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Alpha Lipoic Acid
by Gary F. Zeolla
Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) is an universal antioxidant. By "universal" is meant that is is both water soluble (like vitamin C) and fat soluble (like vitamin E). An "antioxidant" neutralizes free radicals in the body. Free radicals are created in response to physical stress and toxins (like air pollution). Free radicals are believed to be involved in the development of cancer and other degenerative disease and in the aging process in general. Therefore, neutralizing them might help to prevent degenerative disease and to delay the effects of aging. Free radicals are also believed to be involved in causing post-workout soreness.
Much research has been done on antioxidant nutrients like vitamins C and E. Earlier research seemed promising, but most recent research is now showing that supplementing with these nutrients is not beneficial and could even be detrimental. Foods containing these vitamins are beneficial, but much is lost when they are synthesized in a lab for inclusion in a supplement. See the article Folly of Dose Supplements for details in this regard.
ALA has not been as extensively studied, but it does have stronger antioxidant properties than either of these vitamins, so it could be reasonable to suppose that it would be beneficial. But until more research can be done, it is hard to say given the surprising turn of the research on vitamins C and E. It could be that what is proving true for antioxidant vitamins will be the case for ALA as well.
The following should be noted as well:
ALA can be found in foods such as meats and vegetables, especially spinach. It is easily absorbed into the bloodstream, and it can also cross the blood brain barrier. Two of the best natural sources of lipoic acid are yeast and liver, but the body can synthesize it when necessary and it is available as a supplement (Bodybuilding.com).
Since ALA can be found in foods and is synthesized by the body, it is unlikely supplements will prove beneficial. It would be best to focus on consuming lean meats and vegetables if you wish to up your ALA intake. But despite these points, ALA is becoming a popular supplement in the general population, and athletes are using it thinking it helps reduce post-workout soreness.
Moreover, some creatine complex products are now fortified with ALA. The reason for this is the claim that ALA increases the uptake of creatine. However, the only study I could find that supports this contention utilized 1000 mg of ALA (abstract below). But most such creatine complexes only use 200 mg, so this is only one-fifth the amount that is actually needed.
The reason that such products do not use the full 1000 mg is that ALA is fairly expensive. Thus to add 1000 mg to the complex would cause the product to be too expensive for a creatine complex. As a result, the ALA is not doing that much good as far as creatine uptake is concerned.
Similarly, when taken for its antioxidant protection, ALA is quite expensive, especially since, to truly get an effect, 300 mg or more are usually recommended. Moreover, as with all supplements, quality is a issue. It seems that the more expensive a supplement is, the more likely that less than high-quality brands will not actually contain the amount of the supplement claimed on the label. So buyer beware.
And finally, there is the issue of side effects. I tried supplementing with ALA, using Twinlab's ALA. I took it for about a week, and I barely slept all week. Even if I took it early in the day, it still disturbed my sleep. Needless to say, I stopped taking it.
Given my negative experience, the lack of strong evidence that it is beneficial, and its high expense, I cannot recommend ALA. You are much better off spending your money on healthy foods, as outlined in my God-given Foods Eating Plan and Creationist Diet books.
But if you are intent of trying it, Twinlab's Alpha Lipoic Acid is available at Amazon. Other brands of ALA are also available from Amazon. Similarly, iHerb carries Twinlab's ALA and other brands of ALA. For iHerb, use coupon code HOP815 to get $5.00 off your first order.
Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2003 Sep;13(3):294-302.
Effect of alpha-lipoic acid combined with creatine monohydrate on human skeletal muscle creatine and phosphagen concentration.
Burke DG, Chilibeck PD, Parise G, Tarnopolsky MA, Candow DG.
Department of Human Kinetics, St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada B2G 2W5.
Alpha-lipoic acid has been found to enhance glucose uptake into skeletal muscle in animal models. Studies have also found that the co-ingestion of carbohydrate along with creatine increases muscle creatine uptake by a process related to insulin-stimulated glucose disposal. The purpose of this study was to determine the effect of alpha-lipoic acid on human skeletal muscle creatine uptake by directly measuring intramuscular concentrations of creatine, phosphocreatine, and adenosine triphosphate when creatine monohydrate was co-ingested with alpha-lipoic acid. Muscle biopsies were acquired from the vastus lateralis m. of 16 male subjects (18-32 y) before and after the experimental intervention. After the initial biopsy, subjects ingested 20 g x d(-1) of creatine monohydrate, 20 g x d(-1) of creatine monohydrate + 100 g x d(-1) of sucrose, or 20 g x d(-1) of creatine monohydrate + 100 g x d(-1) of sucrose + 1000 mg x d(-1) of alpha-lipoic acid for 5 days. Subjects refrained from exercise and consumed the same balanced diet for 7 days. Body weight increased by 2.1% following the nutritional intervention, with no differences between the groups. There was a significant increase in total creatine concentration following creatine supplementation, with the group ingesting alpha-lipoic acid showing a significantly greater increase (p < .05) in phosphocreatine (87.6 --> 106.2 mmol x kg(-1) dry mass [dm]) and total creatine (137.8 --> 156.8 mmol x kg(-1) dm). These findings indicate that co-ingestion of alpha-lipoic acid with creatine and a small amount of sucrose can enhance muscle total creatine content as compared to the ingestion of creatine and sucrose or creatine alone.
PMID: 14669930 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
Alpha Lipoic Acid - Supplement Descriptions. Copyright © 2004, 2008, 2014, 2017 by Gary F. Zeolla.
The above article was posted on this site June 1, 2004
and last updated June 14, 2017.
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