Among antioxidants, alpha lipoic acid is unique because it is both fat and water soluble. This means it can work in more areas of the body than other antioxidants that either dissolve in water like Vitamin C or are absorbed into fat like Vitamin E. Alpha lipoic acid has another important role through increasing the recycling of other antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, glutathione, and coenzyme Q10. We need antioxidants to protect our cells from damaging molecules known as free radicals. When antioxidants neutralize free radicals, they have to be recharged before they can act again. By acting as an antioxidant and recycling other antioxidants, alpha lipoic acid can help keep our bodies functioning properly and help prevent degenerative diseases, especially those affecting the nerves.
Alpha lipoic acid has gained a reputation for protecting the nervous system by preventing damage to the nerves from free radicals and other reactive oxygen molecules. It also seems to support healthy microcirculation around the nerves so that nerves, including those in the brain, can be properly nourished. There is some evidence that alpha lipoic acid may even help with regeneration of nervous tissues in certain cases by supporting sufficient energy production in the cells. Alpha lipoic acid has been studied most extensively for peripheral neuropathy due to diabetes, where the elevated blood sugar and reduced circulation causes nerve damage with diminished or abnormal sensation in the hands and feet. Diabetics may also benefit from alpha lipoic acid because it appears to help increase the body’s response to insulin. Alpha lipoic acid is also used to help protect the optic nerve in glaucoma. Alpha lipoic acid was also been shown to reduce migraine frequency and severity in a small study. This benefit may be due to alpha lipoic acid’s ability to improve blood vessel function rather than its neuroprotective actions.