by Marcel Hernandez, ND
People often assume that because we practice naturopathic medicine, we’re open to all things “natural” when it comes to helping our clients restore their health and metabolic balance. And, well, yes, and no.
We’re open-minded, but we do lean heavily on an objective, dispassionate analysis of the medical literature to learn about evidence-based therapies that may help us address our patients’ needs. Add our deep awareness of biochemistry, and I guess you could say we fall somewhere squarely in the middle of the spectrum.
In other words, we don’t automatically buy into the latest natural health fads, unless and until we’re certain the products in question will be both effective and safe.
We’ve recommended alpha lipoic acid (ALA) occasionally for years as a general antioxidant, and to address blood sugar abnormalities and diabetic neuropathy. However, a rash of new studies have caused us to expand our use of ALA in our clinical practice.
Let’s look at some helpful facts about ALA.
What is ALA? Alpha lipoic acid is an organic compound manufactured in the mitochondria of all human cells. In cooperation with mitochondrial enzymes, it empowers the cells to turn nutrients into energy. Because ALA is both water- and fat-soluble, it is found in every bodily cell.
Where does ALA come from? The body produces alpha lipoic acid in small amounts. Many people are careful to consume certain foods and/or supplements to optimize the body’s supply of ALA.
Animal products such as red meat and organ meats are fine sources of alpha-lipoic acid, but plant foods like broccoli, tomatoes, spinach, and Brussels sprouts also contain ALA. That said, supplements can deliver up to 1,000 times more alpha lipoic acid than food sources.
Diabetes. ALA supplementation has been shown by a number of studies to lower blood sugar in both animals and humans with diabetes. Studies in adults with metabolic syndrome have shown that ALA may reduce insulin resistance and lower fasting blood glucose and HbA1c levels. ALA has also been shown to ease symptoms of diabetic nerve damage and lower the risk of diabetic retinopathy (eye damage) that can occur with uncontrolled diabetes.
Skin Care. Research shows that alpha-lipoic acid may help fight signs of skin aging. In one human study, the researchers found that applying a cream containing alpha lipoic acid to the skin reduced fine lines, wrinkles, and skin roughness without side effects.
Brain and Memory. Because ALA is a powerful antioxidant, it plays a critical role in brain health, by protecting the brain from damage by oxidative stress, thus slowing the progression of disorders characterized by memory loss, such as senile dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Inflammation. Chronic inflammation is linked to several diseases, including cancer and diabetes. An analysis of 11 studies revealed that alpha lipoic acid significantly lowered levels of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein (CRP) in adults with high levels of CRP.
Heart Disease. A combination of lab, animal, and human studies have shown that the antioxidant properties of alpha lipoic acid may lower several heart disease risk factors.
- First, ALA’s antioxidant properties enable it to neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidative stress linked to increased heart disease risk.
- Second, ALA has been shown to improve endothelial dysfunction, a condition in which blood vessels cannot dilate properly, raising the risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Finally, a review of ALA studies found that taking an alpha lipoic acid supplement lowered triglyceride and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels in adults with metabolic disease.
Cancer Care. Recent studies have shown that ALA can cause cancer cell apoptosis (breaking apart), useful with all cancers but especially studied with pancreatic cancer.
The latest studies have yielded an extremely significant finding, that ALA can cause cancer cells to be more vulnerable to intravenous vitamin C. Recent studies also indicate that ALA can relieve the peripheral neuropathy caused by chemotherapy.
Metal Chelation. In plain English, ALA helps prevent free radical damage that can lead to a host of metabolic diseases. The technical side: ALA functions as a direct reactive oxygen species (ROS) scavenger in chelating redox-active metals, including free iron, copper, manganese and zinc. Chelation of free metal ions prevents them from causing oxidative damage by catalyzing reactions that generate highly reactive free radicals.
Side-Effects. Alpha lipoic acid is generally considered safe. In some cases, people may experience mild symptoms such as nausea, rashes, or itching. However, research has shown that adults can take up to 2,400 mg/day without harmful effects. While there is no fixed recommended dosage, most evidence suggests that 300-600 mg/day is sufficient and safe.
Alpha lipoic acid supplements are best taken on an empty stomach, because certain foods can lower its bioavailability.
ALA is available in capsule form and via intravenous therapy (IV) in our clinic.
For information about the services we offer at Pacific Naturopathic, please give us a call at 650-961-1660, or use the convenient Contact Form to get in touch. Thank you!