When it comes to antioxidants, alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is one that you should definitely consider in your regimen.
If you haven’t heard of ALA, it is considered to be a universal anti-oxidant because it is both fat and water soluble. This is quite rare and valuable, allowing it to easily get into our cells, such as the brain.
Benefits of Alpha Lipoic Acid
Due to its unique qualities, the health benefits of alpha lipoic acid are quite impressive.
- Powerful antioxidant
- Regenerates other antioxidants: Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Glutathione, and CoQ10.
- Promotes glutathione production
- Improves insulin sensitivity, neuropathy/retinopathy, cognitive impairments, and dementia.
- Supports weight loss
- Protects from liver damage
- Slows disease progression of multiple sclerosis
- Decreases altitude sickness
- Chelates heavy metals- iron and copper
- Adjunctive treatment to heavy metal toxicity*
*ALA has been proven to be an effective chelating agent in mercury toxicity in several mammalian species, however, there are no clinical trials in humans.
Why are Antioxidants Essential?
In addition to the many benefits above, it is worthwhile to further discuss why antioxidants are important. The cells in our body are constantly battling free radical damage caused by toxins and other substances. Antioxidants, such as ALA, scavenge these free radicals and prevent cellular damage. We want to slow down cellular damage as much as possible, as it can cause inflammation and abnormal cells to grow and multiply, leading to diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Essentially, antioxidants help to prolong the aging process (and who doesn’t want that?).
Sources of Alpha Lipoic Acid
There are a several food sources of alpha lipoid acid, however, they often contain very low amounts and have not yet been found to increase detectable levels of free lipoic acid in human plasma or cells. Nonetheless, the best food sources of ALA include: broccoli, spinach, red meat, organ meat, brussel sprouts, tomatoes, peas, beets, and carrots.
Supplementing with ALA either orally or intravenously (IV Therapy) has shown to be the most effective way of raising levels intracellularly. There are two main forms to be aware of: a racemic mixture which is a combination of R-lipoic acid and S-lipoic acid, and just R-lipoic acid. While the racemic form of ALA is better than consuming food, the R-lipoic acid is generally the best absorbed and stable in the plasma.
Most supplements and IV ALA contain a racemic mixture (sometimes noted as d,l-lipoic acid). Some supplements contain only the R-lipoic form, but they are usually more expensive and the purity may be questionable.
The major benefit of doing IV alpha lipoic acid is that you bypass the digestive system and liver, getting it directly into your bloodstream and cells. This is a huge benefit, especially for people who have a compromised gut or are chronically ill.
Dosing and Adverse Effects of Alpha Lipoic Acid
If you are going to supplement with ALA, it is best to take it on an empty stomach 30 minutes prior to a meal, as food can decrease its absorption. Dosing varies based on the desired benefit and tolerance. For general antioxidant support, dose at 50-100mg. The recommended dose for patients with diabetes is 600-800mg in divided doses, and up to 1,800mg for patients with neuropathy. Really sensitive patients or those with mercury toxicity may initially need to go as low as 12.5mg. *Please consult with your physician to determine your ideal dose.
While side-effects and risks of taking alpha lipoic acid are rare, it can lead to insomnia, fatigue, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, joint and muscle pain, skin rash, and low blood sugar. Side-effects are often dose-dependent as well, so you may need to lower the dose if you are experiencing adverse effects.
Caution should be taken for those with diabetes and hypoglycemia, as ALA can improve glucose utilization. High doses of ALA can compete with biotin. ALA should not be taken if someone has mercury amalgams. It may inhibit thyroid function by decreasing conversion of T4 into T3. ALA can also cause severe toxicity in patients with thiamine (B1) deficiency (those at most risk include: alcoholics, diabetics, those who have had bariatric surgery, or take diuretic medications, anticonvulsants, antacids, antiretrovirals, and potentially OCPs).