What are the health benefits of alpha-lipoic acid (ALA)?

Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is a form of fatty acid that naturally resides in body cells and is important because it helps our bodies produce the energy required to support normal bodily functions. The main role of ALA is to convert blood sugar (glucose) into energy.

About 40 years ago, biologists discovered that ALA is a powerful antioxidant, neutralizing toxins and other free radicals found inside the body. ALA can prevent certain health conditions such as heart disease, cancer, liver disease and cell aging.

 In several scientific studies, ALA demonstrated renal protective effects in diabetics. It works by increasing the glucose absorption capacity of the cells, thereby lowering blood sugar content. At the same time, it reduces symptoms of diabetes that may lead to complications including vascular damage, cataract formation, and polyneuropathy (nerve damage). Other studies have shown ALA can reverse damage caused by the aging cells of the brain, and keep the skin healthy and young looking.

Health benefits of alpha-lipoic acid
ALA produces energy needed by our bodies to survive a busy day’s work. Additional benefits:

  • Reduced blood sugar levels in diabetic patients.
  • Helps in reducing glycation that may cause cancer.
  • Found to be beneficial in the treatment of glaucoma.
  • Balances cholesterol levels and help prevent cardiovascular problems, such as the hardening of the arteries.
  • A powerful anti-oxidant that fights toxins and free-radicals in the body.
  • Helps in liver regeneration to damaged liver caused by too much alcohol consumption.
  • Control high blood pressure.
  • Lowers risk of cancer/tumor development.
  • Improved neurologic conditions.
  • Reduce incidents of brain damage.
  • Relives migraine.
  • Improves vision and overall eye health.
  • Promotes bone density.
  • Maintains healthy skin.
  • Works with creatine to improve general body metabolism.
  • Believed to help treat certain health conditions such as Type II diabetes and HIV.
  • Supports cardiovascular and mental health.
  • Alleviates post-surgical pain.
  • Fights skin inflammation.
  • Aids Vitamin B in converting carbohydrates, fats, and proteins into energy.

Recent studies revealed that ALA has weight loss benefits. This research has determine the potential for ALA to fight obesity and other related health conditions.

Should I take an ALA supplement?
While it’s true we have a decent supply of ALA stored inside our body, there are benefits to taking supplements. ALA supplements are especially recommended for those suffering from:

Hypertension
Elevated blood pressure can cause plaque build-up in the arteries due to increased levels of cholesterol. A study conducted at Boston University School of Medicine showed that a combined supplement of ALA and acetyl L-carnitine can decrease blood pressure by dilating the arteries in the event of plaque build-up.

Liver problems
One of the earliest uses for ALA was in the treatment of various forms of hepatitis. In the 1970s, lipoic acid was administered intravenously to people with acute and severe liver damage; about 75% of those patients recovered full liver function. In recent years, ALA has been successful at increasing the life expectancy of patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer.

Peripheral neuropathy
This condition is characterized by numbness, itching, and burning pain felt on the legs and feet. It is often brought about by diabetes and other health conditions such as alcoholism, shingles, Lyme disease, kidney failure, and thyroid diseases. Taking ALA can help ease these symptoms ano prevent them from developing into more serious health conditions.

Sources of ALA
Most lipoic acids are derived from lipoamide-containing enzymes. ALA is highly abundant in our body,

but can be sourced in several foods, although in small amounts. Food sources include:

  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Liver (and other organ meats)
  • Potatoes
  • Rice bran

The best way to dramatically increase ALA is through supplements.There is no recommended daily allowance for ALA, but health experts suggest that 100 mg of ALA twice a day is more than enough to supply needed energy and protection.

ALA deficiency and toxicity
Humans naturally produce ALA. Hhowever, when your body uses a lot of energy on a tough day, there might be too little ALA left to work as an antioxidant. There have been no supporting investigations to determine the side effects of ALA deficiency, but understanding the benefits of ALA, it’s safe to assume that a lack of lipoic acid could contribute to increased health risks.

ALA toxicity is another story. Taking in lipoic acid supplements is fairly safe, however, too much of it may cause rashes or diarrhea. Long-term consumption of such supplemenst may cause trace minerals deficiencies, ultimately leading to certain health conditions.

ALA side effects
ALA supplements do have their share of side effects. Long-term use of ALA supplements may lead to rare but mild side-effects, including:

  • Skin rashes
  • Stomach upset (flatulence)
  • Nausea and vomiting

Diabetics should consult a physician before taking ALA supplements since they may decrease blood glucose levels, pushing blood sugar levels too low. If you’re taking insulin, make sure to consult your health care physician first before taking ALA.

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