If you’re looking for ways to improve your skin, reduce inflammation, and help with nerve damage, then alpha-lipoic acid may be your new nutritional BFF. Research suggests that this potent antioxidant can improve insulin resistance and possibly aid in weight loss, but what is it, why should you take it, and how much is too much? Before we unpack some science-backed benefits, let’s understand what alpha-lipoic acid is and why you may want to consider adding this antioxidant to your supplement routine.
What is alpha-lipoic acid?
Alpha-lipoic acid (also known as lipoic acid, thioctic acid, or ALA) is a vitamin-like compound involved in several mitochondrial complexes that help turn glucose into energy. Found in every cell in the body, it acts as an antioxidant, neutralizing damaging free radicals produced when the body turns food into energy. Evidence suggests that ALA may also help regenerate other antioxidants, including vitamins C and E [1
How much alpha-lipoic acid should you take each day?
Alpha-lipoic acid doses range from 300-1200 mg/day (divided into 1-3 doses) for cholesterol control, diabetic neuropathy, and weight management [2
]. Up to 1,200 mg/day appear to be safe and well-tolerated [2
Sources of alpha-lipoic acid
You can obtain ALA through supplements, which are available in R- or S-isomer form. A mixed form (with both R- and S-isomers) is the most common; however, research suggests products containing only the R-isomer tend to be slightly better absorbed [2
ALA can also be found in certain dietary sources like red meat (especially organ meats), broccoli, carrots, beets, potatoes, spinach, and tomatoes [2
]. However, food sources contain a fraction of the ALA in supplements and therefore are unlikely to increase levels of ALA in the blood [2
]. For instance, even though spinach is the most abundant food source of ALA, it contains a meager 3.15 micrograms of ALA/gram. As such, you would need to eat 315 kg (694 pounds) of spinach to obtain a 300 mg dose of ALA [21
When should you take alpha-lipoic acid?
ALA is both fat- and water-soluble in the body; however, it appears to be water-soluble in the gut and does not require dietary fat for absorption. Studies show that roughly 30-40% of supplemental ALA is absorbed. As such, absorption might be enhanced when taken on an empty stomach [3
The best time to take alpha-lipoic acid is typically first thing in the morning, at least 30 minutes before eating or drinking.
Should you take alpha-lipoic acid before bed?
Research has found that taking alpha-lipoic acid supplements in the morning on an empty stomach may increase absorption and reduce side effects [3
]. Moreover, if you suffer from heartburn, taking ALA supplements before bed may worsen nighttime indigestion.
If you prefer to take ALA before bed, stop eating 2-3 hours before to maximize absorption and allow time for your stomach to empty.
Alpha-lipoic acid benefits
Alpha-lipoic acid has strong antioxidant properties that, when taken in supplement form, have been shown to reduce oxidation and inflammation throughout the body [2
]. These effects have protective benefits against numerous chronic conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, nerve damage, liver disease, and the neurological decline associated with aging [2
Reduced complications of diabetes.
Studies indicate that ALA supplementation can reduce complications of diabetes, as well as improve insulin resistance, fasting blood glucose, and HbA1c levels in adults with metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes [4
]. Daily ALA consumption may also relieve symptoms and possibly delay or prevent the progression of neuropathy, a type of nerve damage associated with diabetes that can cause pain, tingling, numbness, and even damage internal organs [8
While there is no established ALA dose for the treatment of diabetes, studies have successfully used between 600 and 1,800 mg/day for treating diabetic neuropathy [11
Reduced nerve pain and increased nerve regeneration.
Alpha-lipoic acid supplementation may help alleviate nerve pain by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation. Research has found that people with pain from unknown causes reported significantly lower pain scores when supplementing with 400-800 mg/day of oral ALA compared to a placebo [10,12
ALA supplementation may also help increase nerve regeneration rates and aid nervous system injury, which can prove beneficial for those who suffer from nerve damage related to Lyme disease, shingles, thyroid disease, kidney disease/failure, and HIV [13
Chronic inflammation is linked to several diseases, including cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. While you can reduce inflammation through certain dietary and lifestyle changes, research suggests that alpha-lipoic acid supplementation can help lower several inflammatory markers.
One meta-analysis of 11 studies showed that adults who took ALA had significantly lower levels of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein (CRP) when compared to those who didn’t supplement [14
]. Similarly, other studies have found that those who took 300 and 600 mg/day of ALA over four and eight weeks, respectively, experienced a significant reduction with pro-inflammatory markers in the blood, including interleukin-6 (IL-6) and CRP [15
Slowed skin aging.
A handful of trials indicate that alpha-lipoic acid may reduce the signs of skin aging. Those who applied a cream containing 5% alpha-lipoic acid experienced a decrease in skin roughness, fine lines, and wrinkles when compared to using a cream without ALA [17
ALA is currently being investigated as a supplement to assist with cognition, obesity, liver disease, and neurodegenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s [2
Can alpha-lipoic acid help with weight loss?
Evidence suggests supplementing with alpha-lipoic acid may potentially help with weight loss; however, this research is preliminary.
Emerging evidence shows that larger doses of alpha-lipoic acid (800-1,800 mg/day) may be modestly beneficial for weight loss in overweight and obese individuals [2
]. Additionally, other studies have found that ALA supplementation resulted in more weight loss than a placebo; however, the average weight loss difference was minimal, ranging from 1.5-5 pounds [19
While early research offers promising evidence, the study methods and dosing guidelines have varied significantly making it difficult to draw definitive conclusions. More research is needed in this area to determine if ALA supplementation can produce significant weight loss benefits in overweight and obese individuals and establish safe and effective dosing recommendations.
Alpha-lipoic acid side effects
Alpha-lipoic acid's most common side effects include headache, heartburn, nausea, and vomiting [22
]. However, studies show that higher doses of ALA (up to 1,800 mg/day) have been associated with mild skin rash and tingling [2
Very high doses of ALA (seen at the human equivalent of 3-5 g/day) can produce toxic effects and may even be fatal [2
Alpha-lipoic acid is a potent antioxidant that is produced in the body and helps turn glucose into energy. It can be found in small amounts in certain foods like spinach, broccoli, and red meat, and may also be obtained through supplements. While very high levels of ALA (3-5 g/day) have been shown to produce toxic effects, moderate supplementation (up to 1,200 mg/day) can help increase levels of free ALA in the blood and reduce oxidation and inflammation throughout the body. Moreover, it appears to be beneficial for improving insulin resistance, alleviating nerve pain, lowering inflammation markers, and reducing skin aging. Alpha-lipoic acid is currently being investigated for its potential benefits on cognition, obesity, liver disease, neurodegenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s, and more.
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