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Spotlight on supplements: alpha-lipoic acid

Lipoic acid, often called alpha- or a-lipoic acid (ALA), is a naturally occurring compound that is synthesized by plants, animals, and humans. It is also available as a dietary supplement. But, do you need it and how much should you take? EN reviews the research on this compound to help you learn more.

Overview

ALA is primarily found in red and organ meat, yeast, and in some fruits and vegetables including spinach, broccoli and tomatoes. Although the human body can synthesize ALA in low amounts, it is mainly obtained from the diet to meet cellular requirements. There is interest in ALA as a supplement or food additive for its necessary role in many cellular and chemical functions. ALA has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may provide benefits to a variety of conditions including metabolic or degenerative disorders.

Evidence

Since the antioxidant properties of ALA were discovered in the 1950s, several clinical trials examined the effect of intravenous or oral ALA on symptom relief for certain conditions. Small randomized controlled studies found that high-doses of ALA may improve measures of glucose utilization in subjects with metabolic disorders. Although more long-term studies are needed, there is also emerging evidence in people with diabetic peripheral neuropathy showing reductions in pain and improvements in nerve function tests.

ALA may also have weight management benefits for people with a high body mass index. While there is no set optimal dosage for ALA supplementation, evidence suggests that adults over the age of 50 may consider daily supplementation of 200-400 milligrams. To help the body absorb ALA, it is recommended that ALA should be consumed on an empty stomach (at least 30 minutes before eating or at least two hours after eating).

Safety and side effects

ALA supplementation is considered relatively safe at recommended doses. The most frequently reported side effects at higher doses (1800-2400 mg/day) are allergic skin reactions and nausea. Data suggest that symptoms are dose-dependent. Toxicity may occur in people with vitamin B1 (thiamin) deficiency. There is a potential risk of hypoglycemia in people with diabetes using insulin or oral anti-diabetic agents. The Mayo Clinic recommends not using ALA if you are a heavy user of alcohol. Use in pregnant or lactating women is not recommended. Please consult with your healthcare provider before starting a new diet or supplement.

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