Lipoic acid was originally isolated from potatoes in the 1930’s. It was called the “potato growth factor, but the name was changed when it was discovered that it was an essential coenzyme involved in energy production. In 1988, researchers saw that it was a potent antioxidant.
What makes lipoic acid unique?
Alpha lipoic acid is a very small molecule, is efficiently absorbed, and crosses cell membranes easily. It is both water and fat soluble, and can eliminate free radicals both inside and outside the cell. Lipoic acid can help other antioxidants to regenerate after they have eliminated other free radicals, allowing them to be effective for longer periods of time. Vitamin C and glutathione are directly recycled by lipoic acid, whereas Vit E in indirectly recycled by it.
What does Lipoic acid do?
Lipoic acid helps to convert the food we eat into energy that our cells can use. This activityd occurs in the mitichondria or the power plant of the cell, inside the cell membrane. It is essential to blood sugar control, and increases the breakdown of sugars into glucose which is used by the cell for energy. It also improves nerve conduction and slows the progression or cataract development in diabetics. Studies show that it works via its antioxidant activity, and imporves blood sugar metabolism, reduces protein glycosylation, and improves blood flow to peripheral nerves, and can stimulate the regeneration of nerve fibres.
In one study, 80 diabetics were given either 600mg of lipoic acid, 100mcg of selenium, or 1200IU of natural source Vitamin E for 3 months, symptoms of neuropathy improved significantly with all 3 antioxidants, but not in the control group. The study reaffirms that oxidative stress causes or contributes to many of the complications of diabetes.
Well-established research confirms that the occurrence of cancer increases when the levels of antioxidants are low. Antioxidants keep free radicals in check before they can impair the immune system or damage DNA. Oncogenes are genes that cause cancer, and normally play a role in growth and proliferation of cells. When they are altered in some way for example by NF-kappa-B or a carcinogen, they cause the cell to become malignant. Lipoic acid can enter a cell and protect NF-kappa-B from activation by radiation, free radicals, or even sunlight.
Although lipoic acid is made in the human body, there is usually little left over for antioxidant protection after the majority is used up in its usual cellular fucntions. Additional amounts are needed for proper antioxidant protection.
Doses range is 200-600mcg (micrograms) per day. Diabetics taking lipoic acid should monitor their blood sugar closely as it may reduce the need for insulin or other sugar lowering medications. Although it has no carcinogenic or teratogenic effects, it should not be taken in pregnancy without the advice of a licensed naturopathic doctor.
Dr Maureen -The County Naturopath