Lipoic Acid. Perhaps The Medicine Of The Future?

January 25, 2006

Lipoic acid is a simple fatty acid which is produced in all human cells. It is considered to be the ideal antioxidant and it may actually be highly beneficial against diabetes, neurological damage, and more. However, it is banned in Denmark.

Is lipoic acid the medicine of the future? There are many who believe this is so. One of the worlds leading experts in the field of antioxidants, Lester Packer of Southern California University, has emphasized that lipoic acid is the ideal antioxidant and a recent article by Polish researchers cautiously comes to the same conclusion.

Packer maintains that “from a therapeutic viewpoint, few natural antioxidants are ideal.” He continues by indicating that an ideal antioxidant should fulfil many demands: It should be absorbable by the intestines, occur in a form useful to the cells and have many antioxidant effects (including interaction with other antioxidants) in both cell membranes and the organism’s aqueous phase. It also must be completely non-toxic. Packer believes that lipoic acid is unique among antioxidants because it fulfils these demands. Lipoic acid is a potentially very effective medicine in many situations where free oxygen radicals are implicated.

Lipoic acid is a small sulphur containing fatty acid. It was discovered in 1950, but its special anti-oxidative properties were first noticed during the 1980’s. It is a very strong antioxidant, considerably stronger than vitamin C. It is also both fat and water soluble, which means that it can enter and have effects both outside and inside the cells. When other antioxidants such as vitamins E and C are used up, they can be “recharged” by lipoic acid so that they can be used again. It is also necessary for the cells’ metabolism and for a period it was considered to be a vitamin, but when laboratory animals did not suffer damage from lipoic acid deficiency, this idea was dropped.

Diabetes and nerve damage
The question of whether or not it is a good idea to take lipoic acid supplements should be addressed. The previously mentioned Polish researchers analysed some of the as yet very limited knowledge in this area and found that lipoic acid may be especially interesting for diabetics. Studies on animals with type II diabetes have shown strong improvement of their diabetes with lowered blood sugar levels and better utilization of their bodies own insulin with lipoic acid supplements. Many studies have shown that lipoic acid improves nerve function in diabetics with nervous inflammation.

Just as interesting, lipoic acid may be an effective weapon against the protein damage caused by heightened blood sugar. In a process called protein oxidation the proteins change structure in a way which is similar to what happens when an egg is boiled. This oxidation is an important part of the explanation for diabetics’ tendency to get cataracts, where the lens of the eye becomes clouded. In animal studies this is counteracted by lipoic acid.

The apparent nerve protective properties have lead to studies in Alzheimer’s treatment. In two studies it was found that the disease was halted by lipoic acid, but these results should be considered as provisional. The same result has been found in studies of Parkinson’s disease.

Does lipoic acid prevent cancer? The Polish researchers are uncertain. Their tissue studies indicate that small doses promote growth, while large doses inhibit growth. Dare we claim that this effect speaks for supplementation? We produce small doses of lipoic acid without help.

Only about 1,000 articles on lipoic acid can be found in the medical database, Medline. Research is still in its infancy. Even so, entering lipoic acid into Google gives over two million links (search “lipoic acid”).

By: Vitality Council

Bilska A et al. Lipoic acid – the drug of the future? Pharmacological Review 2005;57:570-77.