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Name: Alpha lipoic acid, Thiotic acid, ALA
Goes well with: Fish oil, Omega 3s, Curcumin, ALCAR, Green tea catechins
Number of scientific references: 25
Level of Evidence: Level II What is this?
Note: Alpha lipoic acid as an antioxidant and neuroprotective agent counteracts age-related memory loss and cognition decline and also improves cognitive performance in Alzheimer’s.
It is particularly helpful in preventing memory problems and cognitive dysfunction as a result of metabolic disorders such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome. However, these findings still need to be validated by adequate clinical trials.
Dietary ALA can protect brain health, memory and cognition.
Memory is that function of our brain that encodes, stores and helps us retrieve information that we encounter in our daily lives whereas cognition helps us perceive and sense thoughts and experiences.
Both memory and cognition work hand in hand. From making the most basic life decisions to concentrating on our work, memory and cognition have an essential role to play. It is thus highly important to maintain good brain health.
Also known as the key to consciousness, deteriorating memory can take a toll on your health and lead to neurological disorders.
Scientists have come up with a lot of research pertaining to improving memory and cognition. A lot of this research revolves around incorporating certain essential components in our diet to help develop stronger memory and cognitive health.
Let us talk about one of these essential components, Alpha lipoic acid, which is present in majority of the foods we intake but are still unaware of its potential benefits.
Alpha Lipoic Acid protects memory by lowering oxidative stress in the brain. It is found to reduce age related memory loss and cognitive decline. ALA can help protect from memory and cognitive dysfunction in metabolic disorders; but more research is required to confirm these findings.
What is Alpha Lipoic Acid?
Alpha lipoic acid is a naturally occurring sulphur compound and an essential nutrient. It is present in most vegetables like spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, and carrots and in rice but in low amounts.
Table of Contents
- 1 What is Alpha Lipoic Acid?
- 2 Suggested Alpha Lipoic Acid Supplements For Memory
- 3 4 Potential Scientific Benefits Of Alpha Lipoic Acid For Memory
- 4 Dosage of Alpha Lipoic Acid For Memory
- 5 Precautions with Alpha Lipoic Acid Use
- 6 Conclusion
It is a crucial cofactor that mediates various essential biochemical pathways in the body. ALA is incorporated as an ingredient in multivitamin tablets, formulations that delay ageing, and even pet food.
Researchers are investigating the potential benefits of ALA in preventing cognitive dysfunctions and improving brain health.
Let’s go through some of the phenomenal benefits provided by ALA in improving memory and cognitive health when introduced in the diet.
Suggested Alpha Lipoic Acid Supplements For Memory
Please consult a health practitioner before taking any health supplements.
ALA is available as racemic mixture supplements or as stabilised R-ALA supplements.
Here is a short summary on ALA and R-ALA supplements:
- ALA racemic mixture (contains both R- and S- form) has been successfully used in clinical studies to halt cognitive decline in conditions like Alzheimer’s.
- R-ALA standalone is said to be more potent than S-ALA and may deliver effects equivalent to the racemic or conventional ALA at a lower dose.
- R-alpha lipoic acid is more bioavailable than S-Alpha Lipoic Acid but it is unstable.
- Presence of S-Alpha Lipoic Acid in the racemic mixture improves the stability of the R-enatiomer.
- Stabilised R-Alpha Lipoic Acid is prepared in the form of sodium salt or cyclodextrin complex.
- Stabilised R-ALA supplements are more expensive than the racemic mixture.
The studies conducted to date have used the racemic form of ALA for memory and cognition. I have listed both the supplement forms below.
Alpha Lipoic Acid (Racemic mixture) supplements
These contain both R- and S- form of alpha lipoic acid. Start with small doses and increase gradually.
|Doctor’s Best Alpha Lipoic Acid
|Image Credit: Doctor’s Best, Inc.||It contains 600mg racemic mixture ALA. They are soy and gluten free, vegetarian capsules.
Dosage: 600mg per day
Buy from iHerb (Global)
Stabilised R-ALA supplements
The stabilised form of R-Alpha Lipoic Acid available in the market today is Bio-Enhanced® R-Lipoic Acid developed by Geronova Research, Inc.(Buy from Amazon).
It is a sodium salt of Alpha Lipoic Acid.
Here are a few dietary supplements that contain Bio-Enhanced® R-Lipoic Acid.
Some may contain additional vitamins, so please read the complete ingredient list of the supplement before purchasing.
Dosage: 300mg or Follow manufacturer’s dosage
|Thorne Research R-Lipoic Acid||Doctor’s Best Stabilized R-Lipoic Acid|
Image Credit:Thorne Research, Inc.
