Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is a powerful antioxidant that is currently being tested for its ability to treat a wide range of health problems. One of the areas of the body that is thought to be most likely to benefit from ALA supplementation is the brain. Animal studies have demonstrated that brain functioning can be improved and also that brain damage and deterioration can be lessened by treatment with alpha lipoic acid. Many clinical trials are currently underway to determine whether these findings are also applicable to humans.
The main reason for ALA’s success in treating brain conditions is that, unlike some other antioxidants, it has the ability to easily pass into the brain and, thereby, neutralize the free radicals that are the root cause of many problems. For example, a 2001 study of nine Alzheimer’s patients found that supplementation with ALA for 12 months resulted in a decrease in oxidative stress which led to a stabilization of cognitive function.
ALA supplementation has been shown to give a protective affect to brain and nerve tissue that undergoes trauma such as a stroke. Animals that were supplemented with alpha lipoic acid were found to have a greater chance of survival and less brain damage after a stroke than those that were not supplemented.
Aging generally leads to the deterioration of many bodily processes, not the least of which is brain functioning. Glucose has been linked to this deterioration due to its ability to react with some proteins, causing them to become less functional. Restricting calories is one way to reduce this process, but a 1997 study found that alpha lipoic acid, because of its important role in glucose metabolism, was also able to reduce the reaction.
Alpha lipoic acid has also been found to work synergistically with other compounds, especially acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC), to improve brain functioning in aged rats. Supplemented aged rats were found to perform as well as younger rats in memory and other tasks. Several mechanisms are thought to be involved, including the repair of oxidative damage to mitochondria and improved energy production. These exciting results have yet to be verified by long-term human trials.