ALA is the universal antioxidant.
Each of us depends on its existence and proper operation in order to survive. Each cell of our bodies contains ALA and needs it in order to produce energy. ALA, also known as Thioctic Acid, is the coenzyme involved in the transformation of glucose we take from food into ATP, a form of energy that the body can use. Our body produces ALA, but in very small quantities. Also, our body can receive ALA from food (potatoes, spinach, red meat), but also in reduced quantities.
Studies have shown that an additional ALA intake, by means of dietary supplements, can help us in various ways and even treat certain conditions.
The role of ALA
Universal antioxidant. Most antioxidants normally operate in a specific environment and protect a single part of the cell. For instance, vitamin E can protect plasmatic membranes from free radical damage, while vitamin C operates in the watery areas of the cell. Vitamin E is fat soluble, while vitamin C is water soluble. Yet ALA operates in both areas: in fatty membranes and watery areas alike. Soluble in fat and water at the same time? Yes, ALA can do it all! Alpha Lipoic Acid is the antioxidant that is soluble in all areas of the cell, and therefore can protect the entire cell from the impact of free radicals.
Recycling antioxidants. ALA recycles other antioxidants, improving their function and increasing their duration of life in our bodies. Antioxidants deactivate free radicals by absorbing their additional electron or by boding to them. As soon as an antioxidant, for instance ascorbic acid, has absorbed that extra electron, the antioxidant is eliminated. It must transfer that extra electron to another antioxidant that can recycle ascorbic acid, such as alpha lipoic acid. After the ascorbic acid transfers the extra electron to the ALA, it can go on defending the cells and destroying other free radicals. This recycling is extremely important for keeping antioxidants on the first line, ready to eliminate free radicals.
Because ALA is the universal antioxidant, it can recycle both fat soluble and water soluble antioxidants. Studies show that ALA can recycle a great variety of antioxidants, including vitamin C, vitamin E and glutathione. A higher level of ALA should intensify the antioxidant recycling process and improve defense mechanisms within cells and overall operation of antioxidants.
Anti-aging. Preliminary studies on ALA suggest that it cannot only prevent aging, but reverse it, too. Two different studies carried out by Berkley University in California have investigated the additional effects of ALA on the aging process. Mitochondria are the parts of the cell that produce energy: they use oxygen in order to convert glucose into a usable form of energy by means of a complex process whose byproducts are often free radicals. As we age, antioxidant biosynthesis decreases and mitochondria become less and less efficient, leading to an increased level of oxidants. Therefore, our body produces more harmful molecules and the number of antioxidants that defend it decreases. These antioxidants stay in the body and attack cell and biomolecule structures.
Researchers have compared measurements of mitochondria functions after additional ALA intake with a control group that had not received an ALA supplement. The group that had not received the supplement showed a decrease of mitochondria functions and of ambulatory activity and an endogenous level of vitamin C and glutathione. After two weeks of ALA supplementation, clear signs of reversal of all three signs of aging were noticed.
A similar study researched the effects of aging on the ascorbic acid concentration, on antioxidant recycling and on biosynthesis. Researchers have noticed a decline in all these functions subsequent to the aging process, as well as a decrease of the body’s ability to fight oxidant stress. Two weeks of ALA supplementation increased the ascorbic acid concentration, biosynthesis and recycling process. These promising results suggest that ALA can partially reverse some of the biological processes associated with aging, especially antioxidant decline, which is dictated by aging.
ALA is researched as potential treatment for a few major health issues – of interest here, diabetes and associated complications. In Germany, ALA is used as treatment for diabetic neuropathy. In USA, studies are carried out in order to assess the efficiency of ALA in the treatment of insulin immunity associated to type 2 diabetes and to the multiple neuropathies caused by diabetes complications.