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Lipoic Acid Leads the Pack of Antioxidants that Protect Youth and Slow Aging

by Barbara Minton

(NaturalNews) Evidence abounds that lipoic acid may be protective of every organ in the body. Among the latest findings are that lipoic acid is a powerful protector of the brain. It has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and neuro-protective capabilities that make if effective in slowing the aging of the brain and treating Alzheimer's disease. Other recent research shows that lipoic acid prevents the development and progression of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and protects retina ganglion.

Lipoic acid (LA) , also known as alpha-lipoic acid and R-lipoic acid, is a sulfur containing fatty acid that's found inside every cell of plant and animal bodies. It helps generate the energy that keeps the organism alive and functioning. It's a key part of metabolic machinery, turning glucose (blood sugar) into energy for the body's needs.

Lipoic acid is a broad spectrum antioxidant,

The antioxidant capabilities of LA are legendary. It neutralizes many free radicals generated by metabolic processes as well as those produced by the body in response to environmental insults. But unlike other antioxidants, which work only in water or fatty tissues, LA works in both water and fat. As a comparison, vitamin E works only in fat, and vitamin C works only in water. This ability makes LA a broad spectrum antioxidant that has been shown to offer protection for the eyes, nerves, kidneys, heart and pancreas. In addition, LA may be able to do the work of other antioxidants when the body is deficient in them. LA can get into all parts of a nerve cell thanks to its combined fat and water solubility. Future research may determine that LA exerts its antioxidant protection on all cells in the body, making it a highly significant factor in inhibiting the aging process.

Lipoic acid is a powerful protector of the brain

LA serves as a chelator of redox-active metal ions, such as free iron and copper, that can induce oxidative damage by catalyzing reactions that generate highly reactive free radicals. It's able to bind with these ions and escort them out of the body, inhibiting aging and reducing the possibility for neurodegenerative disorders.

In a study published in Redox Report, researchers monitored iron content in the cerebral cortex of rats and found that in 24-28 month old rats, levels were increased by 80% relative to 3 month old rats. Iron accumulation correlated with a decline in glutathione, one of the body's major antioxidants, indicating that iron alters antioxidant capacity in aged animals. They monitored whether supplementing LA could lower cortical iron and improve antioxidant status. Results showed that cerebral iron levels in the old rats supplemented with LA were lower when compared to controls and were similar to levels seen in young rats. Antioxidant status also improved markedly in the old rats verses the controls. These results support the conclusions that LA supplementation lowers the oxidative stress associated with aging.

LA was shown to have a variety of properties that can interfere with or inhibit cognitive decline in a study reported in Advanced Drug Delivery Review. Researchers looking for a therapeutic for Alzheimer's disease determined that LA increased acetylcholine production (a neurotransmitter) and down regulated the expression of pro-inflammatory proteins. They suggested that one large dose rather than more frequent low doses would be beneficial for delivery of LA to the brain. They also suggested that LA could be combined with such nutraceuticals as curcumin (from turmeric), EGCG (from green tea), and DHA (from fish oil) to synergistically decrease oxidative stress, inflammation, and plaque in the brain.

Researchers evaluated the neurotoxic effects of an induced poison and the protective potential of LA and vitamin E against this toxicity in a study reported in Journal of Neurological Science. The LA, vitamin E treatment significantly increased the level of glutathione, GABA and serotonin levels in the whole brain as well as in the regions of the olfactory lobe, cerebrum, hippocampus-hypothalamus, cerebellum and pons-medulla. This is quite a demonstration of the actions of these compounds in protecting the brain from environmental toxic assault.

Progressive Brain Research reported a study in which researchers hypothesized that since the death of retina ganglion cells (cells that help carry the visual message to the brain) in glaucoma is mediated by cellular energy insufficiency, agents targeted specifically at enhancing ganglion cell energy production would be beneficial for patients with glaucoma. They suggested that ganglion cell death in glaucoma follows a similar pathophysiology as numerous neurological disorders involving energy dysregulation and oxidative stress. Enhancing cellular energy production would slow down ganglion cell death and benefit glaucoma patients. Based on their laboratory studies, they recommended LA along with other nutrients (creatine, nicotinamide, and EGCG from green tea) to increase energy in the mitrochrondria of the ganglion. According to the researchers, the recommended nutrients counteract oxidative stress induced by light and other triggers, and are worthy of use in treatment as they can be taken orally to reach the retina without side effects.

