Life Extension Magazine®

Scientists studying lipoic acid and mitochondrial function

How Lipoic Acid Preserves Critical Mitochondrial Function

Pharmaceutical companies are spending huge resources to develop a patentable version of the natural compound lipoic acid. This nutrient protects vital cellular energy and shields against diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegeneration.

Scientifically reviewed by: Dr. Gary Gonzalez, MD, in August 2023. Written by: Megan M. Mitzelfelt, PhD.

How Lipoic Acid Preserves Critical Mitochondrial Function

Pharmaceutical companies are focusing massive resources to develop a drug that targets mitochondrial dysfunction,1 one of the major causes of the chronic diseases of aging.2 Much of their efforts are aimed at developing a patentable version of a natural compound called lipoic acid.3,4

For almost two decades, scientists have known that lipoic acid offers an effective solution to mitochondrial dysfunction.5 Ongoing clinical trials across the globe show the promise of lipoic acid’s benefits on a wide range of diseases—from diabetes to cardiovascular disease to Alzheimer’s and countless more.6

Fortunately, you don’t need to wait for Big Pharma to develop a synthetic, costly version of lipoic acid in order to combat mitochondrial dysfunction.

In this report, you will discover how the alpha lipoic acid benefits vital cellular energy while shielding against and possibly reversing the damaging effects of disorders that include diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, neurodegeneration, and cancer.

Dramatic Impact On Diabetes-Related Disorders

Dramatic Impact On Diabetes-Related Disorders

For many years, scientists have researched how lipoic acid affects insulin sensitivity and the severity of diabetes-related disorders, including heart disease, stroke, glaucoma, neuropathic pain, and kidney disease.7

Significant research into lipoic acid has centered on its benefits in diabetic neuropathy. Affecting up to around two out of every three people with diabetes, neuropathy is nervous system damage that can produce unbearable pain in the legs and feet. It eventually contributes to the damage of surrounding blood vessels in the lower limbs that results in circulatory impairment.8,9 Amputation is sometimes the only way to end the rampant infections and ulcers that accompany reduced blood flow to the lower limbs caused by neuropathy.10

Despite years of research, a cure for diabetic neuropathy remains elusive.11 However, doctors in Germany have used lipoic acid for more than a decade to reduce pain and inflammation in those suffering from diabetic peripheral neuropathy. 12,13

Over 15 randomized clinical studies have shown that intravenous administration of 300-600 mg of lipoic acid a day greatly improves nerve function and relieves pain symptoms in diabetic neuropathy patients.14 Lipoic acid is well tolerated and effective for prolonged use at 600 mg per day (equivalent to 300 mg of R-lipoic acid)—a level that noticeably improves muscle function and stops further impairment in movement.15

Lipoic acid’s benefits in diabetic neuropathy—and in diabetes as a whole—arise from its striking ability to dramatically improve glucose control and restore insulin sensitivity.16-20 In a recent placebo-controlled clinical trial, researchers found that after only 6 months of lipoic acid supplementation, patients with type II diabetes had reduced fasting blood glucose and lowered levels of oxidized lipids.21

Lipoic acid increases the abundance of other protective antioxidants while improving mitochondrial function and preventing glycation-induced damage in the kidney and blood vessels of those with diabetes—thus defending against diabetic kidney disease, vision loss, and vascular dysfunction.7,22-29

Take Control Of Obesity

Take Control Of Obesity

In addition to its anti-diabetic effects, lipoic acid has a known ability to help combat obesity. Even without a change in diet or exercise, large doses of lipoic acid (800-1,800 mg/day) have produced moderate weight loss in obese patients.30,31 Lipoic acid has been particularly effective in reducing body weight and BMI in patients taking antipsychotics, which are known for causing weight gain and other metabolic disturbances.32

Lipoic acid displays striking benefits in components of metabolic syndrome, including inducing weight loss, improving insulin resistance, and lowering blood pressure. Metabolic syndrome raises the risk of diabetes and heart disease.33,34

