You may not have heard of Alpha-Lipoic Acid – often shortened to ALA – but you’ve actually consumed it! Foods like spinach, broccoli, potatoes, carrots, beets, yeast and red meat all contain small amounts of this powerful antioxidant. The body also produces it internally because it is such an important scavenger of free radicals which can damage normal cells. It’s so powerful in fact that many people take it as a supplement to get access to more concentrated sources of this compound. With anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and antioxidant effects in addition to lowering oxidative stress in the cardiovascular system and supporting the endocrine system, particularly for people with diabetes, there are many uses for this compound.
Medicinally, ALA is used for:
- Pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes
- Complications from diabetes: neuropathy, retinopathy, nephropathy
- Other types of neuropathy (tingling in the hands and feet) including chemo-induced
- Eye diseases like cataracts and glaucoma
- Neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Cardiovascular diseases and peripheral arterial disease
- Some cancers
- Liver disease
The nice thing about ALA is that, because it’s found in common foods and the body can make it on its own, it’s truly a natural compound. Safety of supplements at recommended doses is documented in studies. Clinical trials dosing ALA have proven safe orally in ranges from four months to four years. Some of the best research is in fact on using ALA topically for supporting skin health including reduced fine lines and roughness associated with sun damage to the face. ALA is commonly combined in topicals and oral supplements with other antioxidant herbs like vitamins C or E, pine bark extract, or others so it can be difficult to understand the benefits of ALA specifically independent of other ingredients.
There are some exciting potential uses for ALA for medical conditions. When combined with CoQ10, omega-3 fatty acids, selenium and magnesium, ALA has proven supportive for patients post coronary artery bypass graft surgery. Because of its anti-inflammatory support, there are uses for it within cardiovascular health. It has been researched more extensively and on its own regarding type 2 diabetes. There is evidence that taking 300-1800 mg/day for 4-8 weeks improves insulin sensitivity and fasting blood glucose levels in people with diabetes. Though there is some conflicting research and ALA doesn’t appear to actually lower A1c (the measure of blood sugar over a period of 3 months and one of the diagnostic criteria for diabetes), the opportunity for using it to treat side effects including diabetic neuropathy (tingling in the hands and feet) is promising.
ALA has proven generally well tolerated with some reports of potential nausea or vomiting in some people. Though there are rare examples when extremely high doses were damaging or even fatal to humans or animals, normal dosing appears to be safe for many people. There are very minimal potential interactions with medications including moderate interactions with thyroid hormone replacements or anti-tumor antibiotics. Use caution when combining ALA with other blood-sugar lowering herbs and supplements as the effects could be compounded. As always, it’s best to meet with your doctor to make sure ALA is safe for you.
Have you ever tried ALA for medicinal use? Let us know about your experience in the comments!
Natural Medicines Database. Alpha-Lipoic Acid. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=767. Updated 7/27/2018. Accessed 12/27/2018.
Sztanek F, Seres I, Lorincz H, Molnar A, Paragh G. Effect of alpha-lipoic acid supplementation on oxidative stress markers and antioxidative defense in patients with diabetic neuropathy. Atherosclerosis. 2017;263:e263.
Tibullo D, Volti GL, Giallongo C, Grasso S, Tomassoni D, Anfuso CD, Lupo G, Amenta F, Avola R, Bramanti V. Biochemical and clinical relevance of alpha lipoic acid: antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, molecular pathways and therapeutic potential. Inflammation Research. 2017;66(11):947-59.
Reduce inflammatory process in cells, tissues, and blood vessels, helping to slow aging and reduce risk of long-term disease.
Prevents and repairs oxidative damage to cells caused by free radicals.
Support the body’s resistance to infection and strengthen immune vigilance and response.
Improves mood, memory, and focus.
Reduces risk factors for common degenerative and age-related diseases.