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Our rates of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer outnumber other high-income countries around the world, and our life expectancy lags sorely behind.1 And this is true for all age and socioeconomic groups, contrary to popular belief that certain diseases just come with the territory as we age. In fact, there’s a consistent and pervasive pattern of higher mortality and inferior health in the United States, beginning at birth.2 According to a recent study by Blue Cross Blue Shield, even Millennials (born between 1981-1996), who make up the largest share of the U.S. population and labor force, are seeing their health decline faster than the previous generation of Gen-Xers (born between 1965- 1980). This extends to conditions such as hypertension, high cholesterol, and major depression. Without intervention, the study stated, Millennials could see mortality rates climb by more than 40 percent compared to Gen-Xers at the same age.3
So, what’s the solution? For starters, we all need to eat better. The Standard American Diet, comprised of processed foods, refined grain-based carbohydrates, and sugar, while sorely lacking in vegetables, is not doing us any favors (but that’s a topic for another day). Diet goes a long way in supporting optimal health, but there are also certain supplements that hold the potential to enhance whole body health. One of these is alpha-lipoic acid (ALA). It’s not going to solve any problems overnight, but, taken every day, ALA is one antioxidant that can benefit our health in BIG ways. Balance blood sugar levels, support a healthy weight and liver health, maintain optimal brain health and mental sharpness, alleviate nerve discomfort, and—a hot topic these days—balance and strengthen immune system function, all with ALA.
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels, and often precedes full-blown type-2 diabetes. When these conditions occur together, they increase a person’s risk of heart disease, stroke, and type-2 diabetes.4 According to studies on ALA, this potent antioxidant has been shown to improve insulin resistance, lower blood pressure, and lead to weight loss.5 6 Studies have used 200-600 mg/day of ALA to correct the symptoms of metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance.7 8 9 10
A 2018 meta-analysis identified 20 randomized controlled trials that examined the effect of supplemental ALA on markers of glucose utilization in 1,245 subjects with metabolic disorders (not limited to type-2 diabetes). ALA (in doses of 200 to 1,800 mg/day for two weeks to one year), alone or together with other nutrients, was found to lower fasting blood glucose and insulin, reduce insulin resistance, and lower blood HbA1c concentration, a marker of glycemic control over the past few months.11 12
A 2006 study revealed the dramatic effects of supplementing with ALA in improving insulin sensitivity in overweight adults with type-2 diabetes. Oral supplementation with 600 mg of ALA, twice daily, produced significant improvements in only four weeks.13 14 A separate placebo-controlled study showed that ALA reduced blood glucose levels by 10 to 30 percent, effectively improving insulin function and reducing advanced glycation end products (AGEs), significant contributors to the aging process.15 16 17 AGEs are created in the body when excess blood glucose (sugar) binds to proteins, damaging body tissues and cells and also inducing inflammation and oxidation. They play a major role in the development or worsening of most major diseases, including type-2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and cardiovascular disease.18 19 20 21 22
ALA encourages healthy weight loss and weight maintenance by supporting energy production and metabolism. A 2018 metaanalysis of randomized, placebo-controlled trials found that ALA supplementation in those with a high body mass index (BMI) resulted in reductions in weight and BMI. Substantial weight and BMI reductions with ALA supplementation in overweight or obese subjects was also reported in a separate meta-analysis.23 24 25 26 Studies have used doses ranging from 300 mg/day to 1,800 mg/ day; one double-blind study showed promising results with just 300 mg of ALA daily, while two other double-blind studies examining ALA’s effect on weight loss in obese subjects found results with 1,800 mg per day.27 28 29
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a condition in which too much fat is stored in liver cells, has become the most common cause of chronic liver disease in the developed world and can be caused by obesity, type-2 diabetes, and eating poorly (especially foods containing high-fructose corn syrup). If left untreated, it can lead to cirrhosis, or hardening of the liver.30 ALA has been shown to protect the liver in cases of NAFLD by reducing inflammation and oxidative damage in the liver. It also supports liver health by regenerating glutathione—the body’s master antioxidant—which is synthesized in the liver and plays a key role in detoxification and supporting general liver health. Studies investigating ALA’s effect on NAFLD have used 1,200 mg of ALA daily. 31 32 33 34
