ALA's scavenging abilities are important in heart health
Graham Butler, BSc, CNPA, RH
Have you heard the buzz about alpha lipoic acid (ALA)? Once classified as a mere vitamin, this vitamin-like compound is more like a "universal antioxidant. More versatile than antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, it actually enhances the effectiveness of these and other antioxidants.
Have you heard the buzz about alpha lipoic acid (ALA)? Once classified as a mere vitamin, this vitamin-like compound is more like a “universal antioxidant.” More versatile than antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, it actually enhances the effectiveness of these and other antioxidants.
Both water- and fat-soluble and capable of passing through the blood-brain barrier, ALA interacts with virtually every cell in the body, unlike other antioxidants that act more selectively. It is a cofactor in vital energy-producing reactions in the body, it scavenges free radicals, binds heavy metals, reduces blood glucose levels, and inhibits tissue and nerve damage.
ALA’s Energy Connection
Our ability to convert food to energy is in large part reliant on the ability of a small cellular structure known as mitochondria and its ability to enable a variety of enzyme-based energy metabolism reactions. Mitochondria are, in effect, tiny cellular engines.
As one might expect, cells with higher energy requirements, such as the heart, have higher numbers of mitochondria per cell. ALA, in its R-ALA protein-bound form lipamide, is a critical cofactor in these energy metabolism reactions. Indeed, most ALA appears to be utilized in this manner.
ALA: The Scavenger
Aside from energy requirements, ALA is rapidly taken up by cells and converted to dihydrolipoic acid (DHLS), a form capable of reacting with a variety of charged molecules. The reactive nature of DHLS enables it to neutralize and render harmless both reactive oxygen (ROS) and reactive nitrogen species (RNS) of free radicals.
ALA’s scavenging abilities are important in heart health since heart attacks and strokes do much of their damage by releasing massive quantities of free radicals into surrounding tissue. Research carried out at the Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon University, suggests that ALA could provide some protection against such events.
In addition, DHLS reacts with the oxidized products of antioxidants such as vitamins C, coenzyme Q10, glutathione and, indirectly, vitamin E, regenerating them and extending their useful lives. Similarly, DHLS and ALA have the ability to bind or naturally chelate potentially harmful metal ions, directly inhibiting free radical damage.
ALA and Diabetes
The presence of too many free radicals in the body creates a condition known as “oxidative stress.” ALA may play an important role in reducing oxidative stress, which is associated with the effects and complications of type 2 diabetes. In this disease, elevated blood sugar levels are the result of restricted glucose uptake by cells (insulin resistance) rather than insufficient insulin production.
Limited studies have indicated that ALA may significantly reduce oxidative stress as well as the symptoms of related complications such as diabetic neuropathy, a form of progressive nerve damage, which affects approximately one third of diabetics. In Germany, ALA is approved for treatment of diabetic and alcohol-related neuropathy. ALA has also been shown, in a placebo-controlled trial, to decrease insulin resistance by up to 25 percent in as little as four weeks.
Commercially synthesized ALA is a 50-50 mixture of R-ALA (it’s biologically active isomer) and S-ALA. This mixture is sometimes referred to as racemic ALA, synthetic ALA, or simply ALA. R-ALA is essentially twice as effective as ALA and is the better supplemental form.
It’s important to note, though, that nearly all studies have been performed using ALA and that R-ALA dosages should be reduced by half when following any treatment protocol for ALA. General guidelines for those using R-ALA as a daily supplement are 100 mg; 50 mg if R-ALA is used.
ALA’s futureAlong with research into ALA’s effects on diabetes and heart disease, studies in areas as diverse as stroke, glaucoma, cataracts, toxic reactions to fungi and mold, the immune system and inflammatory disorders, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s disease have been conducted or are ongoing–activities which only underscore our interest in the potential health benefits of this amazing antioxidant.
Plants and animals, including humans, synthesize ALA, although the mechanism is poorly understood. In food it’s complexed with an enzyme bound to the amino acid lysine (lipoyllysine). Lypoyllysine-rich sources include organ meats such as kidney, heart, liver, and, to a lesser extent, potatoes, spinach, broccoli, and tomatoes.