Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is not a supplement that is well known but it does have some very interesting properties and the risk of side effects (if you take reasonable doses) is very low. I learned about ALA from Tim Ferris while reading the four hour body and how he used it to help put more of the calories from the food he eats into muscles instead of fat cells. I personally have used it for that purpose but also to fight off alcohol hangovers or damage from other drugs such as MDMA according to this study. It is naturally found in foods such as vegetables but in very small quantities so if you really want to take advantage of it you need to supplement.
Beyond its more advanced usage for fat loss/muscle gains & lowering blood sugar, it is a potent antioxidant that can help fight off hangovers and a large variety of health problems.
ALA is an antioxidant which is a substance that supports protecting cells and your DNA from the damage done by free radicals due to oxidation reactions which is why we hear so often about antioxidants, a LOT of natural foods (especially vegetables and fruits) contain other forms of antioxidants such as vitamin C and vitamin E which are well known (and relevant to this post, ALA has the ability to “renew and put back to work” vitamin C & E making them even more useful). This is most likely the reason ALA can be useful to fight off damage form alcohol or other drugs. When antioxidants are not available, free radicals cause oxidation and this reaction is one of the processes that cause a lot of problems in our body, including accelerating aging or making your skin look older.
Alpha Lipoic Acid Usage & Benefits
Alpha lipoic acid can be used to treat a variety of health related problems. It is used to prevent inflammation due to multiple sclerosis. There is a study that shows that alpha lipoic acid supplement helps patients with type 2 diabetes by enhancing the body’s ability to use its own insulin to lower the level of blood sugar. This is one of the key reasons that when it comes to putting on muscle weight and less fat while overeating I use it as part of my training regimen to get 25 pounds in 2 months.
It helps with nerve damage caused by cancer or diabetes treatment by reducing the nerve-related symptoms of diabetes like pain, burning, tingling, and prickling in the legs and arms.
Some people use an alpha lipoic acid supplement for chronic fatigue syndrome, memory loss, cancer, liver disease, lyme disease and diseases of the heart. It also is used to protect against eye related problem such as damage to cataracts, retina, glaucoma and Wilson’s disease, most likely due to how it helps renew vitamin C & E in the body.
A study was conducted to 33 women with an average age of 54 years old found that after 3 months of applying a cream containing 5% lipoic acid, their skin roughness was reduced and the appearance of photo-aging has decreased.
Quick list of Alpha lipoic acid benefits
According to Nutraceutical Update by Mark A. Mitchell, M.D. (which I took from this post), based on the studies and evidences gathered, lipoic acid offers the following health benefits:
- Helps prevents retinal cell death when combined with vitamin E in retinitis pigmentosa
- Improves diabetic neuropathy
- Improves several components of the metabolic syndrome—a combination of risk factors that increases one’s risk for diabetes
- Improves skin texture
- Improves the lipid profile
- Improves visual function in glaucoma
- Increases insulin sensitivity
- Prevents bone loss, possibly through an anti-inflammatory effect
- Protects against cataract formation
- Reduces blood pressure
- Reduces brain damage after a stroke
- Reduces frequency and intensity of migraines
- Reduces insulin resistance
- Reduces oxidative stress in the body via powerful antioxidant activity
- Reduces weight
- Removes toxic metals from the body
Alpha lipoic acid side effects and risks if mixed with prescription drugs with similar effects
There are a obviously a lot of benefits you can get from taking alpha lipoic acid supplements but be aware that there are some mild side effects and risks that you should consider before taking it if you are in a certain group of people that are already taking prescription drugs, especially blood sugar lowering ones that diabetics tend to take.
Since ALA can lower blood sugar (which is why I use it to gain more muscle weight and less fat in working out phases), there’s a risk that your blood sugar will go too low if mixed with other drugs, such as those diabetic people would use. Something intresting about this however is that some diabetics opt to simply use ALA which is more “natural” with a potential of less long term side effects than prescription type diabetic drugs. As a final warning, If you are taking some supplements or medicines regularly, you should consider seeing a doctor before you use alpha lipoic acid because it can also interact with the supplements and medicines.
Finally, some other side effects to keep in mind (which I never had with my ALA dosage) could be nausea, irritation of skin or rashes, and dizziness.
ALA found naturally in Food
As mentioned above, our body naturally produces alpha lipoic acid as long as we are healthy. Aside from that, ALA can be found in some foods such as liver, kidney, spinach, broccoli, yeast, beef, and potatoes. However, ALA from food doesn’t produce a noticeable increase in the level of free ALA in our body (food simply has tiny quantities of it) so if you want to experiment with alpha lipoc acid you have to take supplements which leads us to:
Alpha lipoic acid Supplements (The importance of R-ALA acid Vs S-ALA)
Most alpha lipoic acid supplements you can find in the market are combination of the L and R-alpha lipoic acid in a 50/50 mix which is stable to deliver in supplement form. However, The S form of lipoic acid is not used by the body as well (it is synthetic after all, R-ALA is what you actually get in foods) and as such it will just become a waste so it is recommended to simple ONLY get the R alpha lipoic acid so your body doesn’t need to make extra effort of filtering the S form and putting it to waste. Supplements that contain only R-ALA will mention it on the label (these are mostly only found online), most likely if you do not see it mentioned it is a 50/50 mix (almost all are).
While R-ALA alone is more expensive per mg, keep it in mind that when you compare the costs to normal ALA supplements you should lower their potency by 50% (so if it is 300mg, it is ~150mg of R-ALA). I tend to only get R-ALA right now because it is the natural form to prevent potential long term usage side effects from S-ALA in your body (So far even 50/50 ALA appears to be very safe however) I have used it a lot in the past before I drink alcohol and currently at every meal since I am trying to gain 20-30 pounds of muscle and some fat in a month or two so I am staying cautious and just getting the natural version. R-ALA Amazon link for USA people and here is the iherb link for international folks (use coupon IFI934 for $10 off). This is a dosage of around 200mg of R-ALA, If you take it many times a day before a meal you might want to save money and try the 100mg R-ALA versions. I use both, 200mg before I drink alcohol and 100mg before each normal sized meal while bulking up, 200mg for the 1 “huge meal” I take (after a workout or Muay Thay training).
Some additional sources for the studies and more scientific descriptions: