Alpha-lipoic acid has gained a lot of attention in recent years.
It’s an organic compound that acts as a powerful antioxidant in the body.
Your body produces alpha-lipoic acid naturally, but it’s also found in various foods and as a dietary supplement.
Research suggests that it may play a role in weight loss, diabetes, and other health conditions.
However, many people wonder whether it’s effective.
This article reviews alpha-lipoic acid, its benefits, side effects, and recommended dosage.
What is alpha-lipoic acid?
Alpha-lipoic acid is an organic compound found in all human cells.
It’s made inside the mitochondrion — also known as the powerhouse of cells — where it helps enzymes turn nutrients into energy.
What’s more, it has powerful antioxidant properties.
Alpha-lipoic acid is both water- and fat-soluble, which allows it to work in every cell or tissue in the body. Meanwhile, most other antioxidants are either water- or fat-soluble.
For instance, vitamin C is only water-soluble, while vitamin E is only fat-soluble.
The antioxidant properties of alpha-lipoic acid have been linked to several benefits, including lower blood sugar levels, reduced inflammation, slowed skin aging, and improved nerve function.
Humans only produce alpha-lipoic acid in small amounts. Many turn to certain foods or supplements to optimize their intake.
Animal products like red meat and organ meats are excellent sources of alpha-lipoic acid, but plant foods like broccoli, tomatoes, spinach, and Brussels sprouts also contain them.
Supplements can pack up to 1,000 times more alpha-lipoic acid than food sources.
Summary: Alpha-lipoic acid is an organic compound that works as an antioxidant. It’s made in the mitochondria of cells but is also found in foods and supplements.
Alpha-lipoic acid and weight loss
Research has shown that alpha-lipoic acid may affect weight loss in several ways.
Animal studies indicate that it can reduce the activity of the enzyme AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) in your brain’s hypothalamus.
When AMPK is more active, it may increase feelings of hunger.
On the other hand, suppressing AMPK activity may increase the number of calories your body burns at rest. Thus, animals who took alpha-lipoic acid burned more calories.
However, human studies show that alpha-lipoic acid only slightly impacts weight loss.
An analysis of 12 studies discovered that people who took an alpha-lipoic acid supplement lost an average of 1.52 pounds (0.69 kg) more than those taking a placebo over an average of 14 weeks.
In the same analysis, alpha-lipoic acid did not significantly affect waist circumference.
Another analysis of 12 studies found that people who took alpha-lipoic acid lost an average of 2.8 pounds (1.27 kg) more than those taking a placebo over an average of 23 weeks.
In short, it seems that alpha-lipoic acid has a slight effect on human weight loss.
Summary: Alpha-lipoic acid has properties that may promote weight loss, but its overall effect in humans seems negligible.
Alpha-lipoic acid and diabetes
Diabetes affects more than 400 million adults worldwide.
A key feature of uncontrolled diabetes is high blood sugar levels. Left untreated can cause health problems, such as vision loss, heart disease, and kidney failure.
Alpha-lipoic acid has become popular as a potential aid for diabetes, as it’s been shown to lower blood sugar levels in animals and humans.
In animal studies, it has lowered blood sugar levels by up to 64%.
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Other studies in adults with metabolic syndrome have shown that it may reduce insulin resistance and lower fasting blood glucose and HbA1c levels.
Scientists believe that alpha-lipoic acid helps lower blood sugar by promoting processes that can remove fat accumulated in muscle cells, otherwise making insulin less effective.
Moreover, alpha-lipoic acid may lower the risk of diabetes complications.
It’s proven to ease nerve damage symptoms and lower the risk of diabetic retinopathy (eye damage) that can occur with uncontrolled diabetes.
It’s believed that this effect is due to the powerful antioxidant properties of alpha-lipoic acid.
Though alpha-lipoic acid has been shown to aid blood sugar control, it’s not considered a complete treatment for diabetes. If you have diabetes and want to try alpha-lipoic acid, it’s best to first talk with your doctor, as it may interact with your medications.
Summary: Alpha-lipoic acid has been shown to reduce insulin resistance, improve blood sugar control, ease nerve damage symptoms, and lower the risk of diabetic retinopathy.
Other health benefits of alpha-lipoic acid
Alpha-lipoic acid has been linked to a variety of other health benefits.
Alpha-lipoic acid may reduce skin aging
Research has shown that alpha-lipoic acid may help fight signs of skin aging.
In one human study, scientists found that applying a cream containing alpha-lipoic acid to the skin reduced fine lines, wrinkles, and skin roughness with no side effects.
When alpha-lipoic acid is applied to the skin, it incorporates itself into its inner layers and offers antioxidant protection against the sun’s harmful UV radiation.