Image Credit: Doctor’s Best
|It contains 300mg R-Lipoic Acid packed in vegetarian capsules.||It contains 100mg R-Lipoic Acid packed in vegetarian capsules.|
4 Potential Scientific Benefits Of Alpha Lipoic Acid For Memory
Here are a few potential ways by which Alpha lipoic acid may reverse memory loss.
This is because as we age our brain becomes more susceptible to damage caused by oxidative stress and this increases the risks of neurodegenerative disorders. 
Alpha Lipoic Acid as a dietary supplement has shown promising effects on reversing memory loss associated with ageing due to its antioxidant benefits.
According to a research published in the Journal of Neurochemistry in 2003, Alpha lipoic acid was found to improve learning and memory by alleviating oxidative stress caused due to free radical species in animal models.
The study concluded the potential use of alpha lipoic acid, antioxidant as a therapeutic agent in cognitive dysfunction. 
Another study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s disease in 2012 revealed that ALA increased levels of antioxidant enzymes in animal models of ageing suffering from memory loss thereby reversing the oxidative damage and stress and improving memory.
However, the researchers also came across a striking discovery that showed reduced lifespan in the animal models. Effects of ALA on reducing lifespan are yet to be studied. 
Quick Gist: Alpha lipoic acid seems to be a promising dietary agent in fighting oxidative stress that deteriorates brain health and causes memory loss as a consequence of ageing.
It increases levels of antioxidant enzymes and scavenges the free radicals that lead to oxidative stress.
2. It protects from neurotoxicity
Neurotoxic agents like aluminium, arsenite and other metals cross the protective barrier lining the brain. 
On entering the brain they accumulate in the brain tissue thereby leading to impaired cognition and loss of memory.
A recent study published in Brain Research Bulletin demonstrated how alpha lipoic acid protects neurotoxicity in animal models.
Aluminium toxicity impairs the cholinergic (acetylcholine) system (acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that actively participates in the storage of memories) leading to memory defects.
ALA repairs this damage, enhances the activity of cholinergic system and improves memory. 
Radiation therapy for brain cancer involves radiation exposure at the site of the tumour or the entire organ.
Radiation effects are reversible however patients are still at a risk of cognitive impairment in the long term. 
Research studies show that although radiation therapy may not exhibit any side effects till as long as 6 months post-therapy, it can pose as a risk factor for impairing cognition in patients later in their life. 
An interesting study conducted by Manda et al. in 2007 on animal models revealed that Alpha Lipoic Acid pretreatment can counteract memory loss and cognitive impairment caused by radiation therapy. 
The researchers took the study forward and published another paper in 2008 in which they demonstrated that Alpha lipoic acid can protect from cognitive dysfunction and DNA damage occurring as result of exposure to space radiation. 
That seems like a good news for astronauts!
Apart from exposure to neurotoxins, conditions like sepsis may also affect brain function.
Sepsis is an infection that leads to excessive inflammation and oxidative stress and may cause long-term cognitive impairment.
Alpha lipoic acid lowers inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain and elevates the levels of nerve growth factor (proteins essential for growth and development of brain cells) to prevent sepsis-induced cognitive impairment. 
Quick Gist: ALA shows potential benefits in protecting the brain and nervous system from neurotoxins that can cause memory lapse and cognitive deficits.
It reduces sepsis (an infection), keeps the nerve cells intact in stressful conditions, prevents DNA damage, protects against oxidative stress and prevents memory loss.
3. Alpha Lipoic Acid protects cognition in neurological and neurodegenerative diseases
Patients with impaired memory as a consequence of neurological disorders are recommended daily exercise to improve memory and cognition.
A researched study published in International Journal of Molecular Medicine in 2010 investigated the effects of exercise and antioxidant, Alpha lipoic acid in the diet of the patients with Alzheimer’s disease. 
Results revealed that the combination therapy improved learning and strengthened memory power as compared to the untreated group.
The combination therapy also protected neuronal injury caused due to amyloid beta plaques.
Alzheimer’s disease is recently being referred to as type 3 diabetes.
Midlife insulin resistance or impairment of glucose metabolism increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other neurological conditions.
Researchers suggest that alpha lipoic acid can improve glucose metabolism and overcome the metabolic deficits occurring at early stages of Alzheimer’s. 
Fava and colleagues conducted a clinical trial to assess the effect of Alpha lipoic acid supplements on cognitive function of Alzheimer’s disease patients with or without diabetes. 
126 patients were enrolled in the study and treated with 600mg ALA per day for 16 months. 43% of the patients with Alzheimer’s and diabetes and 23% of the patients with Alzheimer’s but without diabetes experienced an improvement in cognition by the end of the study.
Alpha lipoic acid can act synergistically with other natural agents such as curcumin in turmeric, epigallocatechin gallate in green tea and docosahexaenoic acid in fish oil to reduce inflammation and protect brain health in Alzheimer’s.
