You may have heard of Alpha-Lipoic Acid before, even if you’re not that interested in nootropics.
ALA has an impressive list of health benefits.
It can improve your skin, prevent heart disease, and help with neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s.
ALA is a very potent antioxidant, and has the ability to rejuvenate other anti-inflammatory agents as well.
This makes it a very valuable micronutrient for conditions that are related to any kind of free radical damage, like diabetes.
Alpha-Lipoic Acid also accelerates energy metabolism, and increases neurotransmitter levels in the brain.
It’s generally considered good for improving mental energy, memory, focus, learning ability, and boosting our mood.
But is this enough for us to consider ALA a nootropic?
Or is it really just a very useful health supplement?
Let’s find out more…
What is Alpha-Lipoic Acid? – Is it Brain Food?
ALA is a fatty acid, which means it’s both water and fat soluble.
It’s naturally occurring in the body, and easily crosses the blood-brain barrier.
Foods that are rich in alpha-lipoic acid include broccoli, spinach, beef, liver, kidney, yeast, and potatoes.
Unfortunately, the amount of ALA in the body tends to decline as we age.
Research has also revealed that supplementing with it has been found to provide a lot of health benefits for older folks.
Yep. ALA is now found in anti-aging formulas, multivitamin supplements; even dog food.
Which begs the question: If lipoic acid has all these different uses, are there different types?
And if so, are some forms more effective than others?
What type of lipoic acid do you want to have in your supplements?
R-Lipoic Acid vs S-Lipoic Acid – What’s the Difference?
There are 2 forms of alpha-lipoic acid in most of the supplements on the market, usually in a 50/50 mix.
R-Alpha-Lipoic Acid – is the natural form of ALA found in our bodies, and in foods.
S-Alpha-Lipoic Acid – is the ‘synthetic’ form of ALA first created in 1951.
R-ALA and S-ALA are actually mirror images of each another at the molecular level, or ‘enantiomers’.
You could think of them as being siblings.
The funny thing is, that small difference means they react very differently once they come into contact with other molecules in the body.
R-ALA has all kinds of benefits for human health, but S-ALA does almost nothing by comparison.
The twist here is that if R-ALA is left on a shelf for too long, it breaks down very quickly, rendering it useless.
However, when R-ALA is mixed with S-ALA, the R-ALA remains stable long enough to be offered as a supplement.
That’s why most products that have ‘Alpha-Lipoic Acid’ on the label actually contain a 50/50 mix of R-ALA and S-ALA.
Keep in mind, R-ALA is about 12 times as effective for improving human health as S-ALA.
It’s also possible to make blends that have more R-ALA than S-ALA, but it’s time consuming and expensive.
So now that you’re aware of the differences between R-ALA and S-ALA, what does ALA do to improve human health and cognition?
Alpha-Lipoic Acid Benefits – The List Goes on! And on! And on…
There are so many advantages to taking ALA as a supplement that I thought it would be a good idea to break this commentary up into smaller chunks.
So without further ado, let’s get into it, shall we?
1) Alpha-Lipoic Acid as an Antioxidant – The ‘One-Two Punch’!
ALA is a very powerful antioxidant because it delivers what I call a ‘1-2 punch’.
Alpha-lipoic acid helps protect our cells in 2 ways:
- Acts as an Antioxidant
- Recharges other Antioxidants
Oxidation of our cells can result in inflamed tissues, caused by free radicals.
What are free radicals?
Free radicals are molecules that have unpaired electrons, and are desperate to hand them off.
Think of playing the game, ‘Hot Potato’.
Anybody with the hot potato tries to toss it to the next player to avoid burning their hands.
Unpaired electrons are like a hot potato, and if they successfully form a chemical bond with an essential structure like DNA, RNA, or certain proteins, they can cause genetic mutation.
Yes, free radicals and oxidation can lead to cellular damage that can cause inflammation of our bodily tissues, or even full blown cancer.
Luckily, there are antioxidants like ALA that cruise around our bodies like microscopic sharks, devouring free radicals to render them harmless.
The great thing about ALA is that when it comes into contact with other antioxidants, it ‘recharges’ them by taking away any free radicals they’ve already soaked up.
Vitamin C, vitamin E, glutathione, and aceytyl l-carnitine (ALCAR), can all be rejuvenated by coming into contact with ALA.
Preventing cellular damage in this way is one of the reasons ALA can be an effective treatment for heart disease, diabetes, neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s, and even better skin.
This is an awesome advantage, but it’s not all that ALA does…
Alpha-Lipoic Acid for Energy – How does it Work?
ALA also increases energy levels by supporting the mitochondria.
What are mitochondria?
Mitochondria are tiny organelles that live symbiotically inside all of our cells.
You could think of them as very helpful stowaways on a pirate ship.
They take raw energy sources like glucose and fats, and convert them into usable energy. Pretty important stuff!
In fact, if we didn’t have mitochondria, life on Earth couldn’t exist.
And when the mitochondria in our cells are healthy, our overall vitality improves, and vice versa.
Naturally, any micronutrient that supports the mitochondria increases our energy levels, especially organs that are ‘energy hogs’.
This includes the heart, liver, and yes, you guessed it, the brain.
These organs are all LOADED with mitochondria so they can keep up with their own energy demands.
Long story short, when the mitochondria are burning glucose for energy, ALA facilitates the chemical reactions necessary, making them happen faster and more efficiently.
This translates to enhanced energy metabolism, or cellular respiration throughout the entire body, including our neurons.
That’s why supplementing with ALA can slow down the aging process, provide more mental energy, physical endurance, and even boost our mood.
It’s hard to be grumpy when your mind and body are both optimized!
Which brings us to our next topic of discussion.
