Exploring the Health Benefits of Lipoic Acid

By Michael A. Smith, MD

Since the 1980s, Life Extension has been educating people on the benefits of eating a wide variety of antioxidants from a wide variety of sources. Unfortunately, because of the poor conditions of our soil, many of our favorite fruits and vegetables simply do not carry the same nutritional punch that they did a few decades ago.

What does this mean to you? First and foremost, it means that you need to supplement daily with a variety of antioxidants. One of the most important for your health is lipoic acid, and below we’ll take an in-depth look at this very unique antioxidant.

What Makes Lipoic Acid So Unique?

Widely known as a potent and effective antioxidant, lipoic acid demonstrates a multitude of health benefits directly related to its chemical structure. While most antioxidants are either water-loving or fat-loving, lipoic acid is actually both.

Unlike vitamins C and E, which are confined to water and fat environments respectively, lipoic acid can scavenge free radicals and reduce oxidative stress in both environments. The distinctive chemical structure of lipoic acid is what makes it one of the most powerful antioxidants found in nature.

The body makes lipoic acid although in very small amounts. Food is also not an abundant source of the antioxidant. Unfortunately, very little lipoic acid is contained in the following foods:

  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Peas
  • Brewer's yeast
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Rice bran
  • Organ meats
Supplementation with lipoic acid is probably the best route for benefitting from its unique properties since the amount found in food is so low.

Lipoic Acid Protects Against Oxidative Stress

One of the leading theories of aging is called oxidative stress, which describes the build-up of free radicals over time. Free radicals are highly reactive compounds that are generated from our environment, our diet, and even from our normal metabolic processes. These compounds react violently with critical body proteins, important cellular fats, and even DNA. Lipoic acid helps prevent this damage by neutralizing free radicals and reducing oxidative stress.1

But wait, there’s more. Not only is lipoic acid active in both water and fat, it also regenerates other antioxidants like vitamins C, E and CoQ10.2,3 This makes it the veritable workhorse of antioxidants. It scavenges free radicals and helps other antioxidants do the same.

There’s yet another reason to supplement with lipoic acid: It works synergistically with B-vitamins. The result of this “tag-team” effort is enhanced carbohydrate metabolism for healthier energy production throughout the body. Lipoic acid does this by helping to protect mitochondria, the cell’s powerhouses, from oxidative damage.

Probably the most crucial relationship to highlight is the one between lipoic acid and glutathione — one of the most potent antioxidants in the human body. Glutathione inhibits the activity of nuclear factor-kappa beta (NF-kappaB), a pro-inflammatory transcription factor. In one animal study, lipoic acid increased glutathione levels significantly, particularly in the lungs, liver and kidneys.4

Lipoic Acid and Metabolic Syndrome & Diabetes

Overwhelming evidence now suggests that lipoic acid may play a role in protecting against metabolic syndrome — a constellation of risk factors that often precedes full-blown type 2 diabetes. According to an exhaustive review of experimental studies, lipoic acid reduces blood pressure, reverses insulin resistance, improves lipid profiles, and improves weight.5

Another study showed dramatic effects of administering lipoic acid in improving insulin sensitivity in overweight adults with type 2 diabetes. Lipoic acid produced significant improvements in weight and insulin sensitivity after just four weeks of supplementation.6 The results of this study may have important implications in treating metabolic syndrome and diabetes moving forward.

Choosing the Right Lipoic Acid

Alpha-lipoic acid is what’s commonly sold in most vitamin stores. It is a 50:50 mixture of two forms of lipoic acid, called S and R. The R-form is what’s active in the body. For this reason, we feel that it’s probably better to go with a product that is 100% R-lipoic acid.

Lipoic acid offers unique antioxidant properties that just can’t be found in other vitamins or minerals. For this reason, you should probably consider adding R-lipoic acid to your regimen today.

Are you supplementing with lipoic acid yourself? If not, will you consider it now that you’ve read this post? Please let us know in the comments.


  1. Curr Drug Targets. 2005 Jun;6(4):503-9.
  2. Free Radic Biol Med. 2002;33(1):83-93.
  3. Arch Biochem Biophys. 1998;349(2):281-289.
  4. Wien Klin Wochenschr. 2000 Jul 28;112(14):610-6.
  5. Expert Opin Investig Drugs. 2007 Mar;16(3):291-302.
  6. Hormones (Athens). 2006 Oct-Dec;5(4):251-8.


HCG said...

That's a great information on lipoic acid.I never knew that it even helps in reducing acid signs. I would definitely give it a try.

Life Extension said...

HCG, no doubt that lipoic acid is one of the more underutilized antioxidants. We believe it should be included in your daily supplement regimen.

Anonymous said...

It is claimed that the R-form is the active type, but in reality little is known about the chemical details of how this (or any other supplement) actually works in the body. Even though all life naturally utilizes just one of the stereo-isomers (right and left) of molecules that come in two mirror images, it cannot be ruled out that in some cases the other isomer also contributes to some of the noted benefits.
I think it is safer to consume a 50:50 mix, and double the dose to ensure a full amount of both isomers are present. If it is correct that the R-form is the only active isomer, then my approach does no harm. If that assumption is not correct, then my approach will provide the full spectrum of benefits.
What do you think?

By the way: the user experience of posting a comment is not very intuitive. There is no feedback message displayed to indicate whether the posting attempt was successful or not. Please upgrade your website interaction in this regard.

Life Extension said...

Anonymous, thanks for your insightful question. And we agree with you that alpha-lipoic acid is both safe and effective. But it's effectiveness comes from the biologically active isomer, R-lipoic acid. Based on our understanding of organic chemistry, there's no activity of the S isomer. Please let us know if you find information that supports your theory of some "S" activity. We would love to see the research and further discuss the issue with you!

beth said...

Wow, after reading this I can understand why supplementing with lipoic acid is important. Especially as one gets older while at the same time wanting to look youthful, it sounds like this supplement can help a multitude of health functions. Thanks for the great information!

Cora said...

I take LEF Two a Day. Is there enough Lipoic Acid or do I need to add anothr supplement?

hcg1234 said...

The last, and most inefficient, method to calculate body fat is to take measurements of various parts of the body with a measuring tape and then plugging them into an equation along with your weight. Unfortunately, there are several body fat calculators and each uses a different equation. Also, this method is poor because there is no way the measuring tape can distinguish between muscle and fat. Use this method only as a way of noting a difference in inches, not actual body fat change. Thanks a lot.

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