Alpha lipoic acid is a fatty acid with antioxidant properties that help fight free radicals in the body. According to research, alpha lipoic acid may be beneficial in the treatment of diabetes, prevent heart disease, premature skin ageing and have a positive effect on the regulation of body weight. There is evidence that alpha-lipoic acid may also help regenerate other antioxidants, including vitamins C and E.
Alpha lipoic acid, also called thioctic acid, occurs naturally in every cell of the human body and is needed to convert carbohydrates into energy. Although alpha-lipoic acid is produced in small amounts by the body itself, it is mainly absorbed through food and is quickly absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract. Animal products such as red meat and offal are great sources of alpha lipoic acid, but plant foods such as broccoli, tomatoes, spinach and Brussels sprouts also contain the fatty acid.
Alpha lipoic acid is an endogenous co-factor that is also colloquially referred to as a “universal antioxidant” because the substance is both water and fat soluble and can thus neutralise free radicals in both media. For this reason, alpha-lipoic acid is now available on the market as a dietary supplement and is used as an adjuvant therapy for neuropathy and to improve glycaemic control. Such supplements can contain up to 1000 times more alpha-lipoic acid than natural food sources. Preclinical studies have shown that alpha-lipoic acid plays a crucial role in energy production and has antioxidant and apoptotic effects.
Alpha lipoic acid acts as a lipophilic radical scavenger. Dihydrolipoic acid, a reduced form of alpha lipoic acid, has a stronger antioxidant effect. It can help repair oxidative damage and even regenerate the body’s own antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E and glutathione. Both dihydrolipoic acid and alpha lipoic acid also have metal chelating capacities. As a lipoamide, alpha-lipoic acid functions as a cofactor in various multienzyme systems involved in the decarboxylation of alpha-keto acids such as pyruvate.
To supplement the diet, alpha lipoic acid is usually taken in the form of tablets or capsules. The substance is both fat and water soluble in the body; however, it appears to react in the intestine primarily in a water-soluble manner and does not require dietary fat for absorption. Studies show that approximately 30-40% of alpha lipoic acid taken as a supplement is absorbed by the body.
Medical consultation is recommended before taking such supplements as they may interact with medications and influence their effects. However, alpha lipoic acid is generally safe and usually has few to no side effects. Side effects that may occur in rare cases when taking alpha lipoic acid include nausea, vomiting or a lowered blood sugar level.