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Alpha Lipoic Acid Benefits for Skin, Diabetes, Heart Health & Vision

Alpha Lipoic Acid Benefits for Skin, Diabetes, Heart Health & Vision

Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is a potent antioxidant compound that we can get from meat and plant foods like leafy greens, broccoli, carrots, beetroots, yams and potatoes, tomatoes and rice bran.

We also make it in our mitochondria which are housed within all the cells of our body. (Without our mitochondria, we couldn’t produce energy.) ALA plays a vital role in this, helping to convert glucose into essential fuel for our bodies.

Although we produce alpha lipoic acid ourselves, it’s not generated in large amounts. Boosting our levels through diet is highly beneficial, but some people also like to supplement to ensure they are getting adequate amounts.

One of ALA’s exceptional qualities is that unlike other antioxidants like vitamins C and E, it is both water and fat soluble. This makes it more versatile and able to function in all the cells and tissues of our bodies.

Aside from its epic antioxidant capabilities, alpha lipoic acid is championed for its impressive anti-inflammatory powers. It is now becoming more widely accepted that most, if not all, illness and disease stem from chronic inflammation.

It's no surprise, therefore, that ALA is touted for its anti-ageing benefits as well as its role in the treatment or prevention of diseases and conditions including diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, and neurological and cognitive decline.    

What Does ALA Do?

While acute inflammation is the body’s natural immune response to harmful stimuli, prolonged inflammation can lead to various health problems.

Known as the ‘universal antioxidant’, one of ALA’s most significant benefits is its ability to reduce and even reverse the toxic oxidative damage that can destroy our cells, leading to chronic illness, premature ageing and decline.

The fact that it is both fat and water soluble also means that it can reach into every tissue and cell in our bodies.

Often considered superior to other antioxidants, ALA can increase the expression of antioxidant enzymes. It also regenerates other powerful antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, COQ10 and glutathione, increasing their disease-fighting, immune-boosting and energy producing capabilities. 

If that wasn’t enough, alpha lipoic acid has anti-inflammatory prowess outside of its antioxidant activity and can boost the antioxidant defence system via Nrf-2-mediated antioxidant gene expression, to reduce free radical damage when the body is under stress.

According to Dr Mercola, alpha lipoic acid is one of the best free radical scavengers and also the only one known to access the brain with ease.

ALA even acts as a metal chelator. In small studies, it has shown the potential to bind to iron and copper, preventing oxidative damage and the associated risk of neurodegenerative and other diseases.

How Can Alpha Lipoic Acid Help You?

ALA can increase energy production, decrease oxidative stress, reduce inflammation and boost other natural antioxidant defences.

It affects inflammation, energy production, metabolism, immunity, nerves, blood vessels, all muscles, cells and tissues, and the brain and other organs, protecting you from chronic illness and disease. 

Alpha lipoic acid can be beneficial for managing diabetes symptoms, improving insulin sensitivity, balancing blood sugar and reducing cholesterol.

It may help to prevent cognitive decline, protect vision, aid weight loss, improve skin ageing and lower blood pressure.

May Protect the Skin from Ageing

Antioxidants can help to neutralise free radical damage in the body. Skin damage caused by smoking and sun exposure, plus having an unhealthy diet and lifestyle, can increase oxidative stress and accelerate skin ageing.

Some research has been conducted using skin creams that contain ALA, and positive results were achieved for those with photoaged (sun damaged) skin.

In one small study on 20 women with ageing skin, after three and six months of applying cream to the face with 5% ALA, the skin had increased thickness and improved texture.

As mentioned, ALA also boosts vitamin C and glutathione – both of which reduce skin inflammation and encourage a youthful appearance. As such, supplementing with alpha lipoic acid could potentiate the effects of other nutrients in the form of food or supplements.

May Protect Vision As You Age

Due to its antioxidant status and ability to reduce free radical damage in the eyes, alpha lipoic acid may help to protect against macular degeneration and cataracts.

Some research shows ALA can improve glaucoma in the elderly due to its direct antioxidant influence on eye tissue. It may also benefit eye health via the ability to boost glutathione which can also protect against glaucoma and cataracts.

What’s more, ALA shows promise in improving the vision-related quality of life for those suffering from Dry Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD).

