18 May 2007

Alpha Lipoic Acid--An Old Friend Receives New Attention

Alpha lipoic acid has been shown to be a useful health supplement for over ten years. I have personally followed Lester Packer's research on ALA for a dozen years. Now, scientists at the Linus Pauling Institute are belatedly acknowledging what most of us have known all along--alpha lipoic acid shows a lot of promise.
"The evidence suggests that lipoic acid is actually a low-level stressor that turns on the basic cellular defenses of the body, including some of those that naturally decline with age," said Tory Hagen, an LPI researcher and associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics at OSU. "In particular, it tends to restore levels of glutathione, a protective antioxidant and detoxification compound, to those of a young animal. It also acts as a strong anti-inflammatory agent, which is relevant to many degenerative diseases."

Researchers at LPI are studying vitamins, dietary approaches and micronutrients that may be implicated in the aging or degenerative disease process, and say that lipoic acid appears to be one of those with the most compelling promise. It's normally found at low levels in green leafy vegetables, but can also be taken as a supplement.

...."Our studies have shown that mice supplemented with lipoic acid have a cognitive ability, behavior, and genetic expression of almost 100 detoxification and antioxidant genes that are comparable to that of young animals," Hagen said. "They aren't just living longer, they are living better – and that's the goal we're after."

What the OSU researchers now believe is that the role of lipoic acid is not so much a direct one to benefit cells, but rather an indirect aid that "kick starts" declining function in cells and helps them recover the functions that came more easily and naturally in young animals.

In various effects, lipoic acid appears to help restore a cellular "signaling" process that tends to break down in older blood vessels. It reduces mitochondrial decay in cells, which is closely linked to the symptoms of aging. With age, glutathione levels naturally decline, making older animals more susceptible to both free radicals and other environmental toxins – but lipoic acid can restore glutathione function to near normal. And the expression and function of other genes seems to come back to life.

"We never really expected such a surprising range of benefits from one compound," Hagen said. "This is really unprecedented, and we're pretty excited about it."

They may be slow, but at least they are finally going public on ALA, at Linus Pauling.

The combination of alpha lipoic acid with acetyl L-Carnitine appears to help restore youthful function to aging mitochondria. This may eventually be useful in Alzheimer's Disease and other neurodegenerative conditions.

I was particularly disappointed in the Linus Pauling Institute for some of the statements they issued recently discouraging people from taking OTC flavonoids from plants. Based upon some rather pedestrian research dealing with the detectable anti-oxidant activity of several plant flavonoids, the LPI went fairly overboard in discouraging the public from taking these supplements.

Although the LPI admitted that bioflavonoids appeared to be beneficial in reducing M/M in heart disease and cancer, the overall message appeared to be: "They're not as good antioxidants as they're supposed to be, so don't take them."

One expects journalists and social science professors to exhibit such lack of clear thinking, but not world-class bioscientists.

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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