What is Alpha Lipoic Acid?
Alpha lipoic acid (also known as ALA) is an organic compound found in a wide range of foods. It helps cells convert nutrients into energy and has also been shown to have potent antioxidant effects.
Although ALA is produced naturally by the body, there are therapeutic benefits from supplementing with a higher dose. Research shows that ALA can lower blood sugar, prevent nerve damage and protect your heart. It may also reduce inflammation throughout the body and help prevent age- related cognitive decline.
R-ALA vs ALA
A few different chemical versions of ALA exist, each of which has different properties in the body. R-Alpha lipoic acid is the most beneficial type, but it’s unstable unless combined with S-ALA, another common type of ALA. Most commercial ALA products consist of a mix of the R and S varieties of the compound (x).
Alpha Lipoic Acid Benefits
ALA has applications for a wide range of medical conditions and simply to boost general health. Some of the main therapeutic benefits seen with ALA supplementation include:
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes develops when the body is unable to regulate insulin and blood sugar levels. Chronically high blood sugar can cause a wide range of health issues, from cardiovascular diseases to vision loss.
Studies show that ALA can help regulate blood sugar levels in humans. Animal studies have also demonstrated its effectiveness, lowering blood sugar by over 60 percent (x).
Research also shows that ALA makes the body more responsive to insulin. This means that the body is better able to control blood sugar levels (x).
Scientists still aren’t sure exactly how ALA helps with diabetes management. It may help remove excess fat stored in cells, making them much more sensitive to insulin.
Although ALA may help people with diabetes, it should never be used as a first-line treatment. Rather, this supplement shows most efficacy when used in combination with other standard therapies under the supervision of your doctor.
ALA’s potent antioxidant properties have been known for a while. Studies confirm it may be useful when used to reduce inflammation.
For example, one study assessed the role that ALA plays in reducing signs of inflammation throughout the body. Researchers found that the use of ALA led to significantly lower levels of various reactive proteins (x).
Bodybuilders also frequently use ALA because, as an antioxidant, it may speed muscle recovery and improve performance. However, while bodybuilders hold ALA in high regard, no specific studies exist to back up ALA’s use for this purpose yet.
Neuropathy occurs when nerves of the peripheral nervous system have been damaged. Many factors can cause it, leading to pain and difficulty moving. It’s a common side effect of type 2 diabetes since high blood sugar levels can lead to nerve damage (x).
Studies show that ALA may be effective for treating diabetic neuropathy, helping protect the nerves and prevent further damage (x).
Not only does ALA have the potential to treat diabetic neuropathy, it can also help prevent it from occurring in the first place. Because ALA can help control blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes, it may also have a prophylactic effect on the development of diabetic neuropathy.
ALA is also useful for protecting nerves and preventing other conditions. For example, research indicates that ALA may be able to slow the progression of carpal tunnel syndrome, especially if the condition is still in its early stages (x).
Although ALA does show promise for treating various types of neuropathy, it should not be used to replace other treatment options. However, it may be effective when used alongside other common therapies for neuropathy.
The antioxidant properties of ALA make it effective for reducing wrinkles and other signs of skin aging.
One study found that a cream with ALA significantly reversed visible signs of aging. Additionally, ALA may act to protect the skin from sun damage, reflecting UV rays (x).
It’s still not known whether ALA is effective for improving skin when taken orally, as all of the studies have been done using a cream or another form of topical application.
Age Related Cognitive Decline
Researchers believe that oxidative stress and inflammation play a significant role in the cognitive changes routinely seen with aging. Inflammation may lead to memory loss, as well as slow down processing speed.
The antioxidant properties of ALA may make it useful for people experiencing age-related cognitive decline (x).
Although ALA has shown some benefits when used in elderly patients, researchers still do not know if it’s effective for young people.
ALA should not be used as a primary treatment for cognitive decline, but should be combined with other proven therapies.
ALA plays a role in regulating feelings of hunger in the brain, and it can also affect resting metabolism, leading to increased calorie burning.
Studies have shown that ALA suppresses an enzyme in the brain that causes you to feel hungry. When this enzyme is suppressed, your resting metabolism also increases.
Most of the studies done on alpha lipoic acid and weight loss used animal models, and the research done on humans has shown that it may only have a small effect on weight loss. However, some participants did experience a noticeable benefit and tolerated the supplement well (x).
