A Nutrient You Should Know: Alpha-Lipoic Acid

foods with alpha-lipoic acid
Dr. Geoffrey Harris, MD

There is a great deal of buzz about alpha-lipoic acid. New research shows it can help protect DNA, optimize other antioxidants, and even protect us from mercury and other heavy metals. Here are some fast facts.

Alpha-lipoic acid is a naturally occurring nutrient that helps in cellular activities and acts as a powerful antioxidant. With their high amounts of alpha-lipoic acid, spinach and broccoli are great dietary sources, but supplements are also available. Initial research into alpha-lipoic acid revealed that it serves as a cofactor for proteins involved in producing cellular energy. Alpha-lipoic acid binds to these proteins and augments their function. Our bodies create enough alpha-lipoic acid for this purpose, but additional dietary and supplemental alpha-lipoic acid exists in a free state in the blood and cells where it acts as a powerful antioxidant by regenerating damaged antioxidants.

Alpha-lipoic acid is a SuperNutrient that works in synergy with other antioxidants. Research has shown that the free alpha-lipoic acid in our bodies can regenerate vitamin C and vitamin E, two essential antioxidants. When vitamin C or vitamin E comes in contact with a dangerous free radical, it absorbs the extra energy and changes to an unusable form. Alpha-lipoic acid can take up the damaging energy from the vitamin E and C and return them to their original form, ready to absorb more free radicals. Alpha-lipoic acid also regenerates the antioxidant glutathione which is another antioxidant found within cells. Furthermore, because alpha-lipoic acid can absorb high energy states, it can also act as a chelator. Alpha-lipoic acid can bind (or chelate) heavy metal molecules like mercury, lead, and arsenic, so that they can be removed from the body.

Because of its activity as an antioxidant and heavy metal chelator, alpha-lipoic acid is being studied in many areas. Here is a short list of some of the new information that is emerging about the benefits of this powerful nutrient:

  • Improves insulin sensitivity, a problem in patients with type-2 diabetes or pre-diabetes
  • Improves blood vessel dilation and blood flow in small blood vessels, which diminishes with aging
  • Prevents the formation of blood vessel plaques (atherosclerosis) that lead to heart disease and stroke
  • Seems to have a protective effect against nerve damage in Alzheimer’s disease
  • Improves peripheral neuropathy (numbness and tingling in the feet and legs) related to diabetes
  • Protects against free radical damage in the eyes of patients with degenerative eye diseases
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Promotes rejuvenation via its powerful antioxidant function by slowing aging, DNA damage, and collagen loss, making it a potent anti-aging therapy for the skin May benefit children with autism, patients with multiple sclerosis, and individuals with dementia and age-related cognitive changes, as well as serve as a chemotherapy adjunct in the treatment of cancer (Studies in progress)

Alpha-lipoic acid has few side-effects and some studies have safely used very high doses in some individuals, especially diabetics. Taking more than 100 mg a day may cause stomach upset and nausea, and its safety during pregnancy or breast-feeding has not been established.

Although there are no clear recommendations regarding dosage, you should choose to eat foods high in alpha-lipoic acid, like spinach, tomatoes, yams, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, carrots, beets, rice bran and broccoli, and consider taking 20 to 50 mg of alpha-lipoic acid everyday for general antioxidant support. Discuss starting any new supplements with your physician.

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