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What is Alpha Lipoic Acid?

Karyn Maier
Updated May 21, 2024
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Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is an enzyme naturally manufactured in the body that is utilized in aerobic metabolism to produce energy. Commonly referred to as simply lipoic acid, this organic compound is a potent antioxidant. However, lipoic acid is actually a metabolite of alpha lipoic acid also known as dihydrolipoic acid. This reduced form of alpha lipoic acid contains lipoate, which is used by several other enzymes in oxidative metabolism.

Since alpha lipoic acid has demonstrated antioxidant effects in numerous studies, it is available as an oral dietary supplement. However, it is also found in a variety of foods, including organ meats, brewer’s yeast, potatoes, broccoli, and spinach. The primary action of alpha lipoic acid is to inhibit oxidative stress. This is achieved by counteracting free radicals, the waste products creat when converting food into energy.

Alpha lipoic acid also assists other antioxidants to protect cells from oxidative damage, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and glutathione. Both dihydrolipoic acid and alpha lipoic acid also exhibit chelating properties, which means they bind with heavy metals to remove them from the bloodstream. In addition, alpha lipoic acid prevents glycosylation, which occurs from the abnormal attachment of a sugar to a protein. This is the same process that occurs when food browns in the oven, resulting in the formation of potential carcinogens. Likewise, in the human body, dangerous by-products may also be produced.

Alpha lipoic acid has been studied for its capacity to prevent and/or treat a variety of conditions and diseases. Since it can pass the blood-brain barrier to provide antioxidant effects on neural cells, alpha lipoic acid may be helpful in preventing Alzheimer's disease as well as stroke. In fact, studies involving animal models show that supplementation with alpha lipoic acid increases the chance of surviving a stroke four-fold. Alpha lipoic acid has also been shown to remove mercury from brain tissue.

Due to its detoxification properties, alpha lipoic acid may be helpful in treating liver disorders, such as chronic hepatitis. In fact, alpha lipoic acid has long been the standard treatment for poisoning from Amanita, a highly toxic mushroom. However, alpha lipoic acid has not demonstrated any significant benefit for liver damage from excessive alcohol consumption.

Numerous studies have found that alpha lipoic acid may improve symptoms of peripheral neuropathy associated with diabetes. In fact, it is commonly prescribed for this purpose in Europe. Studies have also shown that alpha lipoic acid also improves glucose uptake and may play a role in protecting the kidneys.

While alpha lipoic acid is generally considered safe, supplementation by certain individuals should be monitored by a health care professional. For instance, since alpha lipoic acid impacts serum glucose levels, care must be taken to prevent hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar in diabetics. In addition, alpha lipoic acid may interact with some medications, such as thyroid hormones and certain antibiotics.

All The Science is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Karyn Maier
By Karyn Maier
Contributing articles to All The Science is just one of Karyn Maier's many professional pursuits. Based in New York's Catskill Mountain region, Karyn is also a magazine writer, columnist, and author of four books. She specializes in topics related to green living and botanical medicine, drawing from her extensive knowledge to create informative and engaging content for readers.

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Discussion Comments
By anon353047 — On Oct 27, 2013

After two and a half months of using 100 mg after two meals a day, I also have lost my sense of taste. How long does it take to come back after I quit using the supplements? I also have the "smelly" urine.

By anon329390 — On Apr 09, 2013

I have been taking 400 mg daily of ALA for about 90 days and have completely lost my sense of taste. Is there some other form of ALA available?

By anon155302 — On Feb 23, 2011

About twenty minutes after taking a single capsule (300 mg) of ALA on an empty stomach, I can taste the sulfur throughout my mouth (not like reflux or belching, but rather like a gentle diffusion) and I feel a subtle warmth in my stomach. (The taste effect reminds me of the effect of getting DMSO, dimethylsulfoxide, on the skin, for example on the hands, which causes a sulfur taste shortly thereafter. I'm a chemist, by the way).

By anon150359 — On Feb 07, 2011

I love alpha lipoic-acid. I used to take 100 mg four times a day. I like that it is an antioxidant that can pass the blood brain barrier (neutralizing free radicals in the brain), that it's fat and water soluble, and that it can regenerate Vitamins C and E.

I recently found out that ALA only has a plasma half life (the amount of time it's in the blood once absorbed) of about 30 minutes. Making regular ALA not as good as a sustained release ALA.

After using the 100 mg ALA 4x a day for a while. I didn't notice much (if any effect). How ever I recently started using a sustained-release form of ALA from MRI called "Minus 10," to say the least the product is working great.

I feel healthier, and it's reduced my appetite. I might even be losing weight (not sure though it's still to soon to tell).

The pills are sustained-release to release gradually over four hours per pill. So I take 3 a day (300 mg ALA, + 300 MCG (100 percent DV) Biotin per pill) spread out through out the day so I have ALA all day long.

By anon25839 — On Feb 04, 2009

An interesting side-effect of ALA supplementation is that it causes a distinctive sulphur or burning-tire smell to the urine -- similar to what one gets after eating asparagus. In my case, the smell is *much* stronger with ALA than with asparagus.

Karyn Maier
Karyn Maier
Contributing articles to All The Science is just one of Karyn Maier's many professional pursuits. Based in New York's...
Learn more
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