What Is Lipoic Acid?
Lipoic acid is a powerful antioxidant that protects and repairs cells and reduces damage caused by oxidation; it also improves the efficacy of vitamins C and E, two other well-known antioxidants. Lipoic acid supports liver health, immune system function, healthy circulation, clear vision, and glucose metabolism, as well as cardiovascular and neurological health. It’s an important component of metabolic systems, and since it’s both fat- and water-soluble, it has unique characteristics and a distinct advantage over other antioxidants.
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is a naturally-occurring compound that our body produces and that we also consume from dietary sources, such as red meat, spinach, and wheat germ. While our body produces sufficient lipoic acid under normal circumstances, it may be considered a “conditionally-essential” nutrient like coenzyme Q10, where the body’s own manufacture of alpha-lipoic acid may not be enough during conditions of oxidative stress. In situations like this, or for individuals who have a natural deficiency of this important antioxidant, supplementation with alpha-lipoic acid would be extremely beneficial.
Alpha-Lipoic Acid’s Two Primary Functions
Alpha-lipoic acid serves two vital roles in the human body: it’s an antioxidant, as mentioned above, and also a coenzyme that facilitates the action of enzymes in several metabolic functions.
As an antioxidant, alpha-lipoic acid is useful in both oxidized and reduced forms, which is rare among antioxidants. In its oxidized form, lipoic acid can scavenge free radicals and chelate, or bond with, metals. In its reduced form as dihydrolipoic acid (DHLA), it can regenerate other antioxidants like vitamins C and E and glutathione, as well as repair oxidative damage. Alpha-lipoic acid is a “broad spectrum” antioxidant because of its activity in both oxidized and reduced forms; it’s even more powerful an antioxidant than vitamin C or glutathione, which makes it extremely potent indeed.
In addition to its antioxidant duties, alpha-lipoic acid also serves as a coenzyme for the group of enzymes responsible for converting fats, carbohydrates, and proteins to biological energy or “cell fuel.” This conversion takes place in the mitochondria, the “battery” of your cell. Alpha-lipoic acid helps “burn” the metabolic intermediates and create energy for the cell’s easy and immediate use.
Lipoic Acid and Healthy Blood Sugar Metabolism
Plenty of evidence links increased oxidative stress with blood sugar imbalances, as well as with insulin inefficiency. Unbalanced blood sugar levels may lead to increased production of free radicals. Oxidative stress can impact insulin-stimulated glucose transportation and activation of insulin receptors, making it harder for the body to move and detect sufficient levels of insulin in the blood.
Alpha-lipoic acid has been shown to protect against the oxidative damage - so well, in fact, that scientists are acknowledging its ability to support tissue health, even in instances where blood sugar levels are out of balance. ALA supplementation has also been found to support normal insulin sensitivity and efficiency. In Germany, lipoic acid is used as a nutrient to support nerve health, which can be impacted by blood sugar imbalances.
Scientists and doctors agree that oxidized LDL, the “bad” cholesterol, is a high risk factor for sub-optimal cardiovascular health. Studies have shown that alpha-lipoic acid can protect the integrity of LDL and other lipid molecules that have been exposed to oxidative stress, as well as protect against protein glycation - which causes the production of free radicals and more oxidative damage. That makes ALA doubly effective in enhancing cardiovascular health.
Unbalanced blood sugar levels can also lead to an accumulation of sorbitol in the eye’s lens, which can eventually affect visual function. As a nutrient with anti-glycation and antioxidant effects, alpha-lipoic acid has been shown to block the enzyme responsible for creating sorbitol and thus promote healthy visual function; it also generates glutathione, which is vital for various healthy metabolic activities within the eye and other tissues.
Alpha-Lipoic Acid’s Many Other Benefits
This potent antioxidant is not just useful for supporting healthy blood sugar metabolism – it can help support overall health in a variety of ways. For example:
Alpha-lipoic acid can protect brain cells from free radical damage caused by oxidative stress.
Studies indicate alpha-lipoic acid’s usefulness in supporting and promoting healthy hearing function, likely because of its ability to inhibit free radicals and damage due to oxidative stress.
Alpha-lipoic acid can promote healthy aging by enhancing mitochondrial function.
ALA has also been found to promote healthy liver function and enhance optimal detoxification.
Alpha-lipoic acid may support immune function as an antioxidant that can dramatically increase glutathione levels. Glutathione plays an important role in the immune system.
Increased levels of glycated proteins in the body are one of the contributing factors to the effects of aging. Alpha-lipoic acid can block or reduce the glycation of proteins in tissues, as well as protect proteins exposed to oxidative stress.