The Antioxidants Section
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Alpha Lipoic Acid
Alpha-lipoic acid, also called lipoic acid or thioctic acid, is a powerful antioxidant that helps cells convert glucose to energy, detoxifies the body, fights inflammation in the skin, and helps stabilize blood sugar.
Alpha-lipoic acid has been called a "universal antioxidant" because it is both water- and fat-soluble, and thus can penetrate tissues composed mainly of fat, such as the nervous system, as well as those made mainly of water, such as the heart, to protect them from free-radical damage. Alpha-lipoic acid also helps the body use other antioxidants, such as vitamin E, vitamin C, and glutathione, more efficiently. This nutrient also helps B vitamins convert proteins, carbohydrates, and fats into energy more efficiently.
Alpha-lipoic acid may be one of the most powerful antioxidants discovered to date. It helps increase the body’s supply of glutathione, the most abundant natural antioxidant, so that free radicals are escorted out of the body before they can cause damage to cells. Free radicals have been shown to impair the immune system, leaving the body vulnerable to infections, heart disease and cancer. Free radical damage is thought by scientists to be the basis for the aging process as well.
Alpha-lipoic acid is found in spinach, liver, and brewer's yeast, and the body is able to manufacture its own supply of this substance as well. However, the body doesn’t make a lot of alpha-lipoic acid, and most of it is used to help the mitochondria in cells convert glucose to energy. In order to benefit from the anti-aging and disease-fighting abilities of alpha-lipoic acid, you have to take a supplement.
There is no Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for alpha-lipoic acid, but studies have found that 100 milligrams taken twice daily is enough to supply extra free-radical protection throughout the body, and may help prevent or treat a lot of health problems, including Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, atherosclerosis, glaucoma, and HIV infection. Lipoic acid could also help those with liver disease; intravenous forms of alpha-lipoic acid are used in some hospitals to treat cases of acute poisoning that affect the liver.
However, alpha-lipoic has been most extensively studied for its role in preventing complications from both diabetic neuropathy and autonomic neuropathy. Diabetic neuropathy is thought to be caused by free-radical damage to the nerves, and causes unpleasant tingling, numbness, and pain in the body. Autonomic neuropathy affects the nerves that control internal organs, and is also thought to be linked to free-radical damage. Alpha-lipoic acid may be successful in treating these conditions because it is fat-soluble antioxidant, and therefore can penetrate the nerve cells to prevent further damage.
Large doses of alpha-lipoic acid have been prescribed to treat diabetic and autonomic neuropathy with some success, and recent studies have shown that it is even more effective when combined with gamma linolenic acid. In addition, because alpha-lipoic acid helps regulate glucose metabolism, it may improve blood-sugar levels in the body. Therefore, if you have diabetes, you should take alpha-lipoic acid supplements only under the supervision of a physician. You may need to adjust your dosage of insulin or other diabetes medications.
Alpha-lipoic acid comes in tablets and capsules, and is also available in combination products with other antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E. It has shown no serious toxic side effects at commonly recommended dosages, although it can cause stomach upset or an allergic skin rash in some people. If you experience any of these reactions, reduce the dose or stop taking the supplement.
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