule amounts.
For instance, spinach is the main plant source of Alpha-Lipoic acid yet only contain 3.15 micrograms per gram.
Broccoli and tomatoes contain 0.94 and 0.56 micrograms per gram respectively.
Animal sources contain less than spinach – kidney, heart and liver contain 2.5-0.86 micrograms per gram.
As a result, ALA supplements can have benefits that outweigh food sources.
How does ALA feel?
ALA boosts acetylcholine and minimises the oxidation occurring in your cells as a result of poor diet or pollution so it can boost cognition.
But you probably won’t be able to tell the difference if you are healthy or have no metabolic disorders.
For those with metabolic disorders, Alpha-lipoic acid is likely to be beneficial.
Side effects of ALA are uncommon.
Topical ALA used in skincare products can irritate the skin, however this is rare.
The US FDA has given ~75,000 ALA IV doses since 2002 with 0 serious events.
Other side effects include hypoglycemia, headaches and sleepiness.
If you have a thiamine deficiency, thyroid problems or diabetes consult a medical doctor before use.
Long-term doses appear to cause liver damage in otherwise healthy animals however this was at the human-equivalent dose of 1800mg per day.
So far, ALA has not been studied extensively in children, or in breastfeeding women, therefore we recommend these people to not supplement ALA.
5% ALA solution has been proven to exert powerful effects on skin when applied topically.
ALA supplementation has strong evidence in treating diabetic neuropathy.
There is promising research that ALA supplementation improves mental clarity, focus and reduces the symptoms and progression of Alzheimers and dementia.
ALA supplementation can lead to a reduction in body fat, and is promising for a variety of mental and physical benefits.
Dietary sources of ALA are limited, so supplementation can be very effective.
Berkson, A. J (2018) Alpha–Lipoic Acid: Safe and Effective https://www.fda.gov/media/116317/download
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