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Alpha Lipoic Acid: The Workhorse Antioxidant

Published September 15, 2015

antioxidant supplement

By Dr. Bryan Warner

Being able to regenerate a failing liver and save a patient from certain death sounds like a remarkable medical triumph, right? Well, not exactly.

Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) was discovered only 60 years ago, and, by the mid-1970s, its amazing healing properties were still largely unknown. However, when a Cleveland doctor, acting on a suggestion from a colleague, successfully used it to regrow liver tissue and rescue his patient from a death sentence, you might have expected that to change. But nope. His hospital’s administration refused to acknowledge it as a legitimate treatment and told him not to do it again.

The reason? ALA wasn’t “an approved drug.” It wasn’t on their formulary. And, more to the point, they resented having their instruction to withhold treatment proven wrong.

Undissuaded, Dr. Burt Berkson kept on with his work. Eventually, he and Dr. Fred Bartter wrote a paper describing how they used ALA alone to treat patients previously diagnosed with terminal liver disease. The ALA stimulated stem cells and generated growth of new organ tissue in an astonishing 75 out of 79 patients. But still, they failed to stir interest in the United States.

Big Pharma, which provides most of the funding for pharmaceutical research, wasn’t interested in a cure using a natural substance that couldn’t be patented (no profit potential). And conventional doctors, set in their ways, weren’t open to something new.

Ultimately Drs. Berkson and Bartter went to Europe, published their paper and presented their findings at the prestigious Max Planck Institute.

Later, Dr. Berkson used ALA to treat a woman’s pancreatic cancer that had metastasized to the liver. Within five months, all signs of cancer had disappeared. Other successes followed ― with diabetes, heart disease, aging and more. In successive years, ALA research vastly expanded, and today, it is widely recognized as the powerful, unique “jack-of-all-trades” antioxidant, capable of effectively treating an amazingly broad spectrum of conditions.

The Mitochondrial Connection

We literally owe our lives to ALA. Mitochondria, often compared to tiny batteries, are the powerhouses of cells throughout our bodies. They take the energy in the food we eat and convert it into energy that we must have to function in our daily lives. And it’s here that ALA plays a critical role.

In this process, the energy in food is first turned into glucose ― a simple type of sugar. The glucose then has to enter the mitochondrion. But it can’t do it without ALA. If there’s no ALA, there’s no energy. And without energy, there’s no life.

ALA is also a potent defense against aging. Free radicals are molecules that contain uneven numbers of electrons. They’re highly unstable and continually try to steal electrons from other molecules, causing a chain reaction of destruction known as oxidative stress. This process ― which occurs in our bodies every hour of every day ― can damage our mitochondria, resulting in accelerated aging and such degenerative diseases as diabetes, cancer, heart disease and cognitive impairment.

Of all antioxidants, ALA is one of the most powerful, the longest-acting and the most versatile. And research has shown that, in combination with acetyl-L-carnitine, it can reverse mitochondrial degeneration.

ALA is entirely unique in that it’s both water-soluble (hydrophilic) and fat-soluble (lipophilic). As a result, it can traverse the blood/brain barrier to fuel your brain with energy. It can move freely throughout your body’s cellular membranes to combat free radical damage in your heart, your kidneys, your liver, your bones or anywhere else that it’s needed.

A Boost for Key Antioxidants

ALA is unique in another way. It’s the Energizer Bunny of antioxidants, regenerating other antioxidants such as glutathione, vitamins C and E, and coenzyme Q10 and restoring them to potency after they’ve been used up. This quality makes it valuable in treating heart disease, type 2 diabetes, neurological diseases and other conditions characterized by impaired energy and high oxidative stress.

Regeneration of glutathione, in particular, is important to combat free radical damage. Unfortunately, we produce increasingly smaller amounts of glutathione as we age, and diminished levels are associated with numerous disease states. Glutathione is especially significant for maintaining a healthy liver, which, in turn, is essential for overall good health.

Supplementing with glutathione has many challenges, but you can easily supplement with ALA, which provides the building blocks for glutathione.

