Alpha Lipoic Acid

Alpha Lipoic Acid: Overview

Alternative names: Thioctic Acid or (less common) Thiotic Acid

Discovered in 1951, lipoic acid (also called alpha-lipoic acid or ALA) has long been recognized as a coenzyme that helps break down sugar for energy production during the Krebs cycle.  Only recently has its therapeutic potential been realized.

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Lipoic Acid is considered to be among the elite, multipurpose antioxidants and has been variously called "the universal antioxidant" or the "ideal oxidant".  You can think of lipoic acid as a kind of "wild card" antioxidant.  Evidence shows that even if you are not getting enough vitamin C or E, for example, lipoic acid supplements can make up at least part of the deficit.  Lipoic acid is considered a conditionally vital antioxidant nutrient.  Specifically, the body makes some of its own lipoic acid, but we still need to get most of it form external sources, either from food, such as meat, or supplements.  Our ability to make lipoic acid does decline with age.

The supplemental use of lipoic acid is expected to have huge impacts on health in the future.  Almost any portion of the body can use increased levels of lipoic acid


Alpha Lipoic Acid can be found in potatoes, carrots, broccoli, yeast, beets, yams and kohlrabi, and is also abundant in red meat.  It is a vitamin-like antioxidant that is also produced naturally in the body.  It is also supplied in 25, 50, 100, and 200mg capsules.

Function; Why it is Recommended

Lipoic Acid is the only antioxidant that is fat- and water-soluble.  This property has made it a perfect electron transporter for both oxidized ascorbic acid (water-soluble) and vitamin E (fat-soluble); it is easily absorbed and transported across cell membranes.  Whereas many antioxidants only provide protection outside of cells, ALA is broken down inside cells to dihydrolipoic acid – an even more potent antioxidant.  It also regenerates other antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E and glutathione.

Lipoic acid fights free radical damage in both fatty and watery regions of cells and helps to recycle other antioxidants in what is described as "antioxidant synergism".  A recent study showed that when lipoic acid was missing, other antioxidants did not interact well, thereby reducing their ability to protect cells. [Packer, L., et al. "Alpha-lipoic acid as a biological antioxidant," Free Radical Biol & Med. 19(2): pp.227-50, 1995]

In addition to its ability to scavenge free radicals on its own, Lipoic Acid also enhances the actions of many other antioxidants such as glutathione and vitamin E. It can either substitute for them when they are deficient, or help to recycle them after they have neutralized free radical molecules.  Lipoic acid contains two thiol (sulfur) groups which allows it to reduce oxidized glutathione.

Lipoic acid, like insulin, reduces glycation, enhancing the movement of blood sugar into our cells.  It promotes greater energy production by muscles and reduces the amount of glucose stored as fat.

Lipoic Acid protects the liver from alcohol damage, the lungs from smoke damage, and enhances glucose disposal in type II diabetes and reduces associated neuropathy and cataracts.  Individuals with capillary fragility (bruise easily) can benefit.

In addition to being a powerful antioxidant, lipoic acid has an important role in controlling blood sugar.  Through both of these mechanisms, it may help prevent the negative effects of having an even slightly elevated blood sugar causing some of the serious side-effects of diabetes (nerve damage, pain, blindness, heart disease and accelerated aging).  It may even help repair some of the nerve damage that may have occurred by encouraging new nerve growth.

It is medically approved in Germany for treating adult-onset type II diabetes and its complications.  Ironically, the research that demonstrated its increased blood sugar utilization was done in the United States.  Lipoic acid is not a controlling factor in such instances, but research shows that a high intake (300 to 600mg per day) tends to normalize blood sugar levels in diabetics. [Haugaard, N., et al. "Stimulation of glucose utilization by thioctic acid," Biophys Acta 222: pp.583-6, 1970]

Clinical applications for this nutrient include the following conditions: Diabetic polyneuropathy, cataracts, glaucoma, ischemia-reperfusion injury, radiation injury, metal toxicity, Amanita mushroom poisoning and CCl4 poisoning.  Because of its unique characteristics ALA is likely to have therapeutic application in a wide range of additional clinical conditions.

Studies in the late 1990s demonstrated that lipoic acid stops cholesterol and intracellular damage by free radicals, discourages the formation of active species, inhibits growth of cancer cells and, possibly, even improves memory.

Lipoic acid is also a super-chelator, capable of removing form our bodies excess iron, calcium, copper, toxic molecules such as cadmium, lead and mercury, as well as organic hydrocarbons.

