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Lipoic Acid is the Broad Spectrum Antioxidant Supplement

by Barbara Minton
See all TBYIL articles by Barbara Minton

(The Best Years in Life) Can you imagine a supplement that protects every organ in the human body and has no significant side effects? This is the kind of claim that gets the FDA after the supplement industry, but in the case of lipoic acid, there's plenty of research showing this claim may be true. What makes lipoic acid so special? Unlike drugs which possess a well defined molecular mechanism of action, lipoic acid is pleiotropic, meaning it is capable of producing multiple effects from its influence on a single gene.

Lipoic acid is a naturally occurring substance, essential for the function of different enzymes that take part in the mitochondria's oxidative metabolism. (The mitochondria is the tiny furnace contained in each cell, in which food is burned and energy is produced - it is at the very core of life.) The excess production of free radicals occurring in this process results in oxidative stress being a big factor in the development of degenerative diseases. Lipoic acid has many biochemical functions in the human body:

  • Functioning as antioxidants

  • Chelating active metal ions

  • Protecting against oxidized forms of other antioxidants such as vitamins C and E

  • Modulating signaling transduction in several pathways

In a just published review of data, scientist from Brazil found these functions enable supplements of alpha lipoic acid to be a potential therapeutic agent for many chronic diseases, with great epidemiological as well as economic and social impact, including:

  • Alzheimer's disease

  • Cognitive dysfunction

  • Obesity

  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

  • Burning mouth syndrome

  • Cardiovascular disease

  • Hypertension

  • Cancer

  • Glaucoma

  • Osteoporosis

  • Diabetic peripheral neuropathy


Lipoic acid is a broad spectrum antioxidant

The antioxidant capabilities of lipoic acid are legendary. In addition to neutralizing many free radicals generated by metabolic processes, its antioxidants defend the body from environmental insults. But unlike other antioxidants which work only in water or fatty tissues, lipoic acid works in both water and fat.  In  comparison, vitamin E works only in fat, and vitamin C works only in water. This ability makes lipoic acid a broad spectrum antioxidant that has also been shown to offer protection for the kidneys and pancreas. It has the ability to get into all parts of a nerve cell. I

In addition, lipoic acid may be able to do the work of other antioxidants when the body is deficient in them. Future research is likely to document that lipoic acid exerts its antioxidant protection on all cells in the body, making it a highly significant factor in inhibiting the aging process and maintaining homeostasis.

Lipoic acid treats diabetic polyneuropathy and nephropathy

Polyneuropathy is the most common of the neuropathies associated with diabetes mellitus. Antidepressants, anticonvulsants and opioids are regularly prescribed to control pain from this condition. However these agents rarely provide complete relief and fail to address the progression of the disorder. Scientists in Boston investigated the effectiveness and tolerability of lipoic acid in the treatment of symptomatic diabetic sensorimotor polyneuropathy (DSPN), noting that it has already been approved for that use in Germany.

They found that lipoic acid provided significant improvement in DSPN. 600 mg of alpha lipoic acid administered intravenously daily for 3 weeks represented a well-tolerated and effective therapy. An oral dose of 600 mg daily administered for up to 5 weeks also offered benefits in symptoms and signs of DSPN without significant side effects.

Meanwhile, researchers at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill investigated whether reduced production of endogenous lipoic acid promoted diabetic nephropathy using a mice model. They found that in diabetic mice, cells of the mitochondria were particularly sensitive to damage from reduced lipoic acid production, suggesting that its deficiency increases oxidative stress and accelerates the development of diabetic nephropathy.

Lipoic acid is a powerful protector of the brain

In a study published in Redox Report, researchers monitored iron content in the cerebral cortex of rats and found that in 24-28 month old rats, levels were increased by 80% relative to 3 month old rats. Iron accumulation correlated with a decline in glutathione, another of the body's major antioxidants, indicating that iron alters antioxidant capacity in aged animals. The researchers monitored whether supplementing lipoic acid in old rats could lower cortical iron and improve antioxidant status. Results showed that cerebral iron levels in the supplemented old rats were lower when compared to controls and were similar to levels seen in young rats. Antioxidant status also improved markedly in the old rats verses the controls. These results support the conclusions that lipoic acid supplementation lowers the oxidative stress associated with aging.