Several other promising scientific studies now show that lipoic acid has a beneficial effect on a number of the factors involved in metabolic syndrome: it reduces triglyceride levels, lowers cholesterol, improves fasting plasma glucose, and causes weight loss in rodent models of obesity.22,35-40 Lipoic acid curbs food intake and stimulates production of the insulin-sensitizing, anti-inflammatory hormone, adiponectin.39,41

Likewise, lipoic acid supplements have been shown to reduce circulating oxidative stress markers and elevate levels of “good” cholesterol in men with metabolic syndrome who already take glucose control medications.42

Owing to its insulin-sensitizing, lipid-lowering, and appetite-suppressing effects, lipoic acid is almost certainly an indispensable addition to conventional treatments for obesity and metabolic syndrome.

What You Need To Know
Lipoic Acid Fights Mitochondrial Dysfunction

Lipoic Acid Fights Mitochondrial Dysfunction

  • Research has exposed mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress as two of the primary culprits of age-related disease.
  • Lipoic acid counteracts aging by improving mitochondrial function and decreasing oxidative stress.
  • Lipoic acid may reverse and protect against the destructive consequences of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, neurodegeneration, and cancer.
  • It has even been found to reduce signs of aging.
  • Pharmaceutical companies are attempting to modify lipoic acid to render it patentable.
  • Fortunately, the natural form of lipoic acid is available without a prescription and for a reasonable cost.

Protect Against The Leading Cause Of Death

Protecting your heart and blood vessels may be the most important thing you can do to save your life.

The leading cause of death in the United States, heart disease, is actually a collection of problems often arising from atherosclerosis, the process in which plaque accumulates in arteries and attaches to the vessel walls. Over time this process restricts arterial blood flow and, if the arteries become completely blocked, leads to a heart attack or stroke.

Because of the vast numbers of people affected by this disease, pharmaceutical companies spend considerable time and resources devoted to developing blockbuster drugs that attack key problems in heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and blood clots. However, these drugs are not primarily focused on two key causes of heart disease—namely oxidative stress and inflammation.43,44

Fortunately, lipoic acid wields powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that directly attack these causes.

In experimental models of atherosclerosis, lipoic acid—through reductions in blood cholesterol, inflammatory markers, oxidative stress, and immune activation—shrank atherosclerotic plaques and improved the blood-flowing capacity of the aorta—the body’s chief artery.45-48 In a remarkable study, researchers discovered that,49 within only 12 weeks, lipoic acid reduced plaque size in the aorta by about 70%.46 Another group of researchers found that lipoic acid decreased the total number of atherosclerotic plaques developing in animals fed a high cholesterol diet.47

During a stroke, lipoic acid not only reduces brain cell death but, to the surprise of scientists, also restores blood flow to damaged brain regions by creating new blood vessels necessary for repair of brain function and the formation of new brain cells.50-55

How It Works
How It Works

Over the past few years, there has been an explosion of research into the widespread health benefits of lipoic acid.

First, lipoic acid is an enzymatic “cofactor” essential for mitochondrial function.92,93 Lipoic acid maintains biochemical reactions within mitochondria, the cellular powerhouses that are important for producing cellular energy. These enzymes are vital for transforming foods in the form of sugars, proteins, and fats into usable cellular energy called adenosine triphosphate or ATP.

In addition to cellular energy production, lipoic acid and its reduced form, dihydrolipoic acid, are potent antioxidants that both directly and indirectly scavenge reactive oxygen species, free radicals, and peroxides that cause widespread oxidative stress and cellular damage.94-97

Finally, lipoic acid blocks inflammatory signals and boosts levels of the pro-oxidant destroying molecule, heme oxgenase 1 (HO-1).49,98-103

All of these multidimensional aspects of lipoic acid are what give it the ability to reverse and protect against the destructive consequences of diseases as diverse as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, neurodegeneration, and cancer.

