Read This Before Taking Alpha-Lipoic Acid

Health supplements have long been considered a game-changer for those wanting to live a more vigorous lifestyle. With a growing number of social media influencers, celebrities, and fitness experts advocating their intake, the popularity of products such as biotin, vitamin D, and fish oil have skyrocketed. One specific supplement gaining a lot of attention for its potential health benefits is alpha-lipoic acid (also known as lipoic acid or ALA). This organic, sulfur-containing compound, which has flown largely under the radar since its discovery in 1937, is naturally produced in our bodies and operates on a cellular level, where it predominantly turns blood sugar (glucose) into energy. It can also be found in foods and supplements.

As a synthetic supplement, ALA has been grabbing attention for its stress-reducing properties, its ability to combat inflammation, and its potential to enhance weight loss. It is also identified as an antioxidant – a certain type of compound that prohibits the spread of potentially cancer-causing free radicals. Impressive, right? Sure, but here's what you need to know before you incorporate alpha-lipoic acid into your life.

Alpha-lipoic acid may help treat these conditions

Alpha-lipoic acid is being revered by some health experts for its potential to treat underlying issues associated with a multitude of diseases.

According to a 2012 study published in the International Journal of Endocrinology, the compound can tackle neuropathic pain in patients with diabetes. This is considered especially groundbreaking because the usual treatments for neuropathy, which consist of antidepressants, anti-epileptics, and opioids, are "limited in their effectiveness, have considerable side effects, and have no effect on the processes by which hyperglycemia leads to cell damage," the scientific article notes.

Another study from 2011 hinted that ALA may help prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes by positively affecting insulin resistance in pre-diabetic adults.

For those suffering from HIV and acquired immune deficiency syndrome, ALA intake has been shown to help restore the body's blood total glutathione levels – a powerful endogenous antioxidant critical in maintaining a healthy immune system. 

Furthermore, ALA has shown promising, albeit mild, results in battling obesity — a disease that plagues 35% of adults and 17% of children in the United States. In fact, a study conducted at Yale University in 2017, asserted that regular doses of ALA supplements (ranging from 300 to 1,800 mg) helped yield an average weight loss of 2.8 pounds compared to the placebo group.

Learn the benefits & potential side-effects of ALA

Additional research purports that alpha-lipoic acid contains potential "anti-aging" properties that protect against radiation damage. This may be why so many popular cosmetic and skincare companies are now offering products containing ALA, which they market as healing to sun-damaged skin, per Healthline.

The compound can also reportedly deliver energy instantly or conveniently store it in the body for future use due to its low solubility in both water and fat. According to Psychology Today, "ALA improves energy production within the cell's mitochondria, aka the 'power house.' This energy role may be one of the mechanisms involved in reducing dementia symptoms."

As a supplement, ALA can be taken in capsule form or applied topically and is generally considered safe. Still, some common side effects may include headache, muscle ache, skin rash, or a pins-and-needles sensation. These mild reactions are typically relieved once treatment is discontinued. ALA supplements can impact glucose levels or potentially interact with other medications, so it's important to check with your doctor before taking any supplement or mixing medications, especially if you're pregnant or nursing. When it comes to children, pediatric medical experts warn that "there is no reported dose of safety for alpha lipoic acid in children" and ALA intoxication "may lead to intractable convulsions and also death," so do not introduce this supplement to your children.