Is this the new anti-ageing, peri-menopausal supplement of the future? What’s all the fuss about Alpha Lipoic Acid? Here’s what I found out about this wonder compound and why I’ve decided that it’s part of my daily nutritional plan.
When it comes to women’s health from teenage years right through our peri- menopause and beyond, a varied diet full of colour is an absolute must, and that’s natural colour from fruits and vegetables.
Fruits and vegetables are full of antioxidants that are a fabulous source of nutrients that counteract the natural deterioration of cells within our body and organic, raw varieties are the best. I’ve noticed over the years that CoQ10 and alpha lipoic acid (ALA) have had some very positive write-ups and that’s not a surprise as it offers many health benefits. It promotes healthy aging, organ function, heart health, brain and nervous system health, just what we women need as we get older. It also encourages our body’s network of antioxidants become stronger by boosting cellular production of other antioxidants and antioxidant enzymes. Wow! That’s a real bonus. Here, I will take you through an in-depth look at alpha lipoic acid and all that it has to offer women all over the world and especially those of us going through our second spring, peri-menopause.
Top 10 Benefits of Alpha Lipoic Acid
- Encourages normal thyroid hormone levels
- Support healthy nerves
- Encourages healthy skin
- Promotes normal heart health
- Protects muscles from exercise- related stress
- Protects the liver
- Promotes a strong brain and sharp memory
- Promotes graceful aging
- Maintains a healthy blood glucose level
- Supports healthy body weight
What Is Alpha Lipoic Acid?
Alpha lipoic acid is also called thioctic acid or just lipoic acid and abbreviated ALA. Don’t confuse it though with alpha linoleic acid, also known as ALA, this is an omega fatty acid and also very beneficial to peri-menopausal women.
Alpha lipoic acid is a vitamin-like anti-oxidant that acts as a free-radical scavenger and produced in small amounts in the mitochondria, which, you may remember from biology lessons, is the “powerhouse” of a cell. ALA is a coenzyme necessary for the Krebs cycle, which is the sequence of reactions by which most living cells generate energy during the process of aerobic respiration.
ALA occurs in two forms that are mirror images of each other, called R- and S-lipoic acid. Only R-LA is synthesized naturally in the body and naturally occurs in food. It may also exist in a form called Na R Lipoic acid; the Na refers to the sodium (salt) that stabilizes the R-lipoic acid. The sodium keeps each molecule separate and more readily available for the body.
Where Do You Get Alpha Lipoic Acid?
Naturally produced in the cells of the body, alpha lipoic acid is readily available, however you can obtain it my eating certain foods, taking nutritional supplements, buying cosmetic creams containing ALA or by having injections.
Every cell within our body produces ALA, however as we age or when our immune system is compromised, the body produces less and less, so supplementing can be really beneficial to boost our levels. Numerous scientific studies have found that supplementation provides substantial therapeutic benefits, suggesting that supplementing with ALA can be a valued component to a healthy lifestyle.
Foods That Contain Alpha Lipoic Acid
The best foods to eat that contain the largest amount of alpha lipoic acid are organ meets such as liver, kidney and heart, however, for the vegetarian amongst us, alpha lopoic acid can be found in vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, flaxseed oil, chia seeds and walnuts but to a lesser extent.
Nutritional & Therapeutic Supplements
As we get older our natural production of ALA decreases together with a typical “Western diet” containing processed foods and the exposure to environmental toxins, taking an ALA nutritional supplement can help. Usually supplemental serving are between 50 to 600mg, which is in fact 1000 times more than naturally occurs in food. Look out for high quality supplements that only contain the pure R-LA. Many supplements offer a 50-50 combination of mirror image isomers, so not that potent. Recent research suggests that the body absorbs ALA best on an empty stomach.
What Are the Top Benefits of Alpha Lipoic Acid?
As a strong antioxidant, a scavenger of free-radicals, this wonder compound is both fat and water soluble, meaning it can work in a broader range of body tissues than other antioxidants, like fat soluble vitamin E or water soluble vitamin C. ALA also has the ability to bind with toxic metal ions such as mercury, copper and iron, for example so they can be illuminated from the body.
ALA is found in the mitochondria of every cell and plays a role in energy metabolism. Research has shown that the antioxidant properties of ALA can support liver health, cardiovascular health, nervous system health, skin health all of which are incredibly important for peri & post-menopausalwomen. It is also fabulous for the skin and muscle recovery after intense exercise. In addition ALA supports a health weight and normal blood sugar levels.
