There’s one antioxidant that’s so important in helping boost the brain’s health, many enthusiasts call it a “universal antioxidant.” In fact, more than 20 years ago this particular supplement was one of the first to be identified and recommended by alternative doctors as a way to combat dementia.
This potent antioxidant is alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), a fatty acid that’s found in every cell. The body uses it to covert blood sugar (glucose) into energy.
Besides neutralizing free radicals, it’s been shown to increase the production of acetylcholine, a brain chemical that’s a key component of memory.1
ALA Brings Inactive Antioxidants Back to Life
ALA is called a “universal antioxidant” because, unlike others, it’s fat and water soluble. This means it can protect both lipid (fatty) and aqueous (watery) cells.
Whereas vitamin C is limited to aqueous cells and vitamin E to lipid cells, ALA works “universally” throughout the body to wage war on free radicals everywhere and neutralize them.
Besides that, alpha-lipoic acid has the ability to restore other oxidized (deactivated) forms of antioxidants, including vitamins C and E, and bring them back to life. Normally, C and E neutralize one free radical and they’re done. A reaction with ALA recycles them so they can go back to work and neutralize another free radical.
When free radicals are neutralized and inactive antioxidants are restored, memory function can improve.
According to a report published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, researchers gave ALA daily to older mice (18 months old) for two weeks. At the end of the study, Susan A. Farr, the study’s lead author concluded, “Our results indicate that alpha-lipoic acid improves memory and reverses indications of oxidative stress in extremely old mice.”
Since 18 months is old age for mice, the study suggests that even more advanced dementia can be reversed by ALA.2
Because diabetes is an important risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, a study evaluated the effect of ALA treatment on cognitive performance in 126 patients with Alzheimer’s. The researchers divided the patients into two groups—group A had Alzheimer’s and diabetes; group B had Alzheimer’s only. All participants were given 600-mg of ALA a day.3
At the end of the study, cognitive function scores showed a significant improvement in 43% of group A and 23% of group B when compared to their performance at the start of the study.
An article in the journal Pharmacology & Therapeutics says “lipoic acid has been shown to have a variety of properties which can interfere with pathogenic principles of Alzheimer’s disease” – including increasing acetylcholine production, removing metals that promote free radicals, reducing inflammation, and more.4
Two Types of ALA Supplements Available
If you’re considering taking an alpha lipoic acid supplement, two types are found in health food stores and online. One is R-alpha-lipoic acid (R-ALA) and the other is S-alpha-lipoic acid (S-ALA).
R-ALA is the form found naturally in the body and S-ALA is a synthetic byproduct created during the production of ALA. When selecting a supplement, be sure to look for 100% R-ALA; otherwise you’re probably getting a mixture. Studies suggest the naturally occurring form is more bioavailable.
If you’d like to get alpha-lipoic acid in the food you eat, it’s found in red and organ meats such as liver, kidney and heart. Dark leafy greens, broccoli, peas, brussels sprouts, spinach, collard greens and brewer’s yeast also contain ALA in smaller amounts.5
Evidence from clinical trials suggests ALA is generally safe for healthy individuals.6 But since testing of alpha-lipoic acid has not yet been done on pregnant women and nursing mothers, these individuals are advised to avoid using it until more information is available.7
Overall, ALA’s antioxidant properties seem to have a positive effect on those with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of memory decline.
- Lab studies yield mixed results on alpha-lipoic acid, a potential memory booster.
- Effect of alpha-lipoic acid on memory, oxidation, and lifespan in SAMP8 mice.
- The effect of lipoic acid therapy on cognitive functioning in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
- Lipoic acid as a novel treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Pharmacol Ther. 2007 Jan;113(1):154-64.
- Lipoic acid.
- Alpha lipoic acid.
- Alpha-lipoic acid.