Apart from Alzheimer’s, as per the findings of pre-clinical studies, ALA may also protect memory and cognition in patients with other neurological conditions like vascular dementia, epilepsy.  
Quick Gist: Alpha lipoic acid shows noteworthy benefits as a therapeutic agent for protecting from cognitive dysfunction and impaired memory in neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s.
Apart from lowering oxidative stress and offering neuroprotection, it may also protect memory function by restoring glucose and energy metabolism back to normal. Since glucose is the primary fuel for our brain, regulating its metabolism results in better protection of cognition.
4. It protects the metabolic health and lowers insulin resistance
An intriguing study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, 2012 reported that high-fat diets have a direct influence on the nervous system and make it vulnerable to cognitive impairment.
But alpha lipoic acid has the ability to protect against oxidative stress caused by consumption of high-fat foods. It is a strong anti-oxidant that prevents learning impairment. 
Insulin is a hormone that has an important role to play in memory and learning ability of an individual.
Because patients with diabetes have poor insulin function, the brain does not receive it in sufficient amounts to maintain its normal functioning leading to impaired memory and cognition, seen in neurological diseases. 
Targeting insulin resistance in diabetes can reduce the risk of developing neurological disorders and cognitive impairment.
Dietary ALA can mimic insulin and reverse insulin resistance in diabetes. 
Treatment with 300 mg of alpha lipoic acid daily for 2 months is found to lower fasting blood glucose levels and insulin resistance in the patients with diabetes. 
Impaired memory and cognition can also result from underlying cardiovascular diseases and impairment in metabolic pathways of the body.
Scientists suggest the importance of detecting metabolic syndromes beforehand to prevent impairment of memory and cognition. 
Manning et al. demonstrated effects of alpha lipoic acid (600mg per day) and vitamin E (100 IU) in patients with metabolic syndrome.
Prolonged treatment with ALA showed that although it reduced non-esterified fatty acids, it had no observable effect on inflammation, glucose levels or insulin resistance. 
Quick Gist: High-fat diet, insulin resistance and metabolic disturbances are associated with impaired memory, cognitive deficits and increased risk of developing cognitive impairment in the long term.
Alpha Lipoic Acid supplementation is found to resolve metabolic disturbances by lowering inflammation, oxidative damage and by mimicking insulin function, thereby reducing the risk of developing memory issues or cognitive dysfunction.
Dosage of Alpha Lipoic Acid For Memory
There is no specific dose of alpha lipoic acid prescribed for memory. 600mg ALA daily for 3-6 months is found to be safe and effective.
Combining oral alpha lipoic acid with curcumin, green tea catechins, fish oil or acetylcarnitine may have a synergistic therapeutic action.
ALA’s absorption may be hindered if combined with food. It should be taken 30 minutes before a meal or in a fasted state.
Instead of supplements, you can consider including Alpha Lipoic Acid rich foods in your diet such as broccoli, spinach, brussel sprouts, carrots etc.
Consult a health practitioner before taking alpha lipoic acid supplements.
Precautions with Alpha Lipoic Acid Use
No upper limit of ALA intake has been recommended for humans. Some studies have used doses as high as 1800-2400mg and have not reported serious side effects.
But in some cases, gastric side effects have been noted at the high dose. These include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and dyspepsia.
It is best to avoid a dose greater than 600mg per day when it comes to metabolic health and memory; unless advised by the doctor.
A study examining the long-term treatment with ALA reported serious side effects that affected heart health and were also described as urinary in nature. 
There has been a case report describing the development of autoimmune insulin syndrome with ALA supplementation. 
It is important to note this adverse effect, and it is advisable to work with your health practitioner about the same.
A few cases of itching skin, skin ulceration and bronchitis have been reported at high dose ALA. 
UMM states alpha lipoic acid should be avoided in case of vitamin B1 deficiency.
They report that ALA could have possible drug interactions with certain diabetes medicines, thyroid medications, chemotherapy and vitamin B1. 
Please consult a health practitioner before taking ALA supplements.
Pre-clinical studies suggest that Alpha lipoic acid is a potent therapeutic agent for protecting memory and cognition.
Its major mechanism of action is attributed to its strong antioxidant activity. It protects the brain from neurotoxins that lead to neurodegeneration.
It has the ability to prevent cognitive dysfunction and nervous system disorders that stem from underlying metabolic disturbances like cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.
ALA can be incorporated into the diet along with certain lifestyle changes like a daily exercise in order to prevent susceptibility to neurological diseases with age.
Foods rich in ALA like spinach, carrots, rice, broccoli and tomatoes can be included in the diet on a daily basis.
Although most studies show ALA supplementation to be highly safe and effective, more clinical research needs to be done to confirm its benefits for memory.