Answer: Perhaps, but it is good to know more about it first.

Lipoic acid is a naturally-occurring compound that is found in small amounts in food and is also synthesized in small amounts by humans. The amount of lipoic acid available in dietary supplements (200-600 mg) is likely as much as 1,000 times greater than the amount that could be obtained from the diet alone.

Lipoic acid shows promise as a dietary supplement for some people.
Lipoic acid shows promise as a dietary supplement for some people.

Taken as a dietary supplement, lipoic acid appears to act as a weak stress on the body—which, surprisingly, is a good thing. It is an example of a fascinating concept in medicine known as “hormesis,” which means to give a little bit of something bad in order to evoke something good. Think of lifting weights—it weakens muscles in the short term but the response over time is a healthier, stronger body.

In a similar fashion, lipoic acid launches a cascade of reactions that ultimately strengthens the body’s own defenses against toxins and harmful free radicals that damage cells and genetic material and increase the risk of chronic disease.

This mechanism of action was discovered in large part by researchers at the Linus Pauling Institute, but it is important to note that more trials in humans are needed to investigate lipoic acid’s role in supporting health.

What can be said conclusively about lipoic acid is that several human clinical trials have demonstrated its effectiveness in treating nerve damage among diabetic patients, when administered intravenously (in Germany it is approved for treatment of this condition, known as peripheral neuropathy).

But there is reason to hope for more health benefits from this compound. Recent findings from a human clinical trial conducted by the institute, in collaboration with Oregon Health & Science University, show that lipoic acid promoted modest weight loss among overweight women, compared with those who did not take it. In addition, lipoic acid supplementation lowered markers of inflammation and free-radical damage.

“These beneficial effects of lipoic acid are remarkably consistent with preclinical findings showing that lipoic acid inhibits weight gain, accelerates fat metabolism, lowers triglycerides, and exerts anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects in laboratory animals,” said Balz Frei, Ph.D., the trial’s principal investigator.

This accumulating evidence points to a possibly important future role for lipoic acid in preventing or treating obesity, heart disease, stroke, dementia, and other conditions.

Linus Pauling Institute principal investigator and Helen P. Rumbel Professor for Aging Research Tory Hagen, Ph.D., studies lipoic acid and recommends it as a dietary supplement, especially for older adults because the body becomes more inflamed and less resilient with age.

“I see very few downsides in taking lipoic acid for most people, except those prone to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or stomach upset,” said Hagen.

He says people should aim to take lipoic acid half an hour before a meal, if possible.

Bottom-line

Lipoic acid supplementation at moderate doses (less than 600 mg) appears to have few serious side-effects. Based on a growing body of clinical evidence, lipoic acid shows promise as a dietary supplement to support a variety of measures related to healthy aging. Talk with your doctor before taking this supplement, especially if you are on diabetes or thyroid medications, as lipoic acid may interfere with these drugs. If you decide to supplement with lipoic acid, the Linus Pauling Institute recommends older adults take a daily dose of 200-400 mg.

For more tips on healthy living and dietary supplements, check out the Linus Pauling Institute’s Rx for HealthYou can also find more in-depth information on lipoic acid in the institute’s Micronutrient Information Center.

 

This column originally appeared in the Fall 2016 edition of Oregon Stater, OSU’s alumni magazine, and was reprinted in LPI’s Fall/Winter 2016 Research Newsletter

 

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2 thoughts on “Q: I’m in my 50s.  Should I consider taking a lipoic acid supplement?

  1. I have tried taking ALA 200 mgs on several occasions. Each time I got severe heartburn. Very infrequently experience any heartburn. Any thoughts on why that would happen?. Is that a side effect of it?

    Thanks for the article.

    Alan Kornbluh

    Reply
    • Alan, heartburn is a very common side-effect after taking a lipoic acid supplement. It is often recommended that if you find yourself getting heartburn taking lipoic acid alone, you should make sure you eat something before you take the lipoic acid supplement. If you have been trying to take lipoic acid with food already and are still getting heartburn, you have a few options left: You can divide the dose up so that you don’t take so much at once, you can try taking an antacid with the lipoic acid, or you can look for a supplement with a different formulation that might not dissolve as fast in your stomach.

      If these do not diminish the severity of the symptoms, than it may not be possible to reduce the heartburn at all with lipoic acid. In this case, you’ll have to decide if continued supplementation is right for you.

      Reply

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