What Is Alpha Lipoic Acid?
You might have heard of it in the past, but what is alpha lipoic acid? Is there alpha lipoic acid side effects? Alpha lipoic acid, also known as ALA, is an antioxidant naturally found in the body and in a variety of foods. Supplementing with ALA is common, as the organic compound has started to gain notoriety for its health benefits. There's evidence that this compound may be beneficial for: There is evidence that you may use alpha lipoic acid for neuropathy pain as well as:
- Reduced inflammation
- Weight loss
ALA is made inside of the mitochondrion, and it works with the body’s cells and tissues so well because it’s fat- and water-soluble. While the compound is naturally produced by the body, it’s only produced in very small amounts.
Significant changes in your diet or supplementation can help users experience health-related alpha lipoic acid benefits. Supplementation offers the highest intake of ALA, but it can also be found in red meat, spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, and other foods.
Alpha Lipoic Acid Benefits
The benefits of alpha lipoic acid are many. Some benefits are anecdotal and haven’t been intensely studied, yet others are based on numerous studies and facts. Since ALA is generally safe for use (more on that in the next section), it’s a common supplement that people can try for themselves to determine if it works for them.
The benefits that have been studied include:
Anti-aging may also be helped with topical applications of alpha lipoic acid. Human studies have shown that ALA can:
- Reduce wrinkles
- Reduce fine lines
- Ease skin roughness
Additional studies show that when the compound is applied to the skin, it has the ability to move into the inner layers of the skin and protect against UV radiation. The presence of ALA further causes the body to produce higher levels of glutathione, which can protect against skin aging and damage.
Lower Insulin Resistance
One study on adults that have metabolic syndrome found that when ALA was taken, it may be able to reduce insulin resistance. Fasting blood glucose levels also fell, leading to potential applications for people suffering from diabetes.
A 2014 study found that glucose homeostasis was able to be sustained when taking ALA. Even in a high-fat diet, mice were able to have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease prevented.
Lower Blood Sugar Levels
Diabetics may benefit from supplementing with ALA, according to numerous studies. The condition impacts hundreds of millions of people worldwide and can lead to heart disease and kidney failure if it’s left untreated.
In human and animal studies from 1997, it was shown that ALA can enhance insulin-stimulated glucose in the body.
When examined, it was found that oxidative and non-oxidative glucose transportation was enhanced. Studies also found that the rats had significantly lower levels of free fatty acids and plasma levels of insulin.
In further studies on diabetes, it was found that ALA can greatly lower the risk of nerve damage and eye damage when a person has uncontrolled diabetes. It's important to note that while all of these studies show real promise, supplementation will not replace a traditional treatment plan for diabetes.
Alpha Lipoic Acid For Neuropathy Function & Pain
Nerve function and pain from diabetic neuropathy have both been studied intensively. ALA may help promote healthy nerve function and was shown in one study to reduce carpal tunnel syndrome progression.
Uncontrolled diabetes, which can cause diabetic neuropathy, was also shown to benefit from ALA treatment. One meta-analysis examined studies on the compound between 1966 and 2005. What the analysis found was that neuropathy pain was reduced in a three-week period when supplementing with ALA.
The study did note that there was not enough data present on whether or not oral consumption was able to treat neuropathy pain. The data for oral treatment is conflicting, but there seems to be no effect on glycemic control even after a two-year period, which is very promising.
Inflammation, which is attributed to numerous health conditions, has also been analyzed in ALA studies. The studies note that chronic inflammation can lead to diabetes and cancer, but ALA was able to lower several markers associated with inflammation.
A meta-analysis of eleven studies found that ALA was able to lower C-reactive protein.
What's interesting about the study is that it found in diabetic patients, ALA wasn’t able to reduce CRP levels. Otherwise, it was able to significantly reduce these levels in non-diabetic participants.
CRP levels were able to be reduced in two cases: when ALA administration lasted for a period of eight weeks and when administration included dosages of 3 mg/l or higher. People with elevated CRP levels may benefit from supplementing with ALA.
Slow Memory Loss
Memory loss is often attributed to oxidative stress. Since ALA is a powerful antioxidant, it has been the center of numerous memory-related studies. A 2008 study on Alzheimer’s disease looked at the ability of ALA to act as a neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory treatment.
The review notes that one study of 43 patients given 600 mg daily over a period of 48 months found that while an improvement from dementia was not significant, the progression of dementia was extremely slow compared to those that did not supplement with ALA.
Obesity and being overweight is a growing concern in today’s world. Alpha lipoic acid has been studied on both animals and humans to determine its efficacy on weight loss. The studies conducted on animals found that ALA reduced AMP-activated protein kinase or AMPK.
AMPK’s presence, when it is more active, increases the feeling of hunger.
Additionally, it was found that reducing AMPK activity also helped increase the resting metabolic rate of animals in the study. Animals burned excess calories when they had lower levels of AMPK present in their bodies.
In humans, the weight-loss impact was minimal.
A meta-analysis of 12 studies found that over the course of a 14-week period, participants that took ALA lost an average of 1.5 additional pounds. Over the course of 23 weeks, it was found that participants lost 2.8 pounds more than the placebo group.
Alpha Lipoic Acid Side Effects
Alpha lipoic acid doesn’t appear to have harsh side effects. If a person does experience any form of side effects, it’s usually related to a skin rash, although this is even mild and rare when it does occur.
Long-term usage is the biggest question mark, as little is known about the potential side effects of using ALA over the long-term aside from oral consumption. WebMD reports that oral consumption is possibly safe for up to four years.
Otherwise, ALA is shown to be possibly safe when:
- Applied to the skin for up to 12 weeks
- Given by IV for up to 3 weeks
A few times when you’ll want to consult with your doctor before usage are:
- You take insulin
- You are on medication for low blood sugar
Doctors may want you to adjust your medication in these two instances, or they may weigh the pros and cons of taking ALA given your current medical issues.
Pregnant women have taken alpha lipoic acid for up to four weeks at 600mg dosages per day without any issues. There isn’t enough information on usage during breastfeeding at this time to provide a proper assessment on whether it’s safe to use or not.
Overall, the alpha lipoic acid benefits outweigh the very minimal risks of rashes for people suffering from diabetic neuropathy, hyperlipidemia, or obesity.