Metabolic Syndrome, Diabetes & Associated Complications

Metabolic syndrome is a term used for a cluster of conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

Increased inflammation and oxidative stress in overweight patients with metabolic syndrome are linked to a higher risk of contracting additional disorders. Supplementing with ALA has been shown to significantly reduce inflammatory markers in those with metabolic syndrome.

Alpha lipoic acid can also play a role in both the prevention and treatment of diabetes.

In various studies, it has demonstrated an ability to prevent the increased oxidative stress that can lead to further complications in diabetic patients. And in the pooling and reviewing of data from several trials involving those suffering from metabolic diseases, ALA supplementation consistently lead to improvements in blood glucose, insulin levels and insulin resistance. It can also lower triglyceride levels, total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Those with diabetes have an increased risk of peripheral neuropathy, which develops when the nerves in extremities like hands and feet become damaged. Symptoms in the affected areas can include tingling, numbness, stinging, burning and shooting pains, loss of balance and coordination, and muscle weakness.

Although studies have used alpha lipoic acid intravenously, and more research is definitely needed, it has proved successful in treating this condition, helping to relieve painful symptoms and improving nerve function.

Researchers aren’t entirely sure how ALA improves these symptoms, but it may in part be due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action, as oxidative stress is partly responsible for the diabetic neuropathy disease process.

Another way that alpha lipoic acid might improve peripheral neuropathy is because it can increase microcirculation (the circulation of blood in the smallest blood vessels). Its action can be swift, and doses of 600mg or 1200mg a day have been used effectively. 

Long-term use of ALA may help prevent retinopathy in diabetics, which can cause blindness if left untreated. This is partly due to its ability to inhibit oxidative damage in the retina.

Cognitive Function & Memory, Useful for Alzheimer’s

Oxidative stress and inflammation can lead to age-related memory impairment. As ALA seems to access the brain with relative ease and has powerful antioxidant capabilities, there is a small amount of research in the area of cognitive decline including Alzheimer’s.

Increased cholesterol is also linked to Alzheimer’s, and ALA can reduce this. Clearly, more research is needed, but in various studies and sometimes in addition to other supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids, ALA has demonstrated an ability to slow the progression of dementia and improve Alzheimer’s symptoms.

In a study on aged mice, ALA improved memory and learning and appeared to do this by significantly increasing glutathione in the brain and reducing oxidative stress.

May Protect You from Heart Disease

Chronic inflammation and oxidative stress could be an underlying cause of cardiovascular disease, and in test tube studies, ALA has reduced several inflammatory markers in the body including C-reactive protein (CRP).

Heart disease is also linked to low levels of ALA.

Some studies support supplementing with alpha lipoic acid to improve endothelial dysfunction, a condition which can increase your risk of heart disease.

In adolescents with this condition and type 1 diabetes, combining an antioxidant diet with a daily dose of 800mg ALA reduced insulin requirements after three months and improved endothelial dysfunction after six months.

Increased oxidative stress and diminished antioxidant defence due to ageing can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases including high blood pressure, heart failure and atherosclerosis and ALA can protect against this.

Elevated asymmetric dimethylarginine (ADMA) concentrations can predict the risk of cardiovascular complications in those with type 2 diabetes. In a 2010 trial, ALA reduced ADMA in these patients, improving endothelial function and oxidative stress. More research is needed.

An Easy-to-Absorb ALA Supplement with a Generous Dosage
Another way that ALA might improve peripheral neuropathy is because it can increase microcirculation. Its action can be swift, and doses of 600mg or 1200mg a day have been used effectively.

Dual Alpha Lipoic Acid by Planet Source provides a generous dose of 1200mg, with one bottle containing a month’s supply.

The quality supplement combines 600mg of natural R-Alpha Lipoic Acid and 600mg synthetic S-Alpha Lipoic Acid, which is necessary to stabilise the R-form.

Made in the U.S.A. to impeccably high standards, the vegan-friendly supplement is free from salt, sugar, corn, wheat, soy, gluten and artificial ingredients.

This article is written by Rebecca Rychlik-Cunning, a Nutritional Therapist and Homeopath. Follow Rebecca on Instagram, Facebook and Medium, @rebeccabitesback.