Alpha-lipoic acid is a common supplement, but what about its geroprotective properties? We take a look at this supplement in another of our geroprotector articles.


Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) was first discovered in 1937, when Snell discovered that a type of bacteria relied on potato juice to reproduce[1]. This led to alpha-lipoic acid being known as the potato growth factor for some time after its discovery. However, it was not isolated until 1951 by Reed[2]. The first clinical use of ALA was recorded in Germany in 1959 for the treatment of poisoning from amanita phalloides, commonly known as the death cap mushroom.

In nature

ALA is commonly found in vegetables such as spinach and broccoli, with smaller amounts found in potatoes, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, peas, and tomatoes. ALA is also found in meats, particularly organ meats such as the heart, liver, and kidneys.

ALA is a coenzyme involved in cellular metabolism and the Krebs cycle, a series of chemical reactions used by mitochondria to release energy from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins into carbon dioxide, and chemical energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP)[3-4].

In addition, the cycle provides the precursors of certain amino acids as well as the reducing agent NADH, which is used as a reducing agent to donate electrons during biochemical reactions and is part of the NAD pathway. It is also involved in a number of other important cellular processes.

Potential health benefits

ALA can bind to free radicals to prevent or reduce oxidative stress and the resulting cell damage it causes[5-8]. Oxidative stress is well documented in its role in the aging process, so reducing excessive levels of free radicals might be beneficial for health and reducing the impact of aging. Interestingly, ALA also influences the metabolism of other antioxidants, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and glutathione[9].

Studies have shown that ALA can prevent cell damage from the oxygen deprivation of ischemia[10], diabetes[11], diabetic neuropathy[12], atherosclerosis[13], neurodegeneration[14], and hypertension[15]. ALA and its chemical byproduct dihydrolipoic acid both show pro-oxidant activity in tumor cells, damaging them. In cell cultures, ALA reduced cancer cell proliferation and increased levels of apoptosis (cell death) in the cells[16-19].

The potential of ALA for metabolic syndrome has also been explored. It was shown that ALA can help weight loss, ameliorate insulin resistance and atherogenic dyslipidemia, as well as to lower blood pressure[20]. Animal studies show that alpha-lipoic acid prolonged lifespan in certain species[21], but reduced it in progeric mice[22].

There is currently no data supporting such an effects on the human lifespan, and studies of the long-term effects on health have not been conducted.


This article is only a very brief summary, and is not intended as an exhaustive guide and is based on the interpretation of research data, which is speculative by nature. This article is not a substitute for consulting your physician about which supplements may or may not be right for you. We do not endorse supplement use or any product or supplement vendor and all discussion here is for scientific interest.


[1] Snell, E. E., Strong, F. M., & Peterson, W. H. (1937). Growth factors for bacteria: Fractionation and properties of an accessory factor for lactic acid bacteria 1. Biochemical Journal, 31(10), 1789.

[2] Reed, L. J., DeBusk, B. G., Gunsalus, I. C., & Hornberger, C. S. (1951). Crystalline α-lipoic acid: a catalytic agent associated with pyruvate dehydrogenase. Science, 114(2952), 93-94.

[3] Packer, L., Witt, E. H., Tritschler, H. J. (1995). Alpha-lipoic acid as a biological antioxidant. Free Radical Biology and Medicine, 19(2), 227-250.

[4] Bilska, A., Wlodek, L. (2005). Lipoic acid-the drug of the future. Pharmacological Reports,57(5), 570-577.

[5] Packer, L., Witt, E. H., & Tritschler, H. J. (1995). Alpha-lipoic acid as a biological antioxidant. Free Radical Biology and Medicine, 19(2), 227-250.

[6] Suzuki, Y. J., Tsuchiya, M., Packer, L. (1991). Thioctic acid and dihydrolipoic acid are novel antioxidants which interact with reactive oxygen species. Free Radical Research, 15(5), 255-263.

