The body produces alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), where its key function is to use oxygen to turn blood sugar (glucose) into energy, a process known as aerobic metabolism. Aside from being a powerful antioxidant, ALA also prevents harmful substances called free radicals from causing genetic harm to cells.
Although the body produces ALA on its own, it is also present in some foods and supplements. There is little evidence to support the use of ALA supplements, although they are marketed for various medical conditions. This article explains alpha-lipoic acid, including its uses, benefits, and side effects.
What is Alpha Lipoic Acid
All human cells contain an organic substance called alpha-lipoic acid. It is a production happens inside the mitochondrion, also known as the cell’s powerhouse, which helps enzymes convert nutrients into energy. (1)
Because alpha-lipoic acid is both water and fat soluble, it can function in all the body’s cells and tissues. However, the body only produces alpha lipoic acid in small amounts. This is why people turn to dietary supplements to maximize ALA’s potential benefits to our bodies.
Although plant foods like broccoli, tomatoes, spinach, and Brussels sprouts contain alpha-lipoic acid, animal products like red meat and organ meats are excellent sources of it.
Alpha Lipoic Acid Uses
According to many integrative medicine practitioners, ALA can prevent or treat several medical conditions. This includes HIV, alcoholic liver disease, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, erectile dysfunction, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, and more. Very little proof has been found so far to back up any of these claims.
The management of diabetes and nerve pain has been the focus of recent ALA research. The conditions mentioned below cover its uses of it to potentially treat or lessen the impact of the condition. These conditions are:
- Nerve Pain
- Weight Loss
- Skin Damage
- Heart Disease
Here are the benefits of alpha lipoic acid to combat various medical conditions. The studies include improvements in those controlled groups who consume alpha lipoic acid supplements.
Alpha Lipoic Acid for Diabetes
The use of ALA in people with metabolic disorders, such as type 2 diabetes, was examined in a 2018 review of 20 randomized controlled trials. According to the results, taking ALA supplements reduced levels of hemoglobin A1C, insulin concentration, and fasting blood sugar. (2)
Alpha Lipoic Acid for Nerve Pain (diabetic neuropathy)
People with diabetes who receive 600–1800 mg of ALA intravenously or orally report fewer symptoms of abnormal sensations due to nerve damage, pain, and numbness in their legs and arms. It is not effective at lower doses. It is also important to note that only a healthcare professional can administer intravenous products.
In another clinical trial released in 2021, people who took an oral supplement between the doses of 400 and 800 milligrams reported less severe pain scores than those who took a placebo. (3)
Alpha Lipoic Acid for Weight Loss
A 2017 study revealed that those who had ALA supplements in doses ranging from 300 mg to 1800 mg daily showed an average weight loss of 2.8 pounds (1.27kg). (4)
According to a second meta-analysis that was released in 2020, ALA treatment significantly lowered body mass index and resulted in weight loss of about 5 pounds (2.27 kg) when compared to a placebo. (5)
Alpha Lipoic Acid for Skin
It was found to have no side effects in one human study where it was applied topically to the skin to reduce fine lines, wrinkles, and skin roughness. It also absorbs into the skin’s inner layers and provides antioxidant defense against the sun’s UV radiation when applied to the skin. In addition, it increases levels of other antioxidants like glutathione, which helps guard against skin damage and may lessen the signs of aging.
Alpha Lipoic Acid for Heart Diseases
Alpha-lipoic acid’s first antioxidant property is its capacity to fight free radicals and lessen oxidative stress, which is connected to damage that increases the risk of heart disease.
It has also lessened endothelial dysfunction, affecting the ability of blood vessels to dilate properly and increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Lastly, a review of studies revealed that adults with the metabolic disease who took an alpha-lipoic acid supplement had lower triglyceride and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
In general, alpha lipoic acid intake is safe with little to no side effects for consumption. But some people who use ALA supplements may experience the following side effects:
- Low blood sugar
- Rash (when using an ALA cream or ointment)
With ALA being an acid, it can aggravate acid reflux. Consuming a small snack like graham or saltine crackers can help reduce reflux or heartburn.
There hasn’t been much research done on ALA supplementation in kids. As a result, ALA supplements are not advisable for kids.
Like many other supplements, ALA is not advisable to consume for those who are expecting, nursing, or breastfeeding. Understanding the effects of ALA while pregnant and breastfeeding still require more research.
There is no recommended intake of ALA for diet or supplementation because it is not an essential nutrient. There is also no predetermined upper intake limit. Some side effects mentioned above may occur if you take too much ALA, but they usually go away when you stop taking the supplement.
Although ALA is regarded as safe to use, there are no rules regarding its usage. Studies suggest that the most typical dose is between 600 and 1,200 milligrams daily. This is typically taken three times daily in equal portions.
These figures are only intended to provide you with an idea of a potential daily dosage. It is not a good idea to adhere to a random dosage or schedule. Since no two people are alike, someone else may be going through things you’re not aware of. Always ask for professional help to ensure whether your ALA intake is still safe or not.
Disclaimer: This article is only a guide. It does not substitute the advice given by your own healthcare professional. Before making any health-related decision, consult your healthcare professional.
Editorial References And Fact-Checking
- Packer, L., & Cadenas, E. (2011). Lipoic acid: energy metabolism and redox regulation of transcription and cell signaling. Journal of clinical biochemistry and nutrition, 48(1), 26–32. https://doi.org/10.3164/jcbn.11-005FR
- Akbari, M., Ostadmohammadi, V., Lankarani, K. B., Tabrizi, R., Kolahdooz, F., Khatibi, S. R., & Asemi, Z. (2018, October). The effects of alpha-lipoic acid supplementation on glucose control and lipid profiles among patients with metabolic diseases: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Metabolism, 87, 56–69. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.metabol.2018.07.002
- Esposito, C., Ugo Garzarella, E., Santarcangelo, C., Di Minno, A., Dacrema, M., Sacchi, R., Piccinocchi, G., Piccinocchi, R., & Daglia, M. (2021). Safety and efficacy of alpha-lipoic acid oral supplementation in the reduction of pain with unknown etiology: A monocentric, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Biomedicine & pharmacotherapy = Biomedecine & pharmacotherapie, 144, 112308. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopha.2021.112308
- Kucukgoncu, S., Zhou, E., Lucas, K., & Tek, C. (2017, March 13). Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) as a supplementation for weight loss: results from a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Obesity Reviews, 18(5), 594–601. https://doi.org/10.1111/obr.12528
- Vajdi, M., & Abbasalizad Farhangi, M. (2020). Alpha-lipoic acid supplementation significantly reduces the risk of obesity in an updated systematic review and dose response meta-analysis of randomised placebo-controlled clinical trials. International journal of clinical practice, 74(6), e13493. https://doi.org/10.1111/ijcp.13493