Alpha Lipoic Acid
by Beth M. Ley
Author of The Potato Antioxidant, Alpha Lipoic Acid
French fries, hash browns, tater tots, potato chips,
scalloped potatoes, mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, twice baked potatoes....
With all the great stuff you can do with 'em, no wonder everyone loves
potatoes. Some people think potatoes are fattening, but they are not
at all. It just depends on what you add to them. Potatoes are actually
loaded with cholesterol-lowering fiber, and potassium which maintains
fluid and electrolyte balance as well as normal heart function and blood
pressure. But wait till you hear about Alpha Lipoic Acid, a little-known
substance found in potatoes!
Alpha lipoic acid is a vitamin-like antioxidant that
is produced naturally in the body and in foods like potatoes. We have
known about its existence since the 1930's when it was discovered that
a so-called "potato growth factor" was necessary for growth
of certain bacteria. Years later in 1957, the compound was extracted,
and formally identified as Alpha Lipoic Acid.
Through years of research, the unique metabolic antioxidant
properties of alpha lipoic acid have been clearly demonstrated and while
it is not yet a widely known substance, this is sure to change soon.
Alpha Lipoic Acid holds great promise as a free radical protectant for
our cells as it is the only antioxidant which is both fat and water
soluble. Lipoic acid is easily absorbed and transported across cell
membranes. This offers us protection against free radicals both inside
the cells and outside the cell. This is unlike many other antioxidants
which only provide extracellular protection.
Inside the cell, alpha lipoic acid is readily reduced
or broken down to dihydrolipoic acid. Dihydrolipoic acid is even more
potent than alpha lipoic acid, neutralizing free radicals, preventing
them from causing harm. It directly destroys damaging superoxide radicals,
hydroperoxy radicals and hydroxyl radicals. We encounter these oxidants
every day through exposure to cigarette smoke, car exhaust, irradiation,
polluted air, alcohol, sunshine, etc. We continuously form superoxides
as a natural part of respiration and metabolism. We create free radicals
as we convert the food we eat to energy.
Free radicals damage membranes (creating capillary
fragility, and is associated with cardiovascular disease), damage to
proteins creating cataracts, and breakdown of elastin and collagen which
are associated with aging and wrinkles, and cancer. In addition to its
antioxidant properties, alpha lipoic acid has a number of unique applications
leading to its great health promoting abilities.
Alpha Lipoic Acid actually regenerates other antioxidants
such as C, E and glutathione, prolonging their existence in the body.
The is actually of great significance in that it allows us to take our
antioxidant supplements once instead oftwice daily.
Protects us from arterial plaque and cholesterol
Free radical formation through the oxidation of low density lipoproteins
(LDL) creates arterial cholesterol deposits associated with atherosclerosis.
It has been suggested that vitamin E transported by LDL plays a critical
role in protecting against this LDL oxidation. The maintenance ofsufficiently
high vitamin E concentrations in LDL can be achieved by reducing its
free radicals, i.e., by vitamin E recycling. A study published in 1992
by the Journal oflipiol Research demonstrated that dihydrolipoic acid
recycles vitamin E by synergistically interacting with ascorbate. The
study also noted that while beta-carotene is not active in vitamin E
recycling, it may itself protect against oxidative destruction (Kagan).
Drinkers and Smokers
Because of the beneficial recycling effects on glutathione
and other antioxidants, Alpha lipoic acid is the perfect antioxidant
for drinkers and smokers because it neutralizes these toxins and also
protects us from secondhand smoke. Alpha lipoic acid actually protects
the liver from damage from alcohol (Morgan).
Benefits Diabetic Individuals
Diabetes is one of the major degenerative diseases
in the United States and is a major risk for the development of cardiovascular
disease. It is characterized by a reduced ability to use and metabolize
carbohydrates. A recent study of great significance published by the
Germans reported that alpha-lipoic acid enhanced glucose disposal in
patients with Type II diabetes (NIDDM). Insulin resistance of skeletal
muscle glucose uptake is a prominent problem of NIDDM; therefore improvement
of insulin sensitivity would be of great benefit The study used groups
comparable in age, body-mass index and duration of diabetes and had
a similar degree ofinsulin resistance at baseline. Administration of
alpha lipoic acid resulted in a significant increase of insulin-stimulated
glucose disposal; metabolic clearance rate for glucose rose by about
50% whereas the control group did not show any significant change (Jacob).
One of the major problems among diabetics is the
associated complications. Alpha lipoic acid has been successfully used
throughout Europe for many years to help treat and prevent complications
associated with diabetes including neuropathy and cataracts. Alpha lipoic
acid improves nerve blood flow, reduces oxidative stress, and improves
distal nerve conduction in experimental diabetic neuropathy. A study
at the Mayo Foundation in Rochester, Minnesota, demonstrated that alpha
lipoic acid will reduce oxidative stress in diabetic peripheral nerves
and improve neuropathy. Lipoic acid did not affect the nerve blood flow
of normal nerves but improved that of diabetic neuropathy in a dose-dependent
After 1 month of treatment, the alpha lipoic acid
group exhibited normal blood flow. The most sensitive and reliable indicator
ofoxidative stress was reduction in reduced glutathione, which was significantly
reduced in the diabetic and alpha-tocopherol-deficient nerves; it was
improved in a dose-dependent manner in the lipoic acid group. Nerve
conduction was also significantly improved by the lipoic acid (Nagamatsu).
