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ALA: Alliterative (anti)Longevity Aid?

ALA is used for a variety of purposes, such as for blood sugar control and potential longevity benefits. But this new evidence plants a seed of warning for those taking ALA over long periods of time.

Study under review: Prophylactic and abundant intake of alpha-lipoic acid causes hepatic steatosis and should be reconsidered in usage as an antiageing drug

Introduction

Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is an antioxidant supplement that is perceived to have health benefits against chronic lifestyle diseases such as diabetes. It is a naturally-occurring fatty acid that is predominantly found in the mitochondria, where it is an important cofactor[1] for enzymes involved in energy metabolism of the cell. It can be naturally found in small amounts in a range of foods, including red meat, potatoes, broccoli, spinach, and tomatoes, among others. In these foods, ALA is bound to the amino acid lysine — together called lipoyllysine[2] — and is readily uncoupled by an enzyme[3] found in human serum.

ALA is a popular supplement due to its potential benefits against inflammation and oxidation, both of which are implicated in diseases such as neurodegenerative disorders[4] and diabetes[5]. ALA has also been shown to have appetite-suppressing effects[6] in animals and enhances energy expenditure in vitro[7], which could in theory promote weight loss. Indeed, human clinical trials have shown significant reductions in the body mass index[8] (BMI), total fat levels[9], and waist circumferences[10] of obese participants.

ALA has been demonstrated to have potent anti-oxidative properties through many different mechanisms. ALA, and its reduced form dihydrolipoic acid (DHLA), are potent antioxidants[11] that can quench free radicals by readily donating electrons to reactive oxygen species. Furthermore, both ALA and DHLA can chelate[12] (bind and render inactive) redox-active metals such as zinc, lead, and copper, which can accumulate and result in oxidative damage. Interestingly, DHLA can restore antioxidants such as vitamin C and E[13], while ALA has been shown to restore glutathione[14] concentrations within the cell. ALA plays a critical role in stimulating glutathione synthesis, which itself has powerful antioxidant properties.

With all things considered, ALA has a substantial list of proposed pharmacotherapeutic and prophylactic anti-aging properties. However, long term use in humans has not been adequately researched, and it’s typically only used as a therapeutic agent. One example of this was a two-year study[15] of administering a daily dose of 600 mg ALA as a treatment for diabetes. This publication reported no adverse effects when evaluating neuropathic outcomes (pain, burning, numbness, etc). There were also no reports of ALA-induced toxicity in a two-year rodent study[16] that focused on gross parameters such as body weight, behavior, and clinical and haematological markers. Therefore, the purpose of this new study was to analyze the effects of short-term versus long-term intake of ALA in healthy mice with a focus on liver health and hepatic lipid metabolism.

ALA is reported to be a potent antioxidant that is a safe prophylactic treatment for the amelioration of chronic lifestyle diseases. In addition, ALA is sometimes recommended for helping to lower BMI and fat mass in obese subjects who are are prescribed exercise and a reduced calorie diet.

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