Lipoic acid is used therapeutically for a variety of conditions including chemical hypersensitivity syndrome, heavy metal toxicity, diabetic neuropathy, chronic aggressive hepatitis, elevated liver enzymes and liver toxicity.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) considers α-lipoic acid to be the only approved antidote for mushroom (Amanita) poisoning (although milk thistle extracts are a much more proven natural product for this use).


No RDA has been established.  Humans are usually not deficient in alpha-lipoic acid, but supplementation can help in some conditions.  While some human studies involve doses as high as 1,000mg daily, 100mg is sufficient to obtain the antioxidant effects in most cases.

The recommended "therapeutic dose" for healthy adults is 100-200mg.  By contrast, animal studies have shown the acute toxic dose to be ten times that of the therapeutic dose.  It may be taken once a day with any supplement or food.

Side-Effects; Counter-Indicators and Warnings

Lipoic acid is safe with no side-effects except for possible toxicity in diabetic patients.  In over three decades of use in Europe, no study has shown any serious adverse effects of taking lipoic acid supplements.  Diabetic patients should have blood sugar monitored if lipoic acid is to be taken as it is known to improve sugar metabolism and may change insulin needs.

At the time of writing there was no known interference with any other drugs.

Alpha Lipoic Acid can help with the following:


Alcohol-related Problems

Alpha-lipoic acid should not be given in high doses to patients suspected of having a thiamine deficiency unless the thiamine deficiency is also corrected.  Individuals who may be deficient in vitamin B1 (such as alcoholics) should supplement vitamin B1 along with alpha-lipoic acid.





Recycles vitamins E and C when they've been used.  Dosage: 50mg bid.

Environment / Toxicity

Mercury Toxicity (Amalgam Illness)

Sources of sulfur such as alpha lipoic acid, MSM and garlic are helpful for protection against heavy metals in general and specifically useful in mercury toxicity.  Alpha lipoic acid should not be used alone, as it only mobilizes mercury with a weak bond.  Without additional chelators present, such as DMPS or DMSA, the mercury may just redistribute elsewhere in the body instead of being removed.

Heavy Metal Toxicity

Sources of sulfur such as alpha lipoic acid, MSM and garlic are helpful for protection against heavy metals in general and specifically useful in mercury toxicity.  Alpha lipoic acid should not be used alone, as it only mobilizes mercury with a weak bond.  Without additional chelators present, such as DMPS or DMSA, the mercury may just redistribute elsewhere in the body instead of being removed.

Eyes / Ocular


150mg per day improves visual function in people with both stage I and stage II glaucoma.


It has been reported that lipoic acid has been shown to be helpful for cataracts.  Some doctors caution that with a high body level for mercury, you risk moving mercury INTO the lens and brain rather than out, so lipoic acid should only be used if mercury levels are known to be low.

Lab Values



Syndrome X / Metabolic Syndrome

Numerous additional studies have indicated that alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is useful for the treatment of diabetes mellitus which follows syndrome X. ALA stimulates increased glucose utilization in muscle cells and significantly reduces human insulin resistance/sensitivity.  This process may occur via an insulin signaling pathway.  ALA also helps to prevent free radical cellular damage caused by elevated insulin levels.

Organ Health

Diabetes Type II

Numerous additional studies have indicated that ALA is useful for the treatment of diabetes mellitus.  It stimulates increased glucose utilization in muscle cells and significantly reduces human insulin resistance.

600mg of alpha lipoic acid tid was found to improve polyneuropathy symptoms in patients with type II diabetes.  A maintenance dose as low as 100mg tid may be sufficient to provide benefits. [Diabet Med 1999;16; pp.1040-1043]

Liver Detoxification / Support Requirement

Alpha-lipoic acid has been used very successfully as a therapeutic agent in a number of conditions relating to liver disease, including alcohol-induced damage, mushroom poisoning, metal intoxification and carbon tetrachloride poisoning.


Alpha lipoic acid is given in a dose of 300mg at least twice per day for hepatitis B or C. Alpha lipoic acid (ALA), silymarin, and selenium have been used in combination with success in reducing symptoms and elevated liver enzyme levels (though the viral load was not substantially reduced).

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Alpha Lipoic Acid can help prevent the following:


Parkinson's Disease

Increases glutathione levels.  See the link between Parkinson's Disease and Glutathione.


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