[7] Bilska, A., Wlodek, L. (2005). Lipoic acid-the drug of the future. Pharmacological Reports,57(5), 570-577.

[8] Scott, B. C., Aruoma, O. I., Evans, P. J., O’neill, C., Van Der Vliet, A., Cross, C. E., … & Halliwell, B. (1994). Lipoic and dihydrolipoic acids as antioxidants. A critical evaluation. Free radical research, 20(2), 119-133.

[9] Biewenga, G. P., Haenen, G. R., Bast, A. (1997). The pharmacology of the antioxidant lipoic acid. General Pharmacology: The Vascular System, 29(3), 315-331.

[10] Coombes, J. S., et al. (2000). Improved cardiac performance after ischemia in aged rats supplemented with vitamin E and α-lipoic acid. American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 279(6), R2149-R2155.

[11] Ros, R. D., Assaloni, R., Ceriello, A. (2005). Molecular targets of diabetic vascular complications and potential new drugs. Current Drug Targets, 6(4), 503-509.

[12] Laher, I. (2011). Diabetes and alpha lipoic acid. Frontiers in pharmacology, 2, 69.

[13] Wollin, S. D., Jones, P. J. (2003). α-Lipoic acid and cardiovascular disease. The Journal of Nutrition, 133(11), 3327-3330.

[14] Pirlich, M., Kiok, K., Sandig, G., Lochs, H., Grune, T. (2002). Alpha-lipoic acid prevents ethanol-induced protein oxidation in mouse hippocampal HT22 cells. Neuroscience letters, 328(2), 93-96.

[15] de Champlain, J., et al. (2004). Oxidative stress in hypertension. Clinical and Experimental Hypertension, 26(7-8), 593-601.

[16] Mark, K. V. D., et al. (2003). α‐Lipoic acid induces p27Kip‐dependent cell cycle arrest in non‐transformed cell lines and apoptosis in tumor cell lines. Journal of Cellular Physiology, 194(3), 325-340.

[17] Wenzel, U., Nickel, A., Daniel, H. (2005). α-lipoic acid induces apoptosis in human colon cancer cells by increasing mitochondrial respiration with a concomitant O2−.-generation. Apoptosis, 10(2), 359-368.

[18] Sen, C. K., Sashwati, R., Packer, L. (1999). Fas mediated apoptosis of human Jurkat T-cells: intracellular events and potentiation by redox-active alpha-lipoic acid. Cell Death and Differentiation, 6(5), 481-491.

[19] Simbula, G., Columbano, A., Ledda-Columbano, G. M., Sanna, L., Deidda, M., Diana, A., Pibiri, M. (2007). Increased ROS generation and p53 activation in α-lipoic acid-induced apoptosis of hepatoma cells. Apoptosis, 12(1), 113-123.

[20] Pershadsingh, H. A. (2007). α-Lipoic acid: physiologic mechanisms and indications for the treatment of metabolic syndrome. Expert opinion on investigational drugs, 16(3), 291-302.

[21] Bauer, J. H., Goupil, S., Garber, G. B., & Helfand, S. L. (2004). An accelerated assay for the identification of lifespan-extending interventions in Drosophila melanogaster. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 101(35), 12980-12985.

[22] Farr, S. A., Price, T. O., Banks, W. A., Ercal, N., & Morley, J. E. (2012). Effect of alpha-lipoic acid on memory, oxidation, and lifespan in SAMP8 mice. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 32(2), 447-455.

About the author

Steve Hill

As a scientific writer and a devoted advocate of healthy longevity technologies Steve has provided the community with multiple educational articles, interviews and podcasts, helping the general public to better understand aging and the means to modify its dynamics. His materials can be found at H+ Magazine, Longevity reporter, Psychology Today and Singularity Weblog. He is a co-author of the book “Aging Prevention for All” – a guide for the general public exploring evidence-based means to extend healthy life (in press).

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