THE BASICS: Alpha lipoic acid is a potent antioxidant that plays numerous roles in biology and health. It's especially essential to the body’s production of energy. Lipoic acid supplements can reduce some of the signs of type 2 diabetes and nerve disease. It has also been used to treat liver diseases, such as hepatitis and Amanita mushroom poisoning.
ALIAS: Alpha lipoic acid is also known as lipoic acid and thioctic acid. It consists of equal portions of two molecules, known to biochemists as R and S isomers. Most of alpha lipoic acid’s functions and benefits appear to derive from the R form.
HOW ALPHA LIPOIC ACID WORKS:
Alpha lipoic acid functions as a cofactor in glycolysis and the Krebs cycle, cellular processes that break down food molecules to produce energy. It also functions as an antioxidant, and helps the body to recycle vitamins C and E, and glutathione.
Antioxidant. Lester Packer, PhD, of the University of Southern California, calls alpha lipoic acid the “universal antioxidant” because of its myriad activities. The body converts some alpha lipoic acid to dihydrolipoic acid, an even more potent antioxidant. Alpha lipoic acid also serves as a precursor to glutathione, the most powerful antioxidant made by the body.
Diabetes. Numerous studies have shown that alpha lipoic acid supplements improve insulin function and may also lower blood sugar levels. Considerable research has shown that it improves nerve pain and numbness related to diabetes. Some researchers have studied the potential benefits of alpha lipoic acid for other nerve disorders, such as sciatic pain.
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Liver disease. Burton Berkson, MD, PhD, director of the Integrative Medical Center in Las Cruces, NM, was one of the pioneers in using alpha lipoic acid to treat Amanita mushroom poisoning. The mushroom damages the liver and blocks the liver’s production of glutathione, leading to death. Given soon enough, either orally or intravenously, alpha lipoic acid restores the liver’s glutathione levels and promotes recovery.
Burning Mouth Syndrome. Some 1.3 million Americans suffer from burning mouth syndrome. Alpha lipoic acid supplements can reduce symptoms of this painful condition. In one study, researchers followed 42 women and 18 men with burning mouth syndrome. The patients were given either 200 mg of alpha lipoic acid or placebos three times daily for two months. Nearly all of the patients on alpha lipoic acid showed improvement compared to placebo, and 75 percent benefited substantially, with some experiencing complete recovery.
Weight Loss. Alpha lipoic acid has potential benefits in appetite control and weight loss, according to animal and human studies. In a four-week study of 360 obese men and women, those who took 1,800 mg of lipoic acid (a very large amount) lost more weight than those who took placebos.
GLEANINGS: A combination of alpha lipoic acid and acetyl-L-carnitine can lead to greater physical energy and mental sharpness, according to studies. Both nutrients are involved in how cells break down food to make energy.
HEADS UP: Most of the alpha lipoic acid on the market comes from either Europe (Germany and Italy) or China. The European product tends to be of higher quality.
WHAT SHOULD YOU TAKE: As an antioxidant, take 50 mg of alpha lipoic acid daily. For prediabetes, try 100 mg with each meal. For type 2 diabetes and nerve problems, take 200 mg with each meal. You can reduce the dosages by taking pure R-lipoic acid, but it is more expensive than alpha lipoic acid.
Alpha Lipoic Acid for Hepatitis C
Ten years ago, Mary Jo Bean felt deathly ill and was rushed to a hospital. Her liver enzymes were abnormally high, and exploratory surgery found that her liver was as hard as a rock. Although she had lived the "clean life," Mary Jo had hepatitis C, most likely the result of a contaminated blood transfusion years before. Her doctors gave her two months to live, maybe a year tops.
As Mary Jo researched her options, she discovered Burton Berkson, MD, PhD, a nutritionally oriented physician and expert in liver diseases. By the time she got to Berkson's clinic in Las Cruces, NM, she was so weak that she needed another person to help her walk. Berkson put Bean on a liver-boosting, high-potency antioxidant regimen—alpha lipoic acid, silymarin, and selenium. He also coached Bean on how to improve her eating habits, with an emphasis on fresh and whole foods. Two weeks later, Mary Jo felt as if she had a miraculous recovery. Her energy is back and she feels great.