How does ALA improve cognition?
Alpha-Lipoic Acid for Memory – What can it do?
In addition to protecting brain cells from free radicals, and accelerating their metabolism of glucose, ALA increases the production of acetylcholine.
Acetylcholine was the first neurotransmitter ever discovered, and it plays several key roles in improving cognition.
Increasing ACh levels in the brain is closely associated with improvements in memory, learning, and reasoning skills.
Research has also shown that ALA improves the function of neurotransmitter receptors in the brain.
And not just for acetylcholine.
Dopamine, Seratonin, and Norepinephrine have all been shown to be more effective with regular ALA supplementation.
ALA has even been shown to reverse memory loss due to age related conditions.
Memory loss from neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and dementia is often closely associated with the formation of amyloid plaques, or fatty deposits, on the surface of neurons.
ALA breaks up these gunky deposits, allowing the receptor sites to function properly again.
Speaking of age-related decline, I think we should at least mention why ALA is considered by many to be a ‘Longevity Vitamin’.
It’s pretty cool, if you ask me…
Alpha-Lipoic Acid for Anti-Aging – Can it Turn Back the Clock?
I’ve already mentioned how ALA protects our cells from oxidation, and improves our overall vitality by supporting mitochondria.
But does ALA’s ability to slow down the aging process go deeper than that?
Yes, it actually does.
I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard of ‘telomeres’ before, but essentially they’re special structures that cover the ends of our DNA strands to prevent them from unraveling.
Think of the caps we put on the ends of our shoelaces, if that helps.
Research has shown that telomeres get shorter with age, and that when they do, health impairments can start to develop.
The fascinating thing about ALA is that it can actually lengthen telomeres!
I’ve never heard of any other micronutrient with this unique ability, so I think that’s pretty exciting!
That means that ALA can actually slow down the aging process at the cellular level!
You don’t come across a supplement like that every day!
Alpha-Lipoic Acid and Acetyl L-Carnitine – The Dynamic Duo!
ALA and ALCAR make a great team.
Kind of like chocolate and peanut butter, they just go better together!
When taken in combination, ALCAR feeds fat to mitochondria for energy, and soaks up free radicals.
ALA helps the mitochondria process glucose, and recharges ALCAR to allow it to continue working.
Essentially, ALA and ALCAR perform better together than if taken on their own.
That’s why a lot of supplements on the market have ALA and ALCAR pre-mixed for you.
So now that we have a good idea of what alpha-lipoic acid can do for us, how can we use it for best results?
How much is enough?
Alpha-Lipoic Acid Dosage – Recommendations for Best Results
The recommended dosage for alpha-lipoic acid is 50-600 mg/day.
That’s a pretty wide range, but most people see significant benefits at around the 200-300 mg/day mark.
We suggest taking ALA on an empty stomach. You should take it at least 1 hour before eating for best results.
The more common 50/50 blends of R-ALA and S-ALA are fine, but if you can find a supplement with a higher ratio of R-ALA in it, that should prove to be more effective for you.
We also recommend taking ALA with ALCAR, because they compliment each other really well.
The best supplement I know of that meets all of these criteria is Performance Lab Energy. Check out my full review to find out more.
That being said, you might want to know about any possible allergic reactions or cautions regarding the use of ALA.
Alpha-Lipoic Acid Side Effects – Is it Safe?
ALA is naturally present in the body, and generally well tolerated by most people.
However, our sensitivities are as unique as our body chemistry, and some individuals have experienced:
- Skin Rashes
Alpha-lipoic acid also speeds up the metabolism of glucose, so it can lower blood sugar levels.
People who are diabetic or hypoglycemic should talk to their doctor before taking ALA as a supplement.
ALA can lower thyroid hormone levels, so anyone with a thyroid condition needs to consult with their doctor as well.
Certain nutrients have been shown to degrade or lose effectiveness in the presence of alpha-lipoic acid.
Vitamin B1, for example, breaks down in the presence of ALA, and biotin loses its’ bioavailability.
Taking a multivitamin along with ALA might be a good idea to avoid any deficiencies.
Apart from these concerns, ALA is quite safe.
So here we are, the end of the road. Let’s wrap things up, shall we?
Is Alpha-Lipoic Acid a Nootropic? – Final Comments
There’s no doubt that ALA has tons of benefits to human health.
As an antioxidant, it packs an awesome 1-2 punch!
It can soak up free radicals on its’ own, and can rejuvenate other antioxidants to recycle them.
ALA boosts energy levels by accelerating glucose metabolism in the mitochondria, and supporting ALCAR so it can burn fats more efficiently.
Finally, it improves cognition by facilitating the synthesis of more acetylcholine in the brain.
These effects as a whole result in:
- Increased Mental Energy
- Better Memory
- Enhanced Focus
- Improved Learning Ability
- Elevated Mood
So is alpha-lipoic acid a nootropic?
The basic definition of a nootropic is any substance that can improve cognitive function with little or no side effects.
We know ALA is naturally occurring in our bodies, and people rarely experience negative side effects when supplementing with it.
Considering this is the case, yes, I think ALA can be considered a bona fide nootropic. It meets all the criteria.
So who should take alpha-lipoic acid for its’ nootropic effects?
I would say anyone that wants more energy, focus, and better cognition can benefit from ALA.
If you also happen to be looking for a nootropic that can slow down the aging process, and make your skin look better, then ALA is definitely for you.
All right, that’s about all I wanted to share with you today about alpha-lipoic acid. I hope you found this article helpful.
If you have any questions about ALA, just post a comment below, and I’ll get back to you right away.
In my next article, I’ll be talking about the many benefits of sleep for better brain health.
I think it could turn your world around, so don’t miss it!
See you there!