Alpha lipoic acid (also referred to as ALA, lipoic acid, and occasionally, thioctic acid), is a very exciting nutrient, offering tons of benefits with no known side-effects. Body builders, diabetics, and anyone dieting to lose weight will find alpha lipoic acid to be extremely beneficial.
Truly, alpha lipoic acid is one of those rare supplements that are cheap, accessible, and actually work!
Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) Benefits
So what are the benefits of alpha lipoic acid (ALA)?
First of all, it’s a fantastic antioxidant, meaning it prevents the free radical damage (much like the vitamins C, E and beta-carotene do) that compromises cellular integrity and accelerates the degradation of all the systems in the human body… which contributes to premature aging and degenerative diseases.
Of course, intense exercise increases exposure to free radicals, so all athletes and body builders will find alpha lipoic acid to be beneficial for this reason alone.
Alpha lipoic acid has also been shown to effectively help shuttle glucose more efficiently to the muscle cells, which is why you’ll find it a “mainstay” ingredient in creatine transport system products like MuscleTech’s Cell-Tech Hardcore.
Research has shown that the combination of simple sugars + creatine + alpha lipoic acid enhances creatine uptake beyond either creatine alone, or creatine + sugar (Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2003 Sep;13(3):294-302).
Perhaps the most exciting benefit of alpha lipoic acid is its moderating effect on blood sugar levels. The research has been sufficiently impressive (Nutr Rev. 2008 Nov;66(11):646-57), that Dr. Atkins (author of the famed Atkins diet) wrote…
“Few compounds have greater value to someone with diabetes.”
“…I’m convinced that lipoic acid is destined to become our single most effective therapy for diabetic neuropathy.”
“Anyone who is overweight or follows a high carbohydrate diet risks developing an insulin disorder, so lipoic acid is potentially useful to most of us.”
(From “Dr. Atkins’ Vitanutrient Solution: Nature’s Answer to Drugs”)
Alpha lipoic acid is one nutrient I’d always wanted to try, but for some reason, never seemed to get around to. All this changed after I began doing my research on ALA, and especially after reading Dr. Atkins’ comments. Being moderately hypoglycemic (meaning I have to really watch what I eat or get energy crashes, and CRAVINGS for sweets), I thought I’d try alpha lipoic acid for myself. The result?…
I was so astounded by how well ALA moderated my blood sugar levels, I replaced my usual chromium supplement with it. It is, without a doubt, one of my favorite products for balancing blood sugar levels, which as you know, is the key to any successful weight loss / weight management strategy (my absolute favorite is glutamine, an amino acid!).
I even got a friend of mine “converted” to ALA after one dose!
I take between 300 – 600 mg of racemic ALA per day (3-6 capsules) with meals (if you don’t take ALA with meals, have the Rolaids handy… it will give you serious heartburn!).
What about Alpha lipoic acid and weight loss? After all, it is a common ingredient in many weight loss products, and is even occassionally marketed as a fat burner itself.
There is some good news and bad news on this front. Yes, some clinical evidence exists to show ALA offers some weight loss benefits (see J. Anim. Sci. 2005. 83:2611-2617, Nature Medicine Volume 10, Number 7, July 2005, The FASEB Journal. 1999;13:411-418).
Unfortunately, these are all animal-based studies, and while promising, the results do not necessarily translate over to humans.
Having used ALA myself fairly extensively, I would say the real weight loss value offered by this supplement is that it dramatically reduces your cravings for sweets.
This may significantly impact your caloric intake.
Simply put, if ALA helps you eat less of all the wrong foods, it’s possible you may lose weight.
“Racemic” vs. “R” alpha-lipoic acid: what’s the difference?
The alpha lipoic acid used in most supplements is synthetic, and like many synthesized compounds, it’s a “racemic” mixture – meaning that there are two “mirror images” (enantiomers), which are designated “R” and “S”. They’re chemically identical, yet certain common elements are in different positions. Like your right and left hands, they look the same, yet cannot be superimposed on one another.
Racemic ALA is 50% “R” and 50% “S”. The “R” form is the natural, biologically-active form of alpha-lipoic acid, and is now also available as a supplement, in addition to the racemic form. R-ALA is a lot more expensive than the racemic version, however, since the process of producing it is more complex.
Beyond the obvious fact that – say – 600mg of R-ALA contains twice as much active compound as 600mg of racemic ALA, is there any real difference between the two? Is it “healthier” to take R-ALA? Marketers would have you believe this, but there is little hard proof… the reality is that most of the human studies demonstrating the benefits of ALA supps have used the racemic form. This is why the Linus Pauling Institute currently recommends the racemic form to healthy people who choose to take ALA.
Some R-ALA supplements also come in the form of sodium (Na) or potassium (K) salts. According to one small, manufacturer’s study, the salt form is more soluble, stable and bioavailable than pure R-ALA.
When one considers that alpha lipoic acid offers powerful antioxidant activity in addition to its glucose moderating action and reasonable cost, there’s no doubt it becomes a “no-brainer” supplement — especially for those who require some sort of blood sugar management (if you have cravings, are on a high-carb diet, and/or have periods of severe energy fluctuations).