Moreover, alpha-lipoic acid raises the levels of other antioxidants, such as glutathione, which help protect against skin damage and may reduce signs of aging.
Alpha-lipoic acid may slow memory loss
Memory loss is a common concern among older adults.
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It’s believed that damage from oxidative stress plays a critical role in memory loss.
Because alpha-lipoic acid is a powerful antioxidant, studies have examined its ability to slow the progression of disorders characterized by memory loss, such as Alzheimer’s.
Both human and lab studies suggest that alpha-lipoic acid slows the progression of Alzheimer’s disease by neutralizing free radicals and suppressing inflammation.
However, few studies have investigated alpha-lipoic acid and memory loss-related disorders. More research is needed before alpha-lipoic acid can be recommended for treatment.
Alpha-lipoic acid promotes healthy nerve function
Research has shown that alpha-lipoic acid promotes healthy nerve function.
It’s been found to slow the progression of carpal tunnel syndrome in its early stages. This condition is characterized by numbness or tingling in hand caused by a pinched nerve.
Moreover, taking alpha-lipoic acid before and after surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome has improved recovery outcomes.
Studies have also discovered that alpha-lipoic acid may ease symptoms of diabetic neuropathy, which is nerve pain caused by uncontrolled diabetes.
Alpha-lipoic acid can reduce inflammation
Chronic inflammation is linked to several diseases, including cancer and diabetes.
Alpha-lipoic acid has been shown to lower several markers of inflammation.
In an analysis of 11 studies, alpha-lipoic acid significantly lowered levels of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein (CRP) in adults with high levels of CRP.
In test-tube studies, alpha-lipoic acid has reduced markers of inflammation, including NF-kB, ICAM-1, VCAM-1, MMP-2, MMP-9, and IL-6.
Alpha-lipoic acid may lower heart disease risk factors
Heart disease is responsible for one in four deaths in America.
Research from a combination of lab, animal, and human studies has shown that the antioxidant properties of alpha-lipoic acid may lower several heart disease risk factors.
First, antioxidant properties allow alpha-lipoic acid to neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidative stress, linked to damage that can increase heart disease risk.
Second, it’s been shown to improve endothelial dysfunction — a condition in which blood vessels cannot dilate properly, raising the risks of heart attack and stroke.
A review of studies found that taking an alpha-lipoic acid supplement lowered triglyceride and LDL (harmful) cholesterol levels in adults with metabolic disease.
Summary: Alpha-lipoic acid has strong antioxidant properties, which may reduce inflammation and skin aging, promote healthy nerve function, lower heart disease risk factors, and slow the progression of memory loss disorders.
Alpha-lipoic acid side effects
Alpha-lipoic acid is generally considered safe with little to no side effects.
Some people may experience mild symptoms like nausea, rashes, or itching.
However, research shows that adults can take up to 2,400 mg without harmful side effects.
Higher doses are not recommended, as there’s no evidence that they provide extra benefits.
Furthermore, animal research has found that extremely high doses of alpha-lipoic acid may promote oxidation, alter liver enzymes, and strain liver and breast tissue.
Very few studies have looked at the safety of alpha-lipoic acid in children and pregnant women. These populations should not take it unless advised to do so by their healthcare provider.
If you have diabetes, consult your healthcare provider before taking alpha-lipoic acid, as it may interact with other medicines that help lower blood sugar levels.
Summary: Alpha-lipoic acid is generally safe with little to no side effects. Some people may experience mild symptoms, such as nausea, rashes, or itching.
How to take alpha-lipoic acid
Alpha-lipoic acid is found naturally in several foods.
Good sources of alpha-lipoic acid include:
- red meats
- organ meats like liver, heart, kidney, etc.
- Brussels sprouts
- green peas
- rice bran
Alpha-lipoic acid is also available as a supplement and can be found in many health stores and online. Supplements can contain up to 1,000 times more alpha-lipoic acid than foods.
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Alpha-lipoic supplements are best taken on an empty stomach, as certain foods can lower the acid’s bioavailability.
Though there is no set dosage, most evidence suggests that 300–600 mg is sufficient and safe. Alternatively, you can follow the instructions on the back of the bottle.
People with diabetic complications or cognitive disorders may require more alpha-lipoic acid. In such cases, it’s best to ask your healthcare practitioner how much is most effective.
Summary: Alpha-lipoic acid is naturally present in red meats, organ meats, and several plants. It’s also available as a dietary supplement sold in health stores or online.
Alpha-lipoic acid is an organic compound with antioxidant properties. It’s made in small amounts by your body but is also found in foods and as a supplement.
It may benefit diabetes, skin aging, memory, heart health, and weight loss.
Dosages of 300–600 mg seem effective and safe without serious side effects.