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Does Alpha-Lipoic Acid Boost Fat Loss?

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Successful weight loss requires planning, hard work and relentless motivation. Regular exercise and a well-balanced, healthy diet is key for reaching your goals.

The addition of a good-quality supplement can help you achieve your desired weight effectively too – but not all supplements are built the same so researching the right one for you is important.

Whilst some nutrients are well evidenced and guaranteed to help you reach your goals, others are less researched and sold on claims and empty promises.

In this article we’ll take a look at alpha-lipoic acid and give you the low down on its ability to help you lose weight. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • What is ALA?
  • What do the studies say – can it help you lose weight?

What is Alpha-Lipoic Acid?

Alpha-Lipoic Acid (α-lipoic acid, or simply ALA) is an antioxidant co-enzyme that is important for proper aerobic metabolism. Otherwise known as thiotic acid, this naturally occurring fatty acid compound regulates the chemical reactions that allow energy to be created within specialist components of cells called mitochondria.

Responsible for controlling the metabolism of carbs, proteins and fats for cellular energy within the Kreb’s cycle – a series of chemical reactions that allow the body to use oxygen to produce energy – ALA is often referred to as a ‘universal antioxidant’. The reason for this is that it can reach all parts of a cell due to it being both water and fat soluble. This is unlike other antioxidant nutrients which tend to be either water or fat soluble and are therefore restricted to certain tissue types.

It is naturally found in dark green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli, as well as green peas and tomatoes. But where you’ll really maximize ALA content is in organ meats – kidney, heart and brain are all fantastic sources. When taken in by the body, this compound transiently accumulates in body tissue ready to be used when needed.

Because of its ability to bathe cells, it is unsurprising that this antioxidant has been researched for its potential health benefits. To date it has been used in the treatment of high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular health, chronic fatigue and bone health amongst other illnesses. It has also been used in anti-aging creams, although evidence of its effects in this context are limited.

According to a one review study, alpha-lipoic acid has become a popular ingredient in multivitamin formulas based on its active compound content [1]. The proposed mechanisms of action are that it potentially suppresses appetite and secondly that it can increase energy expenditure.

But what do the studies say and do they back up these claims? 



Key Point: Alpha-lipoic acid is a fatty acid with antioxidant properties. It regulates how energy is used in specialized parts of the cell called mitochondria.


Can ALA Increase Fat Burning?

The first thing that becomes apparent with this supplement is that whilst it is well evidenced for its health benefits, it is understudied in its ability to burn fat.

Some animal studies have found that ALA can inhibit the production of an enzyme called 5’-adenosine monophosphate kinase (AMPK) in the brain. This particular enzyme is responsible for activating appetite when cells are low on energy and regulating fat oxidation. It is suggested that by inhibiting AMPK, ALA can lead to weight loss [2].

Studies limited studies that are available are promising but somewhat conflicting. The go to study when people are wanting to report the benefits of ALA is from the American Journal of Medicine [3]. In the study, a high dose of 1,800mg per day for 20 weeks was found to help a group of obese subjects lose a small but significant amount of weight in comparison to those using a placebo. A lower dose of 1,200mg per day was found to be insignificant and made no difference to weight loss.

Whilst this study sounds promising, a deeper look at the research shows that whilst the placebo group lost 2 lbs in 20 weeks, the ALA group lost 6 lbs – but that’s not a massive amount more – and only half of that was from fat. Over a 20-week period, you’d be expecting to lose more than 3 lbs of fat! Bear in mind as well that this study used obese subjects, who by their nature should lose weight quickly.

A study published in Current Pharmaceutical Design [4] found that when a group of obese and overweight volunteers were given a much lower dose of 800mg per day of ALA over a 4-month period, body weight reduced by 8%. On top of that, both waist circumferences and body mass index decreased.

This was a large scale study of over 1000 people, however the study was conducted ‘non-blind’ meaning both the volunteers and the researchers knew which participants were receiving ALA and which were receiving the placebo. Non-blinded studies are often confounded with bias and unreliable results though [5], so these results need to be taken with caution. 

Other than these two studies, the only research available at present comes from animal studies. Whilst the reliability of these can’t necessarily be ruled out, human research is much more valid.

We recommend approaching this supplement with caution until more human research becomes available. 



Key Point: Alpha-lipoic acid is a promising but understudied nutrient. It appears to enhance weight loss at very high doses, but at present there isn’t enough research to say so with confidence.


Summary

Alpha-lipoic acid is a fatty acid co-enzyme with antioxidant properties. It has been used to treat a number of illnesses such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and chronic fatigue. It is soluble in both water and fat, therefore can bathe and all cells. It is responsible for regulating cellular energy within the Kreb’s cycle.

Research linking ALA to weight loss benefits is limited, although the human research available may be promising. At present, this supplement is understudied, however may help users lose weight at high doses.


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References

  1. Petersen Shay, K et al. Alpha-lipoic acid as a dietary supplement: Molecular mechanisms and therapeutic potential. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2009; 1790(10): 1149–1160
  2. Kim, MS et al. Anti-obesity effects of alpha-lipoic acid mediated by suppression of hypothalamic AMP-activated protein kinase. Nat Med. 2004; 10(7): 727-33
  3. Koh, EH et al. Effects of alpha-lipoic Acid on body weight in obese subjects. Am J Med. 2011; 124(1): 85. e1-8
  4. Carbonelli, MG et al. Alpha-lipoic acid supplementation: a tool for obesity therapy? Curr Pharm Des. 2010; 16(7): 840-6
  5. Hróbjartsson, A et al. Bias due to lack of patient blinding in clinical trials. A systematic review of trials randomizing patients to blind and nonblind sub-studies. Int. J. Epidemiol. 2014; 43(4): 1272-1283


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