ALA

(Alpha Lipoic Acid)

Nonessential Micronutrient

OVERVIEW

Summary

ALA is a unique, multipurpose nutrient with potent antioxidant and glucose-control actions. As an “insulin mimicker,” ALA is not only capable of increasing glucose uptake by muscle cells, it may actually decrease the uptake of glucose into fat cells, resulting in increased energy production in muscles and less fat stored.

Other names for ALA

lipoic acid, thioctic acid, lipoate, alpha-lipoic acid, alpha lipoic acid

Where to find ALA

Lipoic acid is naturally produced in the body in very small amounts, and it can also be found in most red meats (specifically liver) and yeast.

PERFORMANCE BENEFITS

Why athletes use ALA

ALA is widely known as an effective, if not a primary, antioxidant. And while athletes have an increased need for antioxidants, given the increased levels of free radicals that intense exercise produces, ALA is more coveted for its ability to enhance the positive effects of insulin — enabling the transport of nutrients, such as glucose and amino acids, into muscle cells.

Ways that ALA can enhance Fat Loss:
  • Regulate blood sugar levels – important for the reduction of stored bodyfat
  • Improve insulin resistance, helping restore insulin productivity, which is a primary factor in obesity, heart disease, and diabetes
Ways that ALA can enhance Energy & Endurance:
  • Potentially reduce muscle fatigue by enhancing the delivery of energy into muscles
Ways that ALA can enhance Longevity:
  • As a “universal antioxidant,” neutralize free radicals in muscles and skin tissue

HEALTH BENEFITS

Signs of ALA deficiency

Deficiency of ALA has been linked to:

* Catabolism (muscle wasting)
* Brain deterioration


Potential uses for ALA

Research indicates that ALA may also be useful in the treatment of:

  • Obesity
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Age-related hormone declines

DISCUSSION

More about ALA

Alpha-lipoic acid (a.k.a., ALA) is both a powerful and revered “universal antioxidant” that holds great promise as an “insulin mimicker,” which aids our bodies in controlling blood sugar levels and the effective use and storage of carbohydrates.

Why antioxidants are important?

Our bodies are continually battling free radicals. In the past 30 years, our environment has become significantly more polluted, our food more processed, and our physical and emotional lives increasingly more stressful. Studies show that our ability to fight free radicals has lessened significantly, partly due to a lack of powerful antioxidants in the body.

ALA, a distant relative of the B vitamin family, is oftentimes referred to as the “universal antioxidant” because of its unique property of being both fat and water soluble and therefore able to scavenge free radicals everywhere in the body, including the muscles and skin. In addition, it’s easily transported across cell membranes and as such can provide antioxidant protection both inside and outside cells. Again, this is unique to ALA. Add to that its ability to increase the potency of other antioxidants, and ALA becomes an attractive nutrient even without its other potential benefits. And this is only the beginning.

ALA as an “insulin mimicker”

While preliminary studies on ALA’s ability to mimic the glucose-transport effect of insulin have been done only on animals and diabetic humans, the results have been exciting. ALA has been shown to help reduce insulin resistance and stimulate insulin activity — acting much like insulin itself. This is significant because insulin resistance is a major factor in the development of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

Studies have demonstrated that supplementation with ALA may significantly increase the body’s use of blood sugar, which may help limit increases of bodyfat. It is also responsible for converting blood sugar to energy in our muscles — a process necessary for everyone but even more so for those wanting to improve their training performance. Any nutrient that can increase the efficient burning of blood sugar for fuel and increase glycogen stores while decreasing the uptake of blood sugar into fat cells is essential for any athlete striving for optimal performance or wishing to attain a more favorable body-mass composition (i.e., more energy in our muscles for working out and less bodyfat storage).

Other good news

Oral supplementation with ALA has been shown to help protect our red blood cells and fatty acids from damage (called oxidation) caused by intense training and excess exposure to sunlight. This will increase blood flow to nerve cells and muscle tissue and limit damage to these areas. It also supports the decrease of lactic acid buildup in muscle tissue, which may increase muscle recovery and delay post-workout fatigue and soreness.

ALA is finding a place in the medical treatment of a number of complications, including heart attacks and strokes. It may be beneficial because it’s been shown to help protect tissues after they’ve been damaged by the low oxygen supply that’s often associated with heart attacks and strokes. And because ALA is able to attach itself to DNA, it’s also been found to lower the reproduction of the HIV-1 virus. In fact, in test-tube studies, ALA “completely inhibited activation of a gene in the AIDS virus that allows it to reproduce.”

Age essential?

ALA does not have an “essential” status because our bodies do produce small amounts. With age, however, the production of ALA within our bodies declines, and therefore, a deficiency may arise — leaving us without this vitally important nutrient. Some possible symptoms of this ALA deficiency include reduced muscle mass, brain deterioration, and increased lactic acid (resulting in muscle fatigue). Supplementing with ALA may prevent these symptoms of deficiency.

In conclusion

Put these positive benefits along side the regenerative effects of ALA on key antioxidants, such as Vitamins C and E and glutathione, and you’ll find a supplement that may be especially beneficial for anyone seeking improved health and quality of life, as well as enhanced athletic performance.

NOTES ON USAGE

Amount

Antioxidant protection range: 20 to 50 mg per day may be sufficient.

To help control glucose: Research (with diabetics) supports that 100 to 200 mg taken with meals up to 3 times per day is sufficient.

Timing

ALA is reportedly most effective when taken at the start of a meal.

Synergists of ALA

ALA may enhance the effects of some antioxidants, such as Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and glutathione.

Because ALA may increase the “uptake” of glucose, as well as other nutrients, by muscle cells, in theory, it may aid the beneficial effects of “energy-producing” compounds such as creatine and ribose.

Safety of ALA

Diabetics should consult a physician for assistance prior to adding ALA to their supplement program.

If you are pregnant or lactating, ALA is not recommended.

ALA is best used as a part of complete nutritional program — low blood sugar can result from inadequate food intake and may be further enhanced by ALA. Low blood sugar may make you feel sluggish, tired, and even anxious.

High amounts should not be given to those suspected of having a thiamin deficiency. (You might consider giving them some thiamin though!)

Toxicity of ALA

Very low.

Bans and restrictions

None reported.

RELATED RESEARCH

  • Bustamante, J., et al., “Alpha-Lipoic Acid in Liver Metabolism and Disease,” Free Radic Biol Med 24.6 (1998) : 1023-39.
  • Henriksen, E.J., et al., “Stimulation by Alpha-Lipoic Acid of Glucose Transport Activity in Skeletal Muscle of Lean and Obese Zucker Rats,” Life Sci 61.8 (1997) : 805-12.
  • Khanna, S., et al., “Alpha-Lipoic Acid Supplementation: Tissue Glutathione Homeostasis at Rest and After Exercise,” J Appl Physiol 86.4 (1999) : 1191-6.
  • Nichols, T.W., Jr., “Alpha-Lipoic Acid: Biological Effects and Clinical Implications,” Alt Med Rev 2.3 (1997) : 177-83.
  • Ziegler, D., and Gries, F.A., “Alpha-Lipoic Acid in the Treatment of Diabetic Peripheral and Cardiac Autonomic Neuropathy,” Diabetes 46 Suppl 2 (1997) : S62-6.