12 health benefits of alpha-lipoic acid

This antioxidant can help to improve everything from skin appearance to brain function

Superfoods are touted for their health benefits because they’re jam-packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. You’ve likely heard about the power of vitamin C and vitamin E, but one just as potent antioxidant that is made in your very own mitochondria is alpha-lipoic acid.

“Alpha-lipoic acid is an antioxidant, a type of nutrient that has the ability to protect cells from damage,” explains Sony Sherpa, MD, a holistic physician from Nature’s Rise. “Although it occurs naturally in our bodies and can be found in foods like spinach, red meat, broccoli, and potatoes, taking supplements containing alpha-lipoic acid can provide additional health benefits.”

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12 health benefits of alpha-lipoic acid

Because of its powerful antioxidant properties, there are numerous benefits to taking alpha-lipoic acid, sometimes referred to as ALA. Eating veggies, red meat, or organ meat or taking a dietary supplement are a few ways to add this antioxidant to your diet.

Before discussing the benefits of alpha-lipoic acid, it’s important to note that sometimes it can be confused with alpha-linolenic acid because they have the same abbreviation. However, alpha-linolenic acid is an omega-3 fatty acid, not an antioxidant.

“Alpha-lipoic acid may help reduce inflammation, improve blood sugar control in Type 2 diabetes, and prevent certain kinds of nerve damage,” says Dr. Sherpa. “It is even thought to contribute to better skin health by reducing signs of aging like wrinkles and age spots due to its active role in supporting cell metabolism.” It’s fat-soluble and water-soluble, meaning it can work across your body to improve health.

Despite being one of the lesser-known antioxidants, alpha-lipoic acid can do some pretty impressive things for both men and women. Let’s dive in and learn more. 

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1. Improves blood sugar

“As an antioxidant, alpha-lipoic acid works to neutralize free radicals in the body, thus reducing inflammation,” says Nancy Mitchell, a registered nurse and a contributing writer at Assisted Living. “But it is also needed to assist in breaking down carbohydrates into glucose for energy.”

Several studies have found that alpha-lipoic acid can help prevent and treat diabetes by helping lower blood glucose, or blood sugar levels, and improving insulin sensitivity.  Alpha-lipoic acid also has insulin-mimetic properties, meaning it mimics the action of insulin, which could be helpful for some patients with diabetes and in turn, decrease diabetes complications. 

RELATED: 20 natural remedies for diabetes

In addition to diabetes care, alpha-lipoic acid can also help treat metabolic syndromes, a group of conditions including high blood pressure and insulin resistance, which can lead to Type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.

2. Reduces peripheral neuropathy

ALA can reduce free radicals that cause nerve damage in patients with peripheral neuropathy or diabetic neuropathy. It can help lessen the tingling sensation in diabetic patients with nerve damage. One systematic review found that neuropathy symptoms, like burning and tingling nerve pain, were reduced in participants with peripheral diabetic neuropathy when given alpha-lipoic acid. This research indicates ALA could be beneficial in diabetes care.

3. Protects brain function 

In a small pilot study of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, researchers found that participants with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease who took omega-3 fatty acids in addition to alpha-lipoic acid had slowed cognitive decline and functional decline. One review even stated that alpha-lipoic acid has “anti-dementia” properties because it increases the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.

4. Prevents glaucoma 

While studies are in their first stages, there have been some promising results in animal studies that look at glaucoma treatment with ALA supplementation. Mice that took alpha-lipoic acid were found to have less oxidative stress and retained more retinal ganglion cells. Further research and placebo-controlled clinical trials are needed to test the effects in humans.

5. Aids in liver disease treatment

While alpha-lipoic acid has had some promising results in treating liver disease during animal studies, more studies on humans are needed. One recent study looked at the effects of alpha-lipoic acid supplementation on liver enzymes in people with fatty liver disease and obesity. Researchers found an improvement in liver health as a result of the treatment, but it was not significantly different from the placebo group. 

However, there is some promising research for those requiring a liver transplant. In people who have been given a liver transplant, alpha-lipoic acid was found to reduce inflammation in grafts and protect against hypoxia (low levels of oxygen) and oxidative stress.

6. Promotes weight loss

Alpha-lipoic acid may help with weight loss. There have been positive results in studies looking at alpha-lipoic acid supplementation and weight loss. A 2015 study found that participants who took an ALA supplement alone or in combination with eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) experienced a significant amount of weight loss. However, the supplementation was taken in addition to a low-calorie diet. 

