Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is an antioxidant that naturally occurs in the body. It prevents various types of cell damage, restores vitamin levels, breaks down carbohydrates and boosts energy.
Although ALA naturally occurs in the body, many people choose to supplement levels by eating foods rich in ALA or taking pills.
Types of ALA
Alpha lipoic acid comes in two forms – one known as S-ALA, and another known as R-ALA.
S-ALA is a synthetic form, while R-ALA is the natural form that your body produces.
Commercial ALA supplements contain an even mixture of both types, as R-ALA tends to be unstable on its own in supplement form. Be wary of manufacturers claiming to sell totally natural ALA, as the process of creating it in supplement form is very complex and expensive.
Uses for ALA Supplements
Several studies have shown that ALA works to help lower blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity.
Researchers also believe the antioxidant works to relieve diabetic peripheral neuropathy, which causes pain, burning, itching and numbness due to nerve damage.
In one Romanian study, 26 patients taking oral supplements of ALA at 600mg daily saw a significant decrease in type 2 diabetes symptoms.
Studies have shown that ALA helps restore parts of the brain damaged by stroke. This is largely due to the fact that ALA easily passes into the brain where it can interact with nerve tissue.
Animal studies have shown that ALA increases the post-stroke survival rate by four times.
ALA can also prevent a stroke. For this purpose, leading nutritionist and psychologist Patrick Holford recommends combining an ALA supplement with 100 to 200mg of vitamin E to reap the full benefits.
Studies have found that ALA treats glaucoma by limiting the amount of cell death and dysfunction caused by it.
In one study, participants were given 150mg of ALA per day. 45-47% of them showed improvement in their vision.
As with any supplement, you should contact your doctor before taking ALA for any reason – particularly if you plan on taking it to combat a health condition.
For example, if you are taking existing diabetes medications, your dosage may need to be adjusted to compensate for the additional lowering of blood pressure caused by ALA.
ALA supplements have not been studied extensively in children or pregnant/breastfeeding women, so researchers aren’t entirely sure if it is safe for them.
Side effects from taking ALA supplements are very rare, but can include insomnia, fatigue and diarrhea.
Dietary intake of ALA has been shown to have very little impact on the availability of the compound in the body. As such, it’s not recommended if you’re trying to treat a health condition or see major results.
But while you won’t want to rely on ALA in foods entirely, that doesn’t mean it won’t do you some good. Here are a few food sources that contain it:
- Brussels sprouts