Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA)
What is alpha-lipoic acid?
Alpha-lipoic acid (also known as ALA) is a synthetic version of lipoic acid, a naturally occurring compound produced in the body and synthesized by both plants and animals. This antioxidant , alpha-lipoic acid, is vital to cellular energy production, and helps to neutralize the damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are chemical byproducts produced during the process of oxidation that converts nutrients to cellular energy. As they oxidize, these compounds can become highly reactive and harmful to the cell, distorting its vital components and reducing its metabolic efficiency. While the body can naturally manufacture enough alpha-lipoic acid for metabolic functions, supplementing can allow more optimal levels to circulate in a free state.
Why is alpha-lipoic acid necessary?
As a dietary supplement, alpha-lipoic acid benefits appear to include helping increase insulin sensitivity, and may be especially useful in addressing metabolic syndrome. In addition, alpha-lipoic acid works with other antioxidants to help neutralize free radicals and reduce cellular damage. Alpha-lipoic acid also acts as a synergist with B vitamins to help in the production of energy from the proteins, carbohydrates and fats consumed through foods. Researchers have investigated the use of alpha-lipoic acid in the treatment of diabetic neuropathy, liver ailments and glaucoma. It may improve memory via its protective effects on brain and nerve tissue.
What are the signs of an alpha-lipoic acid deficiency?
Because lipoic acid works synergistically with many other nutrients, deficiency symptoms for this substance alone are difficult to characterize or diagnose. A true deficiency can mimic the general symptoms of inadequate antioxidant activity, including weakened immune function, decreased muscle mass and memory problems.
How much, and what kind of alpha-lipoic acid, does an adult need?
Currently there are no established daily doses for supplementation. However, oral alpha-lipoic acid is reported to be well tolerated in doses up to 600 milligrams per day, and 200-300 mg a day is frequently used in Europe as a therapeutic adjunct in treating diabetic neuropathy. As a general antioxidant, a dosage of 20 to 50 mg daily is commonly recommended. Alpha-lipoic acid can be purchased in dosages ranging 30 mg to 100 mg tablets. Talk with your doctor about how much alpha-lipoic acid you should take, and follow package directions.
How do you get enough alpha-lipoic acid from foods?
Lipoic acid is present in both plants and animals and is an integral component of the photosynthetic process of chloroplasts. Very small quantities of lipoic acid are contained in food sources such as spinach.
Are there any risks associated with too much alpha-lipoic acid?
Alpha-lipoic acid is very safe at commonly recommended dosages. The Physicians Desk Reference reports no known contraindications and no reports of overdosage. However, some evidence suggests that high doses of alpha-lipoic acid may contribute to thiamin deficiency. Minor side effects may include allergic reactions such as itching or hives, headache, muscle cramps and skin rash.
Are there any other special considerations with alpha-lipoic acid?
Persons undergoing chemotherapy, and those with diabetes or taking anti-diabetes drugs should check with their doctor before taking alpha-lipoic acid or any other supplement. Pregnant and lactating women are advised not to consume alpha-lipoic acid, due to a lack of long-term safety data.
Updated by: Andrew Weil, M.D., and Brian Becker, M.D., on Sept. 7, 2012
Are you getting the supplements you need?
Everyone's dietary needs are different based on a number of factors including lifestyle, diet, medications and more. To find out which supplements are right for you, take the Weil Vitamin Advisor. This 3-step questionnaire requires just minutes to complete, and generates a free, no-obligation vitamin and nutritional supplement recommendation that is personalized to meet your unique nutritional needs.
Ask Dr. Weil
Ask Dr. Weil Home
Ask Your Question
Top 50 Most Popular Q&As
Health Centers Home
Condition Care Guide
Bone & Joint Health
Colds & Flu
Supplements & Herbs
Supplements & Herbs Home
Dr. Weil's Balanced Living
Balanced Living Home
Meet Andrew Weil
Dr. Weil Event Calendar
The Healthy Kitchen
Exercise & Fitness
Spirit & Inspiration
Pets & Pet Care
Videos & Features
Videos & Features Home
Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid
Head to Toe Wellness Guide
Flipbooks (Online Magazines)
About Weil Lifestyle
Science Advisory Board
Organizations & Nonprofits
Dr. Weil's Health Network
Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine
Dr. Weil's Daily Blog
Dr. Weil on the Huffington Post
Dr. Weil Product Sites
Dr. Weil Products
Dr Weil on Healthy Aging
Dr. Weil's 8 Week Plan
Weil Information (print order site)
Member Account Page
For the Press
Advertising Kit (pdf)
Dr. Weil Events