Although there aren’t many studies examining the role of ALA in headaches, there’s some indication that it may help people with chronic migraines.
One study gave participants 600 mg of ALA every day over the course of three months. Those who received the supplement reported lower levels of migraines, as well as reduced headache severity (x).
More research is needed to confirm these findings, and ALA should not at this point be considered a primary treatment option for those with migraines.
HIV is a viral infection that can compromise the immune system, increasing the risk of exposure to other bacterial and viral infections.
Although we still know little about the role that ALA plays in HIV, one study found that 300 mg administered daily led to a higher white blood cell count. White blood cells are crucial for a healthy immune system, and low levels can leave you exposed to infections (x).
ALA should never be used as a primary treatment for HIV, and you should speak to your doctor before adding it to your medication regimen.
Alpha Lipoic Acid Side Effects
ALA has a good safety record, with users reporting few major side effects. However, there are some mild side effects that do appear with use of ALA, although they may go away as your body adjusts to the supplement (x).
Low Blood Sugar
One of the main therapeutic benefits of taking ALA is that it can regulate blood sugar. However, for people with already low blood sugar, ALA may potentially drop it to dangerously low levels.
In some cases, routine use of ALA may cause lightheadedness, especially when first starting supplementation. If symptoms persist, lower the dose or take it with food.
Some users also report that ALA causes nausea. This symptom is usually mild, and it often goes away as your body adjusts to the supplement. If nausea continues, lower the dose or take the supplement alongside a meal.
Although rare, rashes and skin irritation can occur with the use of ALA. If you experience any of these symptoms, discontinue use of the supplement.
Use With Caution If Pregnant
Despite its overall safety record, little research exists on ALA’s safety for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. One small study does indicate it’s likely safe, but if you plan on using ALA, speak to your doctor first (x).
ALA does not interact directly with many drugs. However, you should avoid the supplement or speak to your doctor if taking a few types of medication.
Some research has shown that antioxidants such as ALA may interfere with cancer drugs (x).
ALA can significantly lower blood sugar in many people with diabetes. If you are already taking diabetes medication, a combination with ALA could lower blood sugar to dangerously low levels. You should tell your doctor if you plan on adding ALA to your therapy regimen.
Dosage and Instructions
Doses of ALA vary widely depending on your reasons for taking the supplement. There is also no standard medical dose of ALA for any condition, making it difficult to give an exact recommendation.
Begin by taking the dose recommended by the manufacturer. Concentrations may vary, so take note of this if you are switching between companies. A common dose is around 600 mg of pure extract powder, taken once or twice per day as needed.
Some people notice fewer side effects if they take ALA with food. Take in the morning, especially if you are using it to control blood sugar. You can also take it alongside meals throughout the day. You can take ALA before bed, although it could cause mild sleep disturbances.
Why Take ALA?
The body naturally produces ALA, where it plays an important role in healthy metabolism. Many foods like red meat and a variety of green vegetables also contain it.
However, levels of ALA present in the body and in common foods are relatively low. Larger amounts may be needed to see a therapeutic benefit, especially if you are using it to help treat a specific medical condition, such as type 2 diabetes.
ALA supplementation allows you to consume a high enough dose to get the full range of health benefits seen with the compound. Furthermore, it’s more convenient, as you can buy and store large amounts without having to resupply fresh food.
It’s also much easier to get a consistent dose if you use a supplement version of ALA instead of fresh food. This ensures that you get the full therapeutic effect while taking ALA.
The Bottom Line
Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is a natural compound that helps cells convert glucose to energy. It also has antioxidant properties and may lower inflammation throughout the body.
ALA is commonly used as a supplemental treatment for type 2 diabetes, as it can help regulate blood sugar levels. It may also make the body more sensitive to insulin, leading to more sugar getting broken down.
In addition, ALA may protect nerves, especially in people with diabetes. It can help slow the progression of diabetic neuropathy, reducing pain and improving movement. It may also be of benefit to people with early stage carpal tunnel syndrome.
Alpha lipoic acid has few major side effects and a good safety record when taken within the recommended dose range. People with low blood sugar should avoid ALA, as it could drop levels too low. It can also cause a range of mild side effects, including lightheadedness and nausea.
By: Justin Stewart