The human body naturally produces its own alpha lipoic acid, which plays an important role in protecting the body's mitochondria and DNA. Only when there is extra alpha lipoic acid available is it able to act as an antioxidant. Your body won't produce more alpha lipoic acid than it needs and foods contain only very small amounts of it. So the levels of alpha lipoic acid in the body required to act as an antioxidant must be achieved via supplementation.
Here are some points to consider to help you know whether you should be taking alpha lipoic acid:
- What is unique about alpha lipoic acid is its unusual versatility as it can neutralize a wide range of free radicals in both the fatty and watery parts of cells (unlike many other antioxidants which only work in either fatty OR watery parts of cells). Alpha lipoic acid can also cross the blood brain barrier.
The body converts some alpha lipoic acid to dihydrolipoic acid, another powerful antioxidant. Alpha lipoic acid and dihydrolipoic acid neutralize a particularly dangerous free radical known as a peroxynitrite radical, which plays a role in diseases including lung disease, atherosclerosis, neurological disorders, and inflammation.
Alpha lipoic acid and dihydrolipoic acid have been found to help other anti-oxidants extend their usefulness. Once anti-oxidants like coenzyme Q10, vitamin C, glutathione, and vitamin E have been oxidized, alpha lipoic acid regenerates them. While this has been observed in a laboratory environment, it is not known whether alpha lipoic acid has the same effect within the human body.
As we age, mitochondrial function is impaired. Some theories of aging propose that impaired mitochondrial function is a contributor to the adverse effects of aging. For this reason, alpha lipoic acid is being studied as both a preventative and treatment for many age-related diseases.
Alpha lipoic acid is quickly eliminated from cells, so increases in the plasma and tissue levels of alpha lipoic acid are significant but transient.
Because the chemical structure of lipoic acid is similar to that of biotin, this suggests that high concentrations of lipoic acid can compete with biotin for transport across cell membranes. It is unknown if supplementing with lipoic acid requires an increase in biotin.
Research on alpha lipoic acid is still in its infancy. Dosages are usually in the 100-600 milligram range, but optimum dosage remains unclear. Long-term controlled studies on the effects of alpha lipoic acid are still needed. But the evidence that alpha lipoic acid is a powerful anti-oxidant that works well on it own and in prolonging the usefulness of other anti-oxidants is compelling.
Of course, the final decision on whether you should be taking alpha lipoic acid is between you and your doctor. If you are going to take alpha lipoic acid, be sure to inform your doctor. Studies suggest that alpha lipoic acid helps to decrease insulin resistance so it is important that your doctor knows you are taking this supplement, especially if you suffer from diabetes.