Relief for Type 2 Diabetics

ALA has become an important part of treatment for people with type 2 diabetes. Because it mimics insulin, it enhances insulin sensitivity. It helps overcome insulin resistance and establish an insulin level that allows normal glucose and amino acid metabolism

Metabolic syndrome consists of several risk factors that frequently precede the onset of type 2 diabetes. Thus far, ALA has proven effective in helping metabolic syndrome patients control their blood pressure, lose weight, reduce insulin resistance and improve their lipid profile.

People with full-blown type 2 diabetes commonly suffer from peripheral neuropathy ― that is, nerve damage caused by chronically high blood sugar that results in numbness, burning and/or pain in feet, legs or hands. It’s a complication that has stubbornly resisted treatment, but ALA has been used to treat peripheral neuropathy in Germany with dramatic success. A number of studies have confirmed that ALA can be safely used to alleviate peripheral neuropathy pain.

Help With Brain Function

ALA is the only free radical scavenger that can get into your brain ― a fact which makes it potentially useful in combating a number of neurodegenerative disorders.

For example, early studies of ALA used to treat Alzheimer’s disease have been encouraging. Some researchers think that free radicals and oxidative stress may be responsible for degenerative cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s, and ALA’s ability to knock out oxidation appears to make it particularly well-suited to slow progression of the disease.

It may also offer hope for treating Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s patients prematurely experience a significant reduction in their ability to produce glutathione. ALA’s ability to stimulate glutathione holds promise for preserving mitochondrial function and preventing cell death.

And It Doesn’t Stop There . . .

In addition to all the above, ALA also:

When used with low-dose naltrexone (LDN), ALA can successfully treat:

And then there’s cancer. For the most part, oncologists still rely on their old playbook of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation to treat cancer ― after the diagnosis. But there are natural options, including ALA.

Studies have shown that ALA can protect cancer patients against chemotherapy-induced neurotoxicity. But we also know that cancer begins with genetic or mitochondrial damage, and we know that ALA is a powerful antioxidant that can stop free radicals, support mitochondrial health and strengthen the immune system. Research increasingly offers evidence to support scientists’ belief that ALA may play an important role, not just in treating cancer but in preventing it.

Do You Have Enough ALA?

 Certainly you can get ALA from food, but it’s impossible to get an adequate amount from diet alone. In addition, we make less ALA as we age. For these reasons, I recommend supplementation with Orthomolecular Products’ Lipoic Acid at 300 mg, which we sell in our office. It’s the highest quality ALA product on the market.


Antonio, J. Reducing Aging Markers With Lipoic Acid. Life Extension Magazine. http://www.lifeextension. com/ Magazine/2008/6/Reducing-Aging-markers-With-Lipoic-Acid/Page-01?p=1. Published: June 2008. Accessed: September 9, 2015.

Euler, L. This Could Be the Supreme Antioxidant. Cancer Defeated. this-could-be-the-supreme-antioxidant/3288/. Accessed: September 8, 2015.

Life Extension Magazine. Lipoic Acid. nu_lipoic_acid/Page-01. Published: October 2007. Accessed: September 8, 2015.

Melli, G. et al, Alpha-lipoic acid prevents mitochondrial damage and neurotoxicity in experimental chemotherapy neuropathy. Experimental Neurology, Volume 214, Issue 2, December 2008, Pages 276–284. Accessed: September 10, 2015.

Mercola, J. Alpha Lipoic Acid Can Smash Insulin Resistance. sitesarticles/archive/2009/05/16/this-antioxidant-can-smash-insulin-resistance-and-autoimmune-disease.aspx. Published: May 16, 2009. Accessed: September 9, 2015.

Schopick, J. Burt Berkson, MD, PhD, Talks With Honest Medicine About His Work and Our Medical System: The Interview Transcribed. Honest Medicine. burt-berkson-md-phd-talks-with-honest-medicine-about-his-work-and-our-medical-system-the-interview-t.html. Accessed: September 8, 2015.


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