Lipoic acid was shown to have a variety of properties that can inhibit cognitive decline, in a study reported in Advanced Drug Delivery Review. Researchers looking for a therapeutic for Alzheimer's disease determined that lipoic acid increased acetylcholine production (a neurotransmitter) and down regulated the expression of pro-inflammatory proteins. They suggested that one large dose rather than more frequent low doses would be beneficial for delivery of lipoic acid to the brain. They also suggested combining it with such nutraceuticals as curcumin (from turmeric), ECGC (from green tea), and DHA (from fish oil) to synergistically decrease oxidative stress, inflammation, and plaque in the brain.

Ganglion cells are cells that carry the visual message to the brain. A recent study published in Progressive Brain Research found that agents targeted specifically at enhancing ganglion cell energy production would be beneficial for patients with glaucoma. They suggested that ganglion cell death in glaucoma follows a similar pathophysiology as numerous neurological disorders involving energy dysregulation and oxidative stress. Enhancing cellular energy production slows down ganglion cell death. Based on their laboratory findings, they recommended lipoic acid along with other nutrients (creatine, nicotinamide, and EGCG from green tea) to increase energy in the mitrochrondria of the ganglion. According to the researchers, each of the recommended nutrients counteract oxidative stress induced by light and other triggers, and are worthy of use in treatment as they can be taken orally to reach the retina without side effects.

Researchers are discovering more amazing benefits of lipoic acid against aging

The Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University is the site of much investigation into lipoic acid. Two research projects currently underway seek to define the process of mitochrondrial decay in the aging heart and explore the mechanisms leading to increased vulnerability to oxidative insults that result in aging.

Mitochondria play major roles in calcium homeostasis and regulate programmed cell death and tissue renewal. Any impairment in mitochondrial function has significant consequences to cells and can open the door for cancer and other degenerative diseases. Mitochondria become severely impaired with age, and free radicals continually damage it and other important parts of the cell such as DNA. This leads to a vicious downward spiral in overall cell function.

Researchers have identified compounds normally found in cells that decline markedly with age but can be replaced by dietary supplementation. They term these compounds age-essential micronutrients and have shown that two of them, acety-L-carnitine and lipoic acid, when fed to rats significantly improve mitochondrial function and reduce many of the signs of aging.

Their other project involves study of the susceptibility of the body to a variety of oxidative insults. They have found that production of glutathione, a major cellular detoxifier, declines substantially with age. This loss is due to age-dependent lessening of activity and levels of gamma-glutamylcysteine ligase (GCL), the rate-controlling enzyme for glutathione synthesis. GCL expression is controlled by a transcription factor that becomes dysregulated with age, resulting in loss of GCL expression and potentially many of the nearly 400 other detoxification enzymes.

The institute found that treatment with lipoic acid re-regulates these factors, thereby increasing glutathione levels and the ability to withstand oxidative insult. Their ongoing research is aimed at defining the exact mechanisms of these actions.

Using lipoic acid supplements

Consumption of lipoic acid in foods has not been found to result in detectable increases of it in human plasma or cells. Supplemental doses of 50 mg or more do result in significant but transient increases in plasma and cell levels. Lipoic acid supplements should be taken on an empty stomach for better absorption.

Supplements of lipoic acid are widely available as alpha-lipoic acid, composed of a mixture of the naturally occurring R-lipoic acid with the synthetic form, S-lipoic acid, the molecular mirror image of R-lipoic acid. Alpha-lipoic acid is quite effective and inexpensive, but presents the body with a substance that is in part unnatural. As with any unnatural substance, the body may mount resistance to it. R-lipoic acid may be the better choice and doesn't cost that much more. It is available from several online health retailers.

If you plan to take only one antioxidant supplement, lipoic acid provides the greatest breadth of coverage in the body. It also serves as a foundation for other antioxidants that may be taken to target specific areas, and it may fill in for them in the body when levels have run low.

See Also:

Five Supplements Can Help You Live 'Til You Die

About the Author:

Barbara is a school psychologist and the author of Dividend Capture, a book on personal finance. She is a breast cancer survivor using bioidentical hormone therapy, and a passionate advocate of natural health with hundreds of articles on many aspects of health and wellness. She is the editor and publisher of AlignLife's Health Secrets Newsletter.

See other articles by the Barbara Minton here:

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