Burt Berkson, M.D., an Food and Drug Administration investigator into the intravenous use of alpha-lipoic acid and author of “The Alpha Lipoic Acid Breakthrough,” cites several reasons why he considers ALA the “ultimate antioxidant.” Found in every cell of your body, alpha-lipoic acid is an antioxidant that attacks free radicals -- waste products from the body’s conversion of food into energy -- that can cause illness and cell degeneration. Its solubility in either fat or water allows ALA to protect cells both inside and out. Although a healthy body produces adequate amounts of ALA, the substance is also found in several foods.
What foods provide this nutrient?
Green Plants: The first category includes green plants which have a high concentration of chloroplasts. Chloroplasts are key spots for energy production in plants, and they require lipoic acid for this activity. For this reason, broccoli, spinach, and other green leafy vegetables like collard greens or chard are food sources of lipoic acid.
Animal Foods: Animal foods constitute the second category of lipoic acid sources. Once again, the cell's energy production mechanisms are involved. Mitochondria are critical energy production spots in animal as well as plant cells, and the main location for finding lipoic acid. Body tissues like the heart, liver, kidney, and skeletal muscle are good spots for finding lipoic acid, so consumption of these foods (for example, calf's liver also provides lipoic acid. Brewster’s yeast has also been shown to contain this vital nutrient.
Our body produces small amounts of ALA; According to the Linus Pauling Institute’s Micronutrient Information Center, ALA occurs naturally in foods in which the amino acid lysine is structurally bound to protein. Such foods include various meat products, particularly organ meats such as the heart, liver and kidneys, and vegetables such as broccoli and spinach. Lesser amounts of ALA occur naturally in Brussels sprouts, peas and tomatoes. Because dietary ALA is bound to lysine -- an amino acid that itself is bound to protein -- and thus does not circulate as free ALA, the body cannot benefit from it in the same way as it does with the ALA that your body produces on its own. The human digestive enzymes are unable to break the bond between ALA and lysine. ALA consumed as part of the diet has a very minimal effect on the overall bioavailability of the antioxidant in your body. The most efficient way to give your body additional ALA is through a dietary supplement that contains ALA that is free and not bound to protein.
What is the function of this nutrient?
Lipoic acid is nestled into one of the most critical spots in all of the body's energy production pathways. It sits at the end of a process called glycolysis, which our cells use to create energy from sugars and starches. This same spot also occurs at the beginning of the pathways we use to create energy from fats. The placement of lipoic acid at this critical juncture in energy metabolism helps explain its clinical use with conditions like diabetes, where processing of sugar is disrupted, and also with skeletal muscle dysfunction in which muscle cells are unable to produce energy from fats. The antioxidant function of lipoic acid has been extensively studied, and its ability to help prevent oxygen-based damage to cells is well established. The antioxidant role of lipoic acid may be the key factor in explaining its success in prevent cataract formation in animal studies
What are deficiency symptoms for this nutrient?
Lipoic acid is required for the maintenance of vitamin C supplies, and symptoms of lipoic acid deficiency can imitate symptoms of vitamin C deficiency. These symptoms can include weakened immune function and increased susceptibility to colds and other infections.
In several animal studies, lipoic acid supplementation has been shown to reduce high blood sugar levels by increasing the activity of insulin and allowing sugar to leave the blood. For this reason, individuals with blood sugar imbalances, particularly hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) may experience toxic effects from excess intake of lipoic acid in the form of insufficient blood sugar. It is important to note that this phenomenon is not well-studied, and that doses of lipoic acid that might cause hypoglycemia are higher than those obtained through diet alone.
One animal study has shown potentially toxic effects of lipoic acid when given simultaneously with thyroid hormone. For this reason, individuals on prescription thyroid hormone medications may want to consult their health practitioner before supplementing with lipoic acid. Although not strictly falling into the category of toxic side effects, individuals with B-complex vitamin deficiencies—especially deficiency of vitamins B1 and B12—should be sure to remedy these deficiencies when supplementing with lipoic acid.
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