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Lipoic Acid: The Little Supplement that Could

8 little known brain benefits of Alpha Lipoic Acid

Lipoic Acid Brain Supplement
One supplement, many benefits
Lipoic Acid: The Little Supplement that Could

Do you become overwhelmed when you’re in the supplement aisle? Do you ever feel like you're shoving a fistful of pills into your mouth every day and can no longer remember why you’re taking what? What if you have to cut back on natural treatments because of money, but don't know how to prioritize? For these reasons and more, it's helpful to be aware of potent agents that serve multiple roles. Meet lipoic acid, the little supplement that packs a powerful punch. 

Here are 8 little known benefits of alpha lipoic acid (ALA):

1. ALA is a potent antioxidant and regenerates other antioxidants.
ALA’s ability to fight oxidative stress is many times more potent than other better known antioxidants, such as vitamins C or E. Furhtermore, studies show ALA helps recycle vitamins C and E, as well CoQ10 and glutathione, a crucial antioxidant for nervous system function.  Low levels of glutathione are implicated in many brain disorders, including autism, ADHD and schizophrenia.  ALA also affords antioxidant tissue protection  in the cell, outside of the cell, and within cell membranes.   

2. ALA improves cellular energy levels.
ALA improves energy production within the cell’s mitochondria, aka the “power house.” This energy role may be one of the mechanisms involved in reducing dementia symptoms.  Further evidence that supplemental ALA helps mitochondrial function is demonstrated by patients with mitochondrial muscle disorders whose strength and energy levels improve with ALA supplementation.

3. ALA crosses blood-brain barrier.
Thanks to its ability to be soluble in both water and fat, ALA is widely distributed, “taken in”, and utilized throughout the nervous system.  It readily crosses the blood-brain barrier, and is one of the only supplements to do so. (One of the challenges of raising glutathione with supplements is getting it into the brain; thus glutathione must be raised indirectly with precursors or regenerative substances.)

4. ALA may promote heavy metal chelation.
Studies show ALA helps clear neurotoxic heavy metals, including mercury. As you may know, mercury has been found in high levels in seafood as well as manmade products (such as CFLs) and can readily cross the blood-brain and placental barriers.

5. ALA improves insulin sensitivity and lowers blood sugar.
Individuals with psychiatric disorders are at increased risk for medical problems, including obesity, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes. This increased risk is thought to be due to stress and inflammation from the mental illness itself, as well as from certain psychotropic medications. Furthermore, high blood sugar adds insult to injury, as it ages brain tissue and brain blood vessels. Thus, supplements that address brain inflammation as well as metabolic function (including cortisol and insulin regulation) may prove to be highly useful in preventing or reversing mental and physical illness.

6. ALA improves lipid profiles.
In addition to regulating blood sugar and insulin, human and animal studies suggest that ALA improves lipid profiles (cholesterol, triglycerides, and high/low density lipoproteins) and reduces plaque formation in arteries, which could mean it provides protection against heart disease.

7. ALA may help protect against antipsychotic-induced weight gain.
Antipsychotic-induced weight gain is a prevalent and serious problem, affecting more than 50% of patients who take these drugs, which are used in schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism, severe depression, and self injurious behaviors. These drugs also increase risk for metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Understandably, these effects reduce medication compliance in seriously mentally ill patients, which in turn can make the psychiatric disorder treatment-resistant. On the other hand, it’s also tragic and frustrating when someone’s life turns around because he or she is no longer psychotic but the tradeoff is a thirty pound weight gain and high blood sugar.Animal studies indicate ALA may protect against the insulin resistance associated with these medications, as well as promote weight loss itself.  

8. ALA shows promise as a potential treatment for stroke, diabetic neuropathy, brain injury, Alzheimer’s & multiple sclerosis.
Lipoic acid appears to improve nerve blood flow and nerve conduction, which may explain how it benefits multiple sclerosis and diabetic neuropathy symptoms. It also may protect stroke and brain injury victims from damage that can occur during the healing process itself—the so-called reperfusion injury—via its antioxidant properties. Preliminary studies show it may help prevent Alzheimer’s and improve cognition by raising acetylcholine levels, which diminish with age.    

In an age where both mental illness and obesity are epidemics, supplements may hold the key to successful treatment. The average dose of ALA in most studies mentioned here was 50-200mg daily.

Sources:

Jiang, Tianyi, Fei Yin, Jia Yao, Roberta D Brinton, and Enrique Cadenas. “Lipoic Acid Restores Age-Associated Impairment of Brain Energy Metabolism through the Modulation of Akt/JNK Signaling and PGC1α Transcriptional Pathway.” Aging Cell 12, no. 6 (December 2013): 1021–31. doi:10.1111/acel.12127.

“Lipoic Acid Restores Age-Associated Impairment Of... [Aging Cell. 2013] - PubMed - NCBI.” Accessed April 14, 2014. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23815272.

Nickander, K K, B R McPhee, P A Low, and H Tritschler. “Alpha-Lipoic Acid: Antioxidant Potency against Lipid Peroxidation of Neural Tissues in Vitro and Implications for Diabetic Neuropathy.” Free Radical Biology & Medicine 21, no. 5 (1996): 631–39.

Packer, L, H J Tritschler, and K Wessel. “Neuroprotection by the Metabolic Antioxidant Alpha-Lipoic Acid.” Free Radical Biology & Medicine 22, no. 1–2 (1997): 359–78.

Packer, Lester, and Enrique Cadenas. “Lipoic Acid: Energy Metabolism and Redox Regulation of Transcription and Cell Signaling.” Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition 48, no. 1 (2010): 26–32. doi:10.3164/jcbn.11-005FR.

Schwartz, Brian S., Lisa Bailey-Davis, Karen Bandeen-Roche, Jonathan Pollak, Annemarie G. Hirsch, Claudia Nau, Ann Y. Liu, and Thomas A. Glass. “Attention Deficit Disorder, Stimulant Use, and Childhood Body Mass Index Trajectory.” Pediatrics, March 17, 2014. doi:10.1542/peds.2013-3427.

Shay, Kate Petersen, Régis F. Moreau, Eric J. Smith, Anthony R. Smith, and Tory M. Hagen. “Alpha-Lipoic Acid as a Dietary Supplement: Molecular Mechanisms and Therapeutic Potential.” Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) - General Subjects 1790, no. 10 (October 2009): 1149–60. doi:10.1016/j.bbagen.2009.07.026.

Singh, Uma, and Ishwarlal Jialal. “Alpha-Lipoic Acid Supplementation and Diabetes.” Nutrition Reviews 66, no. 11 (November 2008): 646–57. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2008.00118.x.

 

 

 

Victoria L. Dunckley, M.D., is a board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist specializing in treating children with complex diagnoses and/or treatment-resistant conditions.

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