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What Is Alpha-Lipoic Acid Good for?

By Stephen Christensen

Lipoic acid, also known as thioctic acid, alpha-lipoic acid or ALA, is a sulfur-containing molecule that is synthesized in your body from a fatty acid called octanoic acid. ALA is a potent antioxidant that is capable of scavenging harmful free radicals from your tissues. Dr. Elson Haas, author of “Staying Healthy with Nutrition,” states that ALA’s unique structure allows it to perform effectively as an antioxidant in both aqueous and fat-based environments, making ALA valuable both inside and outside your cells.

Recycles Other Antioxidants

According to Haas, one of the first benefits attributed to ALA was its ability to help prevent scurvy. It was subsequently shown that ALA exerted this effect by helping to recycle vitamin C. A 2005 review in “Pharmacological Reports” refers to ALA as an “antioxidant of antioxidants,” due its ability to recycle glutathione, one of the most powerful antioxidants in your tissues.

Helps Cells Consume Energy

ALA is an essential cofactor for the array of mitochondrial enzymes that produce energy from fats and carbohydrates. Higher levels of ALA within your mitochondria improve their metabolic efficiency. A January 2011 study in “American Journal of Medicine” suggested that high-dose ALA -- 1,800 milligrams daily -- led to a 2 percent weight reduction among obese individuals, attesting to a pro-metabolic effect. ALA is not approved in the United States for the treatment of obesity.

Reverses Diabetic Neuropathy

Neuropathy is a major complication of diabetes. It is manifested by numbness, tingling or pain in the extremities, and it contributes to diabetic ulcers, joint degeneration and amputations. Research indicates that oxidative damage may play a role in the development of neuropathy. According to a 2004 “Treatments in Endocrinology” review, ALA has been shown to reverse some deficits associated with diabetic neuropathy. ALA is not approved in the United States for treating diabetes or any of its complications.

Slows Alzheimer’s Disease

Oxidative damage and energy depletion in the brain’s neurons are important factors in the development of Alzheimer’s dementia. A 2007 study in “Journal of Neural Transmission” suggested that ALA, in a dose of 600 milligrams daily, slowed the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. In some test subjects, the benefit from ALA appeared to be more significant than that conferred by prescription medications. ALA is not approved in the United States for treating or preventing Alzheimer’s.


Owing to its powerful antioxidant and metabolic properties, ALA has demonstrated clinical benefits in inflammatory disorders, toxic exposures, cardiovascular diseases, skin care, weight control, cataract prevention and any number of other conditions. ALA is not currently approved in the United States for treating or preventing any medical condition, though it is included in a wide array of skincare products. ALA is also available as a dietary supplement. Daily doses of ALA in most scientific studies have ranged from 100 to 600 milligrams. If you think ALA would be useful for you, talk with your doctor.

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