Alpha-Lipoic Acid

Identified originally in 1937 as a "potato growth factor", alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is a real biochemical work horse. As a vitamin-like substance which contains sulfur, it works with thiamin (B1)and niacin (B3) as a cofactor in reactions which produce ATP, the body’s primary energy currency.

Lipoic acid is actually a medium chain fatty acid. It is synthesized in the body from octanoic acid and can cycle back and forth in the body in two forms - lipoic acid and dihydro-lipoic acid. This allows it to act as a transfer agent for electrons and to participate as an independent redox cycler. Like melatonin, it also shares a unique role as both a fat and water-soluble antioxidant, hence its reputation as a universal protector.

Among its many recognized properties, lipoic acid (also called thioctic acid or pyruvate oxidation factor) helps to normalize blood sugar by increasing glucose uptake by muscle cells and decreasing glucose uptake by fat cells. Of particular significance to health, ALA protects against free radicals and glycation. Although as important but less known than the free radical disease paradigm, glycation describes a process whereby sugar and protein react to form cross-linked sugar-proteins. Similar to the browning reaction observed in toast, glycation damage accelerates with increased consumption of fructose, sucrose and white flour, and represents a tangible and measurable risk factor in the development of heart disease, diabetes and advanced aging.

Glycation can damage and alter the structure of hemoglobin, which can seriously reduce the performance and continued progress of aging athletes. To confirm the status of your own hemoglobin (Hb), which is crucial to the transport of life-giving oxygen, ask your physician to test your blood for the presence of glycosylated hemoglobin (hemoglobin A). And while you’re at it, check for homocysteine and oxidized LDL.

My interest in ALA first peaked in the late 1980’s while touring a live-cell production plant in Hiedelburg, Germany. The CEO of the company, who happened to be a former gold medal Olympic weightlifting champion, espoused the use of lipoic acid (in conjunction with milk thistle) as a general treatment to protect athletes on steroids from liver and neurological damage. ALA is a natural detoxifying agent and also acts to chelate harmful heavy metals, such as cadmium and mercury.

In March 1999 I completed a controlled study in conjunction with Sisu Enterprises and a Canadian University, which employed the use of ALA. For thirty days, 28 Canadian men and women between the ages of 35-75 (average age 55) exercised for one hour in the morning five days per week, ate five meals per day in accordance with natural food philosophy and blood type theory, walked for 20 minutes in the evening and consumed the following dietary supplements each day, divided equally into two blended protein shakes mixed with fresh fruit and filtered water:

Whey protein isolate (100 grams)
L-glutamine (10 grams)
Mixed blend of Omega-3 oil (30ml)

For the first week, each participant also added 5 grams of pure creatine monohydrate to each shake and swallowed four capsules twice daily formulated with creatine monohydrate (250mg), HMB (125mg), alpha-lipoic acid (10mg) and grape seed extract (10mg) in each capsule. After the creatine loading phase, each individual continued to take four capsules twice daily with each shake, supplying a total of 2000mg creatine monohydrate, 1000mg HMB, 80mg lipoic acid and 80mg grape seed extract.

The preliminary results of this trial confirmed what my personal and clinical experience has demonstrated for more than 20 years. Anyone at any stage in their life (regardless of age, stress, commitments or level of fitness) can improve their performance ability, physical appearance and total wellness through such an integrated approach. All participants experienced a statistically significant improvement in muscle strength, muscle endurance, aerobic capacity and flexibility as verified by professional assessment in a human performance center, both before and after the 30 day trial period.

As an untrained and sedentary group of so called "normal people", the individual study participants also lost pounds and inches of bodyfat, gained fresh, new lean mass and by unanimous testimony, agreed that this triad of (1) correct exercise (resistance training, cardio & stretching) (2) partitioned natural food and (3) dietary supplements, combined with the education and professional instruction provided, was fundamental to their improved energy, motivation and transformation of mind and body.

Alpha-lipoic acid cooperates with vanadium, chromium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids to maintain insulin efficiency and prevent insulin resistance. This is why I wanted the participants to use it. Insulin controls the metabolism and growth of many muscle proteins, including insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1). It also directly affects the performance potential of creatine and whey protein.

High levels of insulin, caused mainly by carbohydrate mismanagement, micronutrient deficiency and inactivity, is considered an epidemic in North America. It’s a toxic state and a recognized component of Syndrome X. Insulin is a two-edged hormonal sword. Over-production and chronic elevation (insulin resistance) is recognized as a causal factor in obesity, elevated serum cholesterol, high triglycerides, joint inflammation, high blood pressure and type II non-insulin-dependent diabetes.

However, when insulin is released from the beta cells of the pancreas and modified through controlled exercise, certain vitamins and the right mix of high-quality protein, healing fats and non-refined, low-glycemic carbohydrates, it becomes an anabolic asset which functions to keep us strong and lean. The good news is that we can turn things around from bad to better to good.

Lipoic acid is extremely safe and has a long European history of medical and athletic application. Many physicians prescribe up to 600 mg a day therapeutically without fear of damage or risk. The LD 50 of lipoic acid is approximately 400 - 500 mg per kilogram of body weight.

For preventive purposes and increased performance value, I recommend adding 50-100mg to your daily antioxidant program, as it will help regenerate other key antioxidants, such as vitamin E, coenzyme Q10 and vitamin C.

Photo by Ryan Bruce from Burst

As always, stay well and live free!