ALA readily crosses the blood-brain barrier and is easily taken up by brain cells, where it neutralizes the damaging effects of oxidative stress and improves energy production in the brain, thereby supporting healthy brain aging, mental sharpness, and reducing the symptoms of dementia.35 Studies indicate that ALA is effective for neurological and cognitive support and helps maintain memory and mental sharpness throughout the lifespan.36 37ALA may also help guard against one of the most dreaded diseases associated with aging—Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Scientists believe that ALA may increase the production of acetylcholine, an essential nervous system messenger that is deficient in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.38In one study, 600 mg/day given to AD patients for 12 months resulted in a stabilization of cognitive functions 39 Animal studies have shown that ALA supplementation reduced brain damage after a stroke and that those animals who received ALA had a survival rate three times greater than those that did not. 40 41 Studies have also shown that ALA is able to improve motor-impairment symptoms related to Parkinson’s disease, a major neurodegenerative disorder that leads to a variety of motor disturbances caused by degeneration of dopaminergic neurons in the brain.42 43
Up to 50 percent of diabetic patients develop peripheral neuropathy, a type of nerve damage that results in pain, loss of sensation, and weakness, particularly in the lower extremities. Studies show that 600 mg/day of ALA alleviates nerve pain and improves peripheral neuropathy in diabetic patients, significantly improving quality of life. It’s proven to be so effective that it’s approved in Germany as a treatment for the disorder. 44 45 ALA also promotes nerve regeneration. In an animal model of severe nerve injury (crushed sciatica), treatment with ALA for 30 days lead to regeneration of nerve fibers and myelin sheath, and reduced inflammation.46
Mounting evidence suggests that ALA might have immunomodulatory effects on both the adaptive and innate immune systems by providing the necessary back-up support to all immune cells. Specifically, ALA suppresses production of the inflammatory cytokine TNF alpha, it restores and improves normal function to immune system cells like natural killer cells, and regulates the body’s immune system response to certain viruses, including the common cold and flu viruses. It’s also been shown to inhibit the replication of HIV.47 48 49 50 51 52 53
Italian and British researchers investigated the effects of ALA on taste impairment from an unknown cause in 44 patients ranging from 18–67 years old. The treatment regimen consisted of 200 mg of ALA three times daily (600 mg/day) for 60 days. At the end of the trial period, 46 percent of the ALA group reported that they had completely regained their sense of taste, while 27 percent reported “decided improvement.” Ninety-one percent reported at least some improvement with ALA supplementation.54 55 A separate study investigated the effects of ALA on those ages 22–79 who had loss of smell following a viral respiratory infection. All patients received the same treatment—600 mg/day of ALA for an average of 4.5 months—and all were subjected to standardized olfactory tests before and after the treatment period. Following treatment with ALA, most showed significant improvement in their ability to detect and distinguish odors. Twenty-six percent exhibited moderate improvement over the study period, while 35 percent showed “remarkable improvement.”56 57 58
Studies also show that ALA is beneficial in certain autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and multiple sclerosis (MS).59 In animal models of MS, where damage occurs to the myelin sheath— the protective fatty coating around nerve fibers—ALA has been shown to reduce inflammation and degeneration of the optic nerve and spinal cord. A human study of MS patients found that 1,200 mg of ALA daily for two years reduced brain tissue loss and improved the subjects’ walking speed. 60 61 With its ten proven health-supportive benefits, the only thing you have to lose by not taking ALA is good standing in your own health. It’s important to note that the body only makes sufficient amounts of ALA for basic metabolic functions, like energy metabolism, and that the full antioxidant benefits of ALA are only achieved when it is present in greater amounts.62 63 Dietary supplements of ALA provide optimal amounts so that we can experience the full range of benefits of this unique nutrient. Be well on your way today, with ALA!
Being rooted in health starts with a healthy diet. But what constitutes a healthy diet? There are so many diet trends and “experts” telling us how to eat, but it really comes down to this: Aim to eat as many organic vegetables as possible, add reasonable amounts of healthy fats, like olive oil, coconut oil, and organic or grassfed butter, and protein (humanely-raised and sustainablyproduced and/or grassfed whenever possible), while reducing the amount of grain-based refined carbs and vegetable oils you eat. Two of the underpinnings of the Standard American Diet (SAD) are refined carbohydrates, including sugar, and vegetable oils like corn and soy. One way to avoid these is to avoid highly processed foods, which usually contain both refined carbs and unhealthy oils. The start of a new year is a great time to make an appointment with your local Nutritional Health Coach (NHC) to give you the guidance you need on your journey to be rooted in health!