Prevent Age-Related Neurodegeneration

Although the exact mechanism behind neurodegenerative brain disorders still remains elusive, more and more researchers consider mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress to play a pivotal role in diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.56 Alzheimer’s disease alone is estimated to affect over 5 million Americans.57

A recent clinical trial indicated that lipoic acid may delay the progression of Alzheimer’s. Over a 12-month period, a combination of omega-3 fatty acids and lipoic acid diminished the rate of cognitive decline and impairment of daily activities compared to those taking only omega-3 fatty acids or nothing at all.58

And in another exciting study on animal models with Alzheimer’s disease, lipoic acid was found to improve deficits in brain function, memory, and spatial attention (such as turning your head towards the door when someone knocks, for example). It does this by inhibiting oxidative stress, activating other antioxidant and anti-inflammatory pathways, and increasing brain glucose uptake.59-64 Taking a medical food cocktail containing lipoic acid over a long time even appears to reduce amyloid-beta accumulation in the brain, a trademark of Alzheimer’s disease.65

The remarkable neuroprotective effects of lipoic acid extend also to Parkinson’s disease in which it defends movement-controlling brain cells against neurotoxins and oxidative damage.66-71

Use The “Right” Form Of Lipoic Acid
Use The “Right” Form Of Lipoic Acid

Lipoic acid comes in two “mirror image” forms labeled “R” and “S.” The R form is the main form that is produced and used by life processes.7 Inexpensive chemical manufacturing produces equal quantities of R and S lipoic acid, often labeled “R/S Lipoic Acid” or simply “alpha lipoic acid” (ALA).

Newer precision techniques allow production of a pure R-lipoic acid, which provides a much more concentrated potency.

A dose of pure R-lipoic acid provides twice the active ingredient as a typical R/S-alpha lipoic acid supplement, simply because the whole dose consists of the active “R” molecule.7 Look for the “R” label to assure you are getting the most potent form of this valuable nutrient.104,105

Cancer Fighter

Lipoic acid has beneficial effects against many types of cancer, including those of the colon, lung, breast, brain, and even leukemia—and for good reason.72-82 Lipoic acid has been shown to inhibit tumor growth, induce tumor cell apoptosis,72,73 and impede metastasis.83

Over the past few years, many researchers examining the role of lipoic acid in experimental cancer models have called for clinical trials to investigate the effectiveness of lipoic acid to treat cancer in humans.84,85 This call was answered by a pharmaceutical company that created a patentable, modified version of lipoic acid that has been used in clinical trials involving different cancer types.79,86

In addition to its cancer-fighting properties, lipoic acid displays promise in stopping the negative side effects of radiation and chemotherapy. More specifically, lipoic acid may protect healthy tissues against damage and cell death during cancer-targeted radiation treatment.87-90 It has the potential to prevent the development of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy.91

Reduce The Signs Of Aging
Reduce The Signs Of Aging

Interesting research studies show that lipoic acid may reduce visible signs of aging. In a recent report, volunteers using a facial application of a gel containing lipoic acid reduced fine lines, particularly around the eyes and upper lip, while enhancing skin texture and color.107

Lipoic acid works to reduce signs of skin aging by increasing production of collagen.108 Age- and sun-related reductions in skin collagen, one of the molecules responsible for skin’s elasticity, are thought to be a key part of fine line and wrinkle formation.109

Lipoic acid in combination with other antioxidants has been shown to improve skin hydration and protect against UV-induced skin cell damage.110

By reversing age- and sun-related skin changes, lipoic acid regenerates skin’s youthfulness and suppleness.


Scientific research has exposed mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress as two of the primary culprits of age-related disease.106

Recent data highlight the role of lipoic acid to counteract aging by improving mitochondrial function and decreasing oxidative stress. Owing to these properties, lipoic acid can protect against the destructive consequences of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, neurodegeneration, and cancer.

Lipoic acid is so universally effective that pharmaceutical companies have modified lipoic acid to render it patentable and profitable. Fortunately, the natural form of lipoic acid is available without a prescription and for reasonable expense.7

Given its extensive health benefits, lipoic acid is an indispensable asset in one’s arsenal to combat aging.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.

Editor's Note

Science continues to evolve, and new research is published daily. As such, we have a more recent article on this topic: Lipoic Acid and Healthy Weight Loss


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