A Powerful Antioxidant
ALA is a vitamin-like very powerful antioxidant that scavenges on free radicals, which are unstable molecules that produce oxidative stress and damage healthy cells. It also helps boost the efficacy of other antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin E, both of which are great additions especially when taken together. As women go through puberty, pregnancy, peri/menopause they can benefit from a diet rich in these antioxidants. From muscle strength, endurance & repair, vision, mental health, thickens hair, balances hormones, helps PMS, balances cholesterol, strengthening the immune system, helps eye, lung and heart health and during pregnancy aids fetal growth and development.
Promotes Normal Thyroid Hormone Levels
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland found at the base of the neck, and sits either side of the Adams Apple. It is an absolutely vital part of the endocrine system, which regulates the hormones that we rely on daily. The thyroid is responsible for breathing, body weight, muscle strength, menstrual cycles, body temperature, cholesterol levels and much more. When our thyroid health is compromised it can impact our hormones with devastating effects. For example, if our thyroid produces too much hormone we can put on weight rapidly, have a rapid or irregular heartbeat, feel nervous or irritable for no apparent reason. If it doesn’t produce enough then we can feel cold more often, tired, be constipated, depressed and even gain weight.
Supports Healthy Nerves
The nervous system has two primary components: the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. The central nervous system includes your spinal cord and your brain. The peripheral nervous system, which is the larger of the two, consists of the nerve cells outside of your brain and spinal cord and link all the muscles & organs together.
When the peripheral nerves are unhealthy, they may tingle and cause numbness, especially in the legs and feet. This can impair a person’s balance and affect their ability to grab and hold objects. Over time, this can progress and become severe and debilitating. Research suggests that alpha lipoic acid’s oxidative stress-relieving qualities may support normal nervous system health,particularly in the peripheral nervous system.
Promotes Normal Cardiovascular Function
This is where it’s really interesting especially for per-/menopausal women. Blood vessels throughout our body are lined with a single layer of cells called the endothelium. Healthy endothelial cells are responsible for many functions including the relaxation and contraction of our blood vessels, therefore maintaining our blood pressure. If the endothelial lining becomes compromised due to illnesses or environmental/oxidative stresses it can lead to poor vascular health. As we age, this oxidative stress negatively affects our cardiovascular health and if unchecked or neglected, will damage endothelial tissue in arteries and affect blood flow, including to the heart. While the degradation of heart function can lead to serious health issues, antioxidants help promote a healthy heart and cardiovascular system. As women go through peri/menopause they loose the nourishing and protective benefits of estrogen too and are at more risk of heart disease.
In studies, it was revealed that when ALA was introduced to previously damaged blood vessel cells in vitro (in Petri dishes), it promoted normal function of the cells and supported the cell’s antioxidant defences. In another study, IV-administered alpha lipoic acid helped promote normal circulation. Overall, ALA has a cardio-protective effect which may be helpful to people seeking to support their heart.
Protects Muscles From Exercise-Related Stress
I have always believed that exercise is the best form of medicine for both mind and body and something I prescribe to all my patients, even when they come in with back injuries. Much research has been done that proves that exercise is one of the best ways to achieve weight loss, healthy blood circulation, and higher energy levels. However, it’s important to remember that exhaustive, lengthy, high-intensity exercise routines can accelerate oxidative damage that affects muscle tissue and muscle cells. It is this oxidative stress that contributes to the soreness you feel after strenuous exercise also know as called DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). It’s important to remember that these exercise routines can be really detrimental to peri/post menopausal women as it can deplete our energy reserves. Nutrients with antioxidant abilities, such as alpha lipoic acid, may help lessen this effect. Alpha lipoic acid supplements support internal antioxidant defenses and reduce lipid peroxidation, a process that results in cell damage. One study even revealed that the supplemental use of ALA protected liver, heart, and muscle tissue.
Supports Proper Liver Function
I found this very interesting as I suffer with a liver condition called Gilbert’s syndrome. For me, it is so important to look after my liver by eating and drinking the right foods and drink. The liver is such a fantastic organ, unlike other organs in the body, the liver is capable of growth and repair if damaged, it’s our filtration unit, filtering our blood which helps to detoxify chemicals and drugs from our body. When ALA was evaluated for its effects on liver health, studies found that it supported proper liver function. Other studies found alpha lipoic acid supplementation promoted a healthier liver after exposure to various toxins.
Promotes a Strong Brain and Sharp Memory
Unfortunately, it is a fact of life that we are all growing older and as we age, our body produces less alpha lipoic acid. This means that we get less protection from free radicals than when you’re young. When we go through peri/menopause we also produce less oestrogen, the hormone responsible for cognitive skills (amongst others), so women get a “double whammy!” Some studies show that the strong antioxidant properties of alpha lipoic acid help to sharpen the memory, promote mental clarity, and overall alertness.