Protection Against Cataracts
Glutathione is an important free radical deactivator
offering protection against cataract formation, as well as immune enhancement,
liver protection, cancer protection and heavy metal detoxification.
Regeneration of this nutrient by alpha lipoic acid enhances all of these
properties. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley investigated
the effect of alpha-lipoic acid on cataract formation in specially treated
newborn rats and found that a dose of 25 mg/kg body weight protected
60% of animals from cataract formation. The treatment used to promote
cataract formation was an inhibitor of glutathione synthesis. Major
biochemical changes in the lens associated with the protective effect
of alpha-lipoic acid were increases in glutathione, ascorbate, and vitamin
E levels. Treatment with alpha-lipoic acid also restored the activities
of glutathione peroxidase, catalase, and ascorbate free radical reductase
in lenses ofthe treated animals but did not affect glutathione reductase
or superoxide dismutase activity. They concluded that alphalipoic acid
may take over some of the functions of glutathione (e.g., maintaining
the higher level of ascorbate, indirect participation in vitamin E recycling);
the increase of glutathione level in lens tissue offering the resulting
protection. Thus, alphalipoic acid could be of potential therapeutic
use in preventing cataracts and their complications (Maitra). Additional
An abundance ofpromising research has also shown
the ability of alpha lipoic acid to inhibit replication of HIV-1 and
other viruses through its DNA binding activity (Shoji), and also to
protect the liver from toxins, prevent kidney stone formation (Jayanthi).
It is used to treat cirrhosis, hepatitis and treat or prevent radiation
injury. Individuals with capillary fragility (who bruise easily) can
also benefit from alpha iipoic acid.
Cofactor for Energy Production
Under normal conditions, alpha lipoic acid functions
in the body as a cofactor for a number of vital enzymes responsible
for metabolism of our food to chemical energy (ATP). Alpha lipoic acid
acts as a coenzyme at the active site of enzyme complexes. Lipoic acid
facilitates the metabolism of glucose to energy. While deficiencies
are rare, we cannot thrive without it. In order to preform antioxidant
functions in the body, alpha lipoic acid must be present in amounts
significantly higher than normal. Therefore, supplementation is required
for this great benefit to be obtained. While some of the human studies
involve supplementation as high as 1,000 mg daily, 100 mg daily is sufficient
to obtain antioxidant effects in most cases. An added bonus, it's very
Naturally Found in Foods We Eat Every Day
Outside the body, alpha lipoic acid is found in the leaves of plants
containing mitochondria and in non-photosynthetic plant tissues, such
as potatoes, carrots, beets, yams, kohlrabi and others. Red meat is
among the rich sources of naturally-occurring alpha lipoic acid. Good
thing...since beef is also loaded with cholesterol! It's interesting
how nature seems to have a way ofbalancing things out.
Beth M. Ley, medical science writer of Also Viejo,
California, has also written DHEA: Unlocking the Secrets to the Fountain
of Youth (1966) How Did Wk Get So Fatz with Nutritionist DrArnold J.
Susser, RP, PhD (1994), Natural Healing Handbook (1995), Castor Oil:
Its Healing Properties and Dr. John Willard on CataEyst Altered Water:
Flannery GR, Burroughs AK, Butler P, Chelliah J, Hamilton-Miller J,
Brumfitt W, Baum H Antimitochondrial antibodies in primary biliary cirrhosis
recognize both specific peptides and shared epitopes of the M2 family
of antigens. Hepatology 1989 Sep;10(3):370-4.
Hen D, Tritschler HJ, Packer L. Alpha-lipoic acid increases intracellular
glutathione in a human T-lymphocyte Jurkat cell line. Biochem Biophys
Res Commun 1995 Feb 6;207 (1): 258-64.
Jacob S, Henriksen El, SchiemannAL, Simon I, Clancy DE, Tritschler HJ,
Jung WI "Enhancement of glucose disposal in patients with type
2 diabetes by alpha-lipoic acid." Department ofInternal Medicine,
City Hospital, Baden-Baden, Germany. Arzneimittelforschung 1995 Aug;45(8):872
Jayanthi SAU - Jayanthi GAU - Varalakshmi PTI - Effect of DL alpha-lipoic
acid on some carbohydrate metabolizing enzymes in stone forming rats.
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Lin R, Antony V, et al.Alcohol Clin Ezp Res 1994
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buthionine sulfoximine-induced cataract formation in newborn rats. Free
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Nagamatsu M, Nickander KK, et al. Lipoic acid improves nerve blood flow,
reduces oxidative stress, and improves distal nerve conduction in experimental
diabetic neuropathy. Diabetes Care 1995 Aug;18(8):1160-7.
O'Neill CA, Halliwell B, et al.Aldehyde-induced protein modifications
in human plasma: protection by glutathione and dihydrolipoic acid. J
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Podda M, Tritschler HJ, Ulrich 11, Packer L, "Alpha-lipoic acid
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Shoji S, Furuishi K et al. Thiamine disulfide as a potent inhibitor
of human immunodeficiency virus (type-i) production. Biochen Biophys
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Suzuki YJ, Mizuno M, et al. Regulation of NF kappa B DNA binding activity
by dihydrolipoate. Biochen Mol Biol Int 1995 Jun;36 (2): 241-6.
Wickramasinghe SN, Hasan R In vitro effects ofvitamin C, thioctic acid
and dihydrolipoic acid on the cytotoxicity of post-ethanol serum. Biochem
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