Lipoic acid improves glucose utilization and prevents fatty liver

LA can get into all parts of a nerve cell thanks to its combined fat and water solubility. Since it is thought that nerve diseases are at least partially caused by free radical damage, LA is being studied for its potential benefit in treating diabetic neuropathy. It is already approved for such treatment in Germany. There is also evidence that LA can improve glucose utilization in individuals with diabetes.

Fatty liver is a common problem in people with insulin resistance. A study reported in the journal Hepatology found that LA prevents fatty liver disease through multiple mechanisms, and suggests that it can be used to stop the progression of the disease.

Researchers are discovering more amazing benefits of lipoic acid against aging

The Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University is the site of much investigation into LA. Researchers there see aging as an inevitable process resulting from adverse changes in the body. While people are generally resigned to eventual death, there is a universal desire to maintain health and avoid degenerative disease.

Two research projects currently underway seek to define the mechanisms of mitochrondrial decay in the aging heart and elucidate the mechanisms leading to increased vulnerability to oxidative insults that result in aging.

The mitochondria is the furnace or power plant of the cell which converts food into energy to be used by the body. Mitochondria play major roles in calcium homeostasis and regulate programmed cell death and tissue renewal. Any impairment in mitochondrial function has significant consequences to the cell. Mitochondria become severely impaired with age, resulting in high levels of free radicals that continually damage it and other important parts of the cell such as DNA. This leads to a vicious downward spiral in overall cell function.

Researchers are examining the affect of mitochondrial decay on age-related loss of cardiac function, the leading cause of death in the elderly. They have identified compounds normally found in cells that decline markedly with age but can be replaced by dietary supplementation. They term these compounds 'age-essential' micronutrients and have shown that two of these compounds, acetyl-L-carnitine and LA, when fed to rats, significantly improve mitochondrial function and reduce many of the signs of aging. They are now determining whether these age-essentials can also improve overall human health.

Their other project involves study of the susceptibility of the body to a variety of oxidative insults. They have found that glutathione, a major cellular detoxicant, declines substantially with age. This loss is due to age-dependent lessening of activity and levels of gamma-glutamylcysteine ligase (GCL), the rate-controlling enzyme for glutathione synthesis. GCL expression is controlled by a transcription factor that becomes dysregulated with age, resulting in loss of GCL expression and potentially many of the nearly 400 other detoxification enzymes controlled by this transcription factor.

They have found that treatment with LA re-regulates these factors, thereby increasing glutathione levels and the ability to withstand oxidative insult. Their ongoing research is aimed at defining the exact mechanisms of these actions.

Using Lipoic acid supplements

Consumption of LA in foods has not yet been found to result in detectable increases of it in human plasma or cells. Supplemental doses of 50 mg. or more do result in significant but transient increases in plasma and cell levels. LA supplements should be taken on an empty stomach for better absorption.

Supplements of LA are widely available as alpha-lipoic acid, composed of a mixture of the naturally occurring R-lipoic acid with the synthetic form, S-lipoic acid, the molecular mirror image of R-lipoic acid. Alpha-lipoic acid is quite effective and inexpensive, but presents the body with a substance that does not occur in nature. As with any unnatural substance, the immune system will respond to it as a foreign invader. The liver will be required to deal with it as a toxicant, and the body may mount resistance to it.

R-lipoic acid is clearly the better choice and really doesn't cost that much more. It is available at the online retailers and through such nutrient boutiques as Wellness Resources.

If you plan to take only one antioxidant supplement, LA provides the greatest breadth of coverage in the body. It also serves as a foundation for other antioxidants that may be taken to target specific areas, and may fill in for them in the body when levels have run low.

Additional sources:

"Lipoic Acid", Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.

Tory M. Hagan, Ph.D. Principal Investigator and Jamieson Endowed Chair in Healthspan Research, Professor, Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.

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