When it comes to micronutrient name recognition, vitamins and minerals typically get the spotlight (think vitamin C, vitamin D, Magnesium). Less well known are antioxidants, the superstars when it comes to protection from oxidative stress and free radicals. Lipoic acid (AKA thioctic acid) is one such nutrient. This particular substance is unique in that it has