Lipoic Acid Rejuvenates Aging Antioxidant Defenses in Brain and Heart
Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist
Acceleration of the aging process is invariably associated with increased free radical damage, which is associated with inflammation and weakening antioxidant defense systems. A number of new studies show that R-alpha lipoic acid can rejuvenate these faltering antioxidant defense systems, and help protect your brain, cardiovascular system, and even assist individuals with poor thyroid function.
Your body’s ability to correctly produce energy is a vital foundation to good health. Humans have a unique ability to crank out large amounts of energy, a main reason why we have evolved further than any other mammal. This high horsepower comes at a cost, however, as free radicals are produced during the normal production of energy. In health, your cellular antioxidants trap these free radicals and prevent damage – similar to how a fireplace screen prevents sparks from flying out of the fireplace and setting your house on fire.
As you age this process becomes inefficient. You begin to make increased numbers of free radicals and less energy. Now the sparks jump out of the fireplace and induce damage. Your brain/nerve cells and your heart/circulation are particularly vulnerable to damage, as both systems require large amounts of energy to function properly. Such free radical damage has a snowballing effect, eventually it leads to significant cognitive decline and/or cardiovascular problems.
Your cellular engines are called mitochondria. A new study in the mitochondria of aged rat hearts shows that as energy efficiency declines and free radicals increase, a compound called ceramide builds up due to excessive cellular inflammation; this is a form of trash that further interferes with energy production. The study showed that supplemental R-alpha lipoic acid1 prevented the improper buildup of ceramide, restored the primary cellular antioxidant system to youthful (cellular glutathione) levels, and normalized cellular energy production.
Another recent study compared the circulatory antioxidant status2 between old rats (22-24 months) and young rats (3-4 months). The older rats had higher levels of NF-kappaB-driven inflammation, and depressed antioxidant function, along with an increase in “stickiness factors” that are known to induce plaque accumulation in the arteries. Supplemental R-alpha lipoic acid was able to ameliorate these imbalances in old rats, making them more youthful.
Patients with subclinical hypothyroid are known to have reduced blood flow. In this human study patients with subclincal hypothyroid3 were given lipoic acid for three weeks. The research showed that their blood flow improved while at the same time the amount of free radical damage in their circulation decreased.
Collectively, these three studies show that lipoic acid is highly protective to cardiovascular well-being and has a rejuvenating effect on age-related decline.
Too much friction in our brains leads to injured brain cells and the accumulation of brain tangles – the hallmark of cognitive decline. This is called excitotoxic damage and comes in many sizes and shapes, including as a result of too much stress. When such excitotoxic damage occurs free radicals increase and brain energy is compromised.
One model for studying this problem is to expose the brain or nerve cells to methamphetamine, a major excitotoxic and neurotoxic compound. Researchers have now demonstrated that methamphetamine disturbs energy production in brain cells while inducing dramatic free radical damage. They showed that lipoic acid4 could stop these adverse effects of methamphetamine exposure while maintaining the production of brain dopamine levels. In aging, the drop in dopamine is associated with Parkinson’s disease. In earlier life the drop in dopamine causes a lack of drive, and proneness to any type of addiction.
Researchers throughout the world often test R-alpha lipoic acid along with acetyl-l-carnitine because both have rejuvenating effects on mitochondria. I previously reported on these nutrients being used to reverse energy decline5 in brain cells – the anti-aging effect.
A newer study on this topic shows that they have significantly less antioxidant function and increased free radical damage, along with declining ability to produce energy. Using a combination of R-alpha lipoic acid and acetyl-l-carnitine6 energy-producing function was significantly improved toward that of young rats while reducing free radical damage.
It is well known that gene alterations in ApoE4 increase the risk for plaque brain tangles and Alzheimer’s disease. ApoE4 animals show early injury to all types of brain cells due to mitochondrial dysfunction. Feeding these animals R-alpha lipoic acid and Acetyl l carnitine improved their cognitive function7.
This ever expanding body of research shows that R-alpha lipoic acid has a rejuvenating influence on cellular energy production while reducing free radical damage. Systems in your body that are energy intense, such as your brain and heart, are likely to have an anti-aging effect from R-alpha lipoic acid due to the high level of protection this nutrient offers.
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