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Dermatologists have used alpha-lipoic acid for over 30 years for treating sags, bags and wrinkles. Recent research from China suggests that it may be the perfect tool for normalizing blood sugar levels and losing weight -if it is used correctly.

What Is Alpha-Lipoic Acid?

Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could just pop a pill and melt your excess pounds away? 

Alpha-lipoic acid is the term manufacturers use to describe a mixture of natural and unnatural forms of the antioxidant lipoic acid, which is also known as thioctic acid. The root thio- in a word refers to sulfur content. If you take alpha-lipoic acid, you will notice a mild sulfur smell in your urine two to three hours later.[1,2]

The human body makes lipoic acid from a fatty acid, octanoic acid, with the help of S-adenosylmethionine, better known as SAM-e. A unique, fat-soluble antioxidant that also dissolves in water, lipoic acid can enter tissues all over the body. When scientists refer to lipoic acid, however, they generally mean R-lipoic acid.

What Is R-Lipoic Acid?

Tens of thousands of articles about natural health cite hundreds of scientific papers confirming the benefits of "alpha-lipoic acid." This is a versatile antioxidant that has an unquestioned role in supporting health in people who have diabetes and related nerve damage.

But the type of alpha-lipoic acid that is generally accepted as a healing wonder that is considered in the medical studies is not the same substance as the nutritional supplement you usually find on the health products shelf. The only kind of alpha-lipoic acid that your body actually uses is R-lipoic acid.[3]

R-lipoic acid is the form of alpha-lipoic acid found in nature. It is an isomer of lipoic acid that has a molecular configuration that cells recognize. The human body does not recognize S-lipoic acid, which polarizes light to the left. It only recognizes R-lipoic acid, which polarizes light to the right. The manufacturing process to make a mixture of R- and S- isomers of lipoic acid is simply easier and cheaper. But the result is that up to 60% of the product in the bottle has no effect on health at all.

That is not a real problem for using alpha-lipoic acid as a supplement. You simply take more.

What Are the Health Benefits of Lipoic Acid?

The health benefits of alpha-lipoic acid are sometimes exaggerated, but they are still very significant. It is not true that alpha-lipoic acid can cure diabetes, but it can and does lower blood sugars. A powerful antioxidant that is soluble in both water and fat, it reaches every cell in the body to counteract the formation of harmful free radicals. And since the burning of glucose and fat are is the body's biggest source of harmful free radicals, it is only natural that lipoic acid is a significant weight loss supplement.[4]

Researchers are investigating whether alpha-lipoic acid could serve as a potential treatment for stroke and other brain problems involving free radical damage, such as dementia. There's still no evidence to say whether or not it works, however, the studies conducted on rats are promising.[5]

Preliminary studies suggest alpha-lipoic acid may help treat glaucoma.[6

In one study on aging skin, a cream with 5% lipoic acid helped reduce fine lines from sun damage.[7]

Studies show alpha-lipoic acid binds with toxic metals, such as mercury, arsenic, iron, and other metals that act as free radicals.[8

Some studies also suggest that alpha-lipoic acid may have a positive effect in managing erectile dysfunction, cancer, as well as ear infections.[4]

How Lipoic Acid Increases Production of Body Energy

The process by which most of us gain weight involves a phenomenon called insulin resistance. This is a natural protective mechanism that protects cells in most of the tissues of the body (except the ovaries in women and the brain in both sexes) from getting flooded with glucose when blood sugar levels are high.

Insulin acts as a kind of molecular key that opens the door for sugar to enter a cell. If the cell were to receive too much sugar, it would have to burn it, and free radicals of oxygen could escape the mitochondrial "furnaces" where respiration takes place.  These free radicals of oxygen could damage the cell.

To prevent this damage, cells bolt the door so insulin cannot let glucose in. Lipoic acid opens a "back door" that restarts burning of sugar. Since lipoic acid is an antioxidant, it protects the cell from excessive free radicals. All this extra burning of sugar, however, is not what allows the user of lipoic acid to lose weight.

Weight loss occurs when insulin sensitivity is restored. The problem with the condition of insulin insensitivity is that the pancreas just makes more and more insulin in an ineffective attempt to remove sugar from the bloodstream. Cells, before treatment with lipoic acid, become more and more resistant, so the pancreas just makes even more insulin.

Insulin does not just transport sugar. It also transports fatty acids. All the insulin that cannot be used to transport sugar becomes very efficient at storing fat, and weight gain results.

Lipoic acid reverses insulin resistance and stops the overproduction of insulin that causes weight gain. Then dieters have a fighting chance at actually losing weight.

Nutritional Partners of Lipoic Acid

To get the benefits of lipoic acid, however, you also need at least three more supplements. One of them is L-carnitine.

Lipoic acid stops fat storage, but L-carnitine is what speeds up fat burning. You don't get the benefits of accelerated fat burning unless you take both supplements.

The metabolic cycles that use lipoic acid also use a lot of the B vitamin biotin. This vitamin seems to keep the fat-burning cycle in sync so that free radicals do not damage the cell and energy production can proceed at a maximum rate. And you also need niacin (in the form of nicotinamide) to soak up some of the free radicals of oxygen released in the burning of glucose, indirectly keeping insulin levels from creeping back up.

At this point, it is important to bring out that people who already have vitamin B1 (Thiamine) deficiency should not take alpha lipoic acid supplements because alpha lipoic acid can lower the level of vitamin B1. 

Precautions you need to be aware when considering supplementing with alpha lipoic acid  

  • Don't take alpha-lipoic acid if you have low vitamin B1 levels 
  • Don't take alpha-lipoic acid if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. 
  • If you are trying to lower blood sugar with alpha-lipoic acid,  take it only under the supervision of your health-care provider, because combining with diabetes drugs you are raising the risk of hypoglycemia or low blood sugar.
  • Alpha-lipoic acid may interfere with some chemotherapy medications. 
  • Alpha-lipoic acid may interfere with thyroid medications, Levothyroxine.

How Much Lipoic Acid Is Needed for Regulating Body Energy?

The human body makes its own lipoic acid. You simply extend its benefits by taking more. Generally speaking, if you use the less expensive alpha-lipoic acid that is more readily available in drugstores, supermarkets, and health food stores, you can benefit from up to 2,000 mg a day. If you take the "purer" R-lipoic acid, you can take up to 1,200 mg a day.

Either way, you will need to replace the biotin "burned up" as lipoic acid stimulates cellular metabolism. Take 100 mg of biotin for every 1,000 mg of alpha-lipoic acid, or for every 600 mg of R-lipoic acid. Take 1,000 mg of L-carnitine and one capsule of nicotinamide (no more, since this supplement can cause your skin to break out if you overdose) every day for maximum benefits in energy production and weight loss.