Alpha Lipoic Acid and Weight Gain
For years, anti-aging enthusiasts have used the nutritional supplement alpha lipoic acid to enhance memory and boost overall brain function. The results of a new study published in the American Heart Association’s medical journal, Circulation, suggest that the superstar supplement may also promote weight loss and protect against cardiovascular disease.
Researchers at Oregon State University and the University of Washington recently discovered that alpha lipoic acid supplementation can help reduce the buildup of cholesterol in blood vessels, potentially decreasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Compared to untreated rodents, mice receiving alpha lipoic acid supplements showed a 40 to 55 percent reduction in cholesterol plaque formation and had significantly lower triglyceride levels. Based on the results of the study, the researchers concluded that the dietary supplement might be useful in the prevention and treatment of atherosclerosis, a chronic inflammatory process commonly known as hardening of the arteries. Atherosclerosis is an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death among American men and women.
Although the mice in the study consumed the same diet, those treated with alpha lipoic acid gained 40 percent less weight than the untreated rodents. How the supplement works is not yet fully understood, but researchers speculate that it promotes weight loss in several ways, including suppression of appetite. Mice receiving alpha lipoic acid simply chose to eat less than those that did not receive supplements, even when offered equal amounts of food. The nutrient also appeared to increase caloric expenditure by stimulating physical activity and boosting the metabolic rate. Treated mice exercised significantly more than the untreated animals, even when they were maintained in the same environment. Although Oregon State University researchers anticipate that the supplement will have similar effects in people, they plan to conduct human trials to confirm their theory.
In the meantime, there are plenty of other good reasons to take a daily dose of alpha lipoic acid. For starters, it’s one of the most potent antioxidants known. Commonly referred to as the “universal” antioxidant, alpha lipoic acid is unique in its ability to function in both fat-soluble and water-soluble tissues of the body. Throughout the brain and body, this powerful nutrient can disarm free radicals that contribute to a number of debilitating diseases. It is also thought to make the body less vulnerable to infections and illnesses by enhancing the function of the immune system. Scientists speculate that alpha lipoic acid serves as a low-level stressor that activates many basic cellular defenses of the body, including some that naturally weaken with age.
In particular, the nutrient helps restore dwindling levels of glutathione, a powerful, naturally occurring antioxidant that protects the body from injury caused by free radicals and other toxins. With advancing age, glutathione levels progressively decline, making older individuals more susceptible to free radical assault. Studies show that alpha lipoic acid supplementation can restore glutathione function to near normal. It also appears to aid in the recycling of other protective antioxidant compounds, including vitamins C and E.
A number of studies suggest that the nutrient is useful in the prevention and treatment of diabetes, thanks to its ability to enhance insulin sensitivity and improve regulation of blood sugar. The antioxidant activity of alpha lipoic acid appears to reduce the risk of diabetic complications, including damage to the nerves, eyes, and kidneys.
With all its attributes, alpha lipoic acid is best known for its ability to help slow the progression of degenerative brain diseases. In one study, alpha lipoic acid given daily for one year to individuals with Alzheimer’s disease led to stabilization of memory and improvement in other measures of cognitive function.
Alpha lipoic acid is a naturally-occurring dietary nutrient found in low levels in some plant foods, including potatoes and green leafy vegetables. It’s also present in organ meats, such as kidney, heart, and liver. The doses used in research studies aren’t easily obtained from the typical American diet. Fortunately, alpha lipoic acid supplements are available at many health food stores and pharmacies. The nutrient is generally safe and well tolerated, although minor skin rashes have been observed in some sensitive individuals. Because it can lower glucose levels, alpha lipoic acid should be used with caution in individuals predisposed to low blood sugar, including those taking diabetic medications.
No nutritional supplement can take the place a nutritious diet and regular exercise, but if you’re willing to go the extra mile for good health, a daily dose of alpha lipoic acid might be a step in the right direction.