Promotes Healthy Skin
Skin is the largest organ of our body and is our first line of defence every day and is constantly bombarded by bacteria, viruses, fungi and others that are present in our environment, in our skin care products and even household cleaning products. Genetics, stress, an imbalanced micro-biome (gut) and even a diet high in sugar or sodium can cause occasional acne and other skin conditions to appear at any age. While practicing a healthy skin care regimen, following an all-natural diet, and strengthening your by taking a probiotic supplement is important, people who experience dry, irritated, itchy, or cracked skin should know that alpha lipoic acid helps promote healthy-looking skin. I’ve been suffering with a bout of itchy skin on my neck, so decided to take ALA and within a few days this had decreased considerably, so I’m a big fan.
Promotes Graceful Ageing
Ageing comes to us all as oxidative stress takes a toll on cells and causes what we describe as “aging.” Studies have investigated the antioxidant properties of alpha lipoic acid and how they might help balance the effects of aging. Some show that alpha lipoic acid reduces oxidative stress on skeletal muscle cells and helps aged heart tissue become more youthful. Other research showed that ALA might be beneficial in keeping excessive iron from accumulating in the cerebral cortex — which is linked to age-related oxidative stress and memory lapses, which for peri/menopausal women is a really beneficial effect.
Supports Already Healthy Blood Glucose Levels
When we go through menopause our oestrogen and progesterone levels can fluctuate and eventually decline, which leaves women at higher risk of diabetes if a sensible healthy diet and exercise programme isn’t kept. High levels of blood glucose, or blood sugar, are a result of the body’s inability to sustain normal insulin levels, the hormone responsible for helping glucose enter your cells. Without insulin, glucose builds up and can result in many serious health issues. A 2017 study examined the effects of alpha lipoic acid on blood glucose levels and found that it helps sustain normal blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity, indicating that ALA’s properties extend beyond that of being strictly an antioxidant. So sensible supplementation may just help together with a healthy diet and exercise programme.
Supports a Healthy Body Weight
Processed food, fast food, and other unhealthy dietary choices is an epidemic that’s causing obesity rates to skyrocket – especially in Western world. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix to losing weight, and as we enter peri/menopause and the fluctuations in hormones, many of us find it difficult to keep the “belly fat” at bay! A proven lifestyle change for maintaining a healthy weight involves regular exercise and a plant-based, organic diet. However, nutrients like alpha lipoic acid may enhance the effects of a healthy lifestyle. Although more research is needed to confirm its effects on long-term weight loss and overall weight management, one study found that patients who took an ALA supplement experienced a small yet significant reduction in weight compared to patients who took a placebo. An animal study found that combining ALA with a high-fat diet inhibited weight gain.
Is Alpha Lipoic Acid Safe to Take During Pregnancy?
“Inquiries into its effects during pregnancy are far from conclusive, but trend toward positive.”
ALA’s natural ability to support healthy mitochondria in cells may help support a normal pregnancy. Such inquiries into its effects during pregnancy are far from conclusive, but trend toward positive. As always, however, check your doctor before using any medications or supplements before, during, or after pregnancy.
Safety & Side Effects
Overall, ALA supplementation at moderate servings does not produce significant adverse effects, but like anything don’t over do things! The most common reported side effects were skin reactions like itching, rashes or hives, with a small number of severe allergic reactions, and a few reported cases of nausea and stomach pain. Some people have experienced heartburn, but eating a small snack with supplementation has been shown to help. Some people report a sulfur smell in their urine, much like asparagus causes, when taking ALA.
Studies of older patients using supplements with servings ranging from 600 mg to 1,200 mg experienced nausea, acid reflux, and stomach discomfort. People with diabetes who are using supplemental insulin should monitor their blood glucose levels closely when taking ALA supplements as it influences insulin-mediated blood glucose utilization. Talk with your Doctor before taking supplemental ALA, especially if you are taking other medications or supplements.
Is Alpha Lipoic Acid Right for Me?
I’ve been taking ALA for sometime now and have noticed subtle changes to my skin., which I am happy with. There is lots of compelling evidence out there suggesting that the anti-oxidative qualities of this nutrient may give your body and brain a healthy boost. So, if you could benefit from a supplement that energizes mitochondrial function, sustains healthy cell cycles, protects your DNA and may also help regenerate the body’s natural intracellular antioxidants, give ALA a go! If you are on any medication or supplements or are unsure of whether you should take ALA, please see your Doctor and discuss.
Thank you to Dr Group for his remarkable insight into the benefits of Alpha Lipoic Acid. Here are some references and fact sheets you may find of interest:
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* Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Delglyn Clinic does not dispense medical advice, prescribe, or diagnose illness. The views and nutritional advice expressed by the Delglyn Clinic are not intended to be a substitute for conventional medical service. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, please see your Doctor.