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Alpha Lipoic Acid: Not Just an Antioxidant

Posted by Dr. Paul Zickler

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February 16, 2016 at 11:00 AM

antioxidants-xs.jpgAlpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is an antioxidant commonly found in food such as broccoli, spinach, potatoes, yeast, liver, and kidney, but it can also be produced artificially in a laboratory for medicinal purposes.  Indeed, ALA has many well-known medical applications; for example, it has been used to treat diabetic symptoms such as pain or numbness in the arms or legs as well as many other medical conditions. 

ALA has been used to treat the symptoms associated with

  • Cancer
  • Cardiac autonomic neuropathy
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Eye disorders including retinal damage, cataracts, and glaucoma
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Liver disease
  • Lyme disease
  • Memory loss

Recent research has even shown ALA to support healthy weight management in individuals attempting to burn fat and drop a few extra pounds.  But before we delve into the research, let’s take a closer look at alpha-lipoic acid and its effects.

Mechanism of ALA

ALA mainly works by preventing cell damage in the body while also helping to restore levels of certain vitamins (specifically vitamins C and E).  ALA is a common, naturally-occurring antioxidant that also functions to break down carbohydrates and create energy for our major organs.  In other words, ALA helps to turn glucose (sugar) into energy that your body can use.  Unlike many other antioxidants, ALA is fat and water soluble so that it can work throughout your body.  New research is highlighting another exciting, unique quality of ALA in that it appears to regenerate other antioxidants to reactivate their health benefits.

ALA and Diabetes

Most research surrounding ALA relates to its ability to lower blood sugar levels, specifically for people suffering from diabetes.  Antioxidants including ALA help to destroy free radicals which may explain this supplement’s usefulness in treating diabetic peripheral neuropathy.  Moreover, research suggests that ALA can improve insulin sensitivity. 

The Future of ALA

Though ALA is predominantly recognized in the treatment of diabetic symptoms, there is a lot of research on other applications.  For example, ALA is known to pass quickly into the brain, so current research is focusing on using ALA to improve brain function after a stroke.  Brain conditions associated with free radical damage (i.e. strokes or dementia) may benefit from ALA treatment, but the research so far is inconclusive.

Early research is also promising with respect to glaucoma treatment; but again, this research is in its infancy.  Likewise, there are a number of emerging studies looking at ALA in the treatment of:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Heart failure
  • High blood pressure
  • Migraines
  • Sciatica
  • Wrinkles/aging skin

As you can see, the medical research community is keenly interested in alpha-lipoic acid.  Perhaps some of the most promising research around this supplement come from its effectiveness for weight management.  Let’s see what the research says.

ALA in Weight Management

If you’ve ever tried to diet, there’s no doubt you can relate to how challenging it can be to sustain healthy weight loss.  A 2015 study that compared weight loss in otherwise healthy, overweight or obese women taking ALA with similar women in a placebo group, found that the women taking ALA supplements lost significantly more weight.  Moreover, ALA seems not only effective for dropping pounds, but women taking the supplement also lost significantly more body fat. 

So, how can you use ALA in your weight management regime? First, there is a number of natural sources of ALA including vegetable and meat sources, but you can also get ALA as a supplement in capsule form.  Research suggests for weight management that you take a 100mg capsule with breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Ultimately, this new research suggests ALA supports healthy weight management by promoting fat breakdown while also preventing the formation of new fat cells.

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Topics: Diet, Nutrition, Wellness

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