A meta-analysis of the literature reviewed ten randomized control trials testing alpha-lipoic acid’s effect on weight loss. Researchers compared the mean weight and BMI changes in people taking alpha-lipoic acid or a placebo. While the differences were small, researchers concluded that alpha-lipoic acid caused significant short-term weight loss compared to a placebo.

7. Lowers cholesterol 

More research is needed on alpha-lipoic acid’s ability to lower cholesterol, as many studies have been done on animals rather than humans. However, a study on obese rats, found that alpha-lipoic acid, in addition to phytosterol (a compound found in plants that has a similar structure to cholesterol), reduced cholesterol levels.

It’s important to note that a systematic review of 17 studies looking at alpha-lipoic acid’s effects on lowering cholesterol found considerable differences in results between trials—suggesting a need for better-controlled trials. More research must be performed to truly understand alpha-lipoic acid‘s benefits on cholesterol. 

8. Improves the appearance of skin

“In women, this powerful antioxidant has been proven to help reduce the signs of aging and helps keep the skin supple and healthy while helping to maintain healthy digestion and inflammation levels,” says Dr. Sherpa.

One study looked at the effects of alpha-lipoic acid on skin damage from smoking. The study found that alpha-lipoic acid had curative effects on cigarette-induced skin injuries in rats. Another study supported the benefits of alpha-lipoic acid on skin aging and found that alpha-lipoic acid had a positive effect on skin microcirculation in rats. Studies have also found that vitamin C, vitamin E, coenzyme Q10, alpha-lipoic acid, and glutathione all have anti-aging properties.

9. Reduces inflammation

“Besides these specific well-studied benefits, there is some evidence suggesting that ALA may help reduce inflammation throughout the body, which could benefit people suffering from autoimmune conditions,” Dr. Sherpa explains. 

While many animal studies reference alpha-lipoic acid’s anti-inflammatory properties, few studies have concrete data in humans. Supplementation with ALA and other treatments reduced inflammation from diet-induced obesity in mice, according to a study. 

RELATED: What’s the best diet for inflammation?

10. Decreases risk of heart disease

Alpha-lipoic acid is good for the heart and could benefit those with cardiovascular disease. “Studies have suggested that alpha-lipoic acid may reduce the risk of a number of cardiovascular issues by improving blood cholesterol levels, reducing stroke risk, and protecting endothelial cells,” says Dr. Sherpa. “Alpha-lipoic acid may even be beneficial in preventing age-related cardiac damage and reducing the severity of diabetic heart disease.”

11. Prevents migraines

According to one study, the severity and impact of migraines may be lessened by alpha-lipoic acid in addition to other treatments. Another study found that people with migraines and insulin resistance who took alpha-lipoic acid had fewer migraine attacks and required fewer days of treatment. 

12. Maintains bone density

One of the newly emerging areas of study for alpha-lipoic acid is its role in retaining bone density. Current data suggests it can protect against bone loss, but further studies are needed.

Alpha-lipoic acid side effects

Side effects from alpha-lipoic acid are usually minimal. However, when taken as a supplement—especially in high doses—side effects could include: 

  • Upset stomach
  • Diarrhea
  • Skin rash
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia

Dr. Sherpa went on to explain, “You may experience milder forms of these side effects when starting to take the supplement, and more extreme reactions may occur in individuals that are allergic or sensitive to alpha-lipoic acid.”

If you use alpha-lipoic acid on the skin as a cream, it is possible you may also experience a rash, especially for those with sensitive skin. Alpha-lipoic acid has also not been studied in women who are breastfeeding or pregnant, so be sure to first talk to your healthcare provider before taking this dietary supplement. 

Bottom line—Is alpha-lipoic acid healthy?

Alpha-lipoic acid is safe for most individuals when taken as a daily supplement. However, those with diabetes who take other antidiabetic medications should use it with caution because of its ability to lower blood sugar and increase the risk of hypoglycemia. Alpha-lipoic acid is best absorbed when there is no food in your stomach, and since one side effect can be insomnia, it’s best to take this supplement earlier in the day.

While there isn’t a certain percentage of alpha-lipoic acid you should add to your diet for health benefits, common dosages for alpha-lipoic acid supplements are between 300 mg to 600 mg daily.

If you plan on taking alpha-lipoic acid for health benefits, be sure to ask your healthcare provider for medical advice to ensure you can safely take this dietary supplement. It’s also a good idea to tell your healthcare provider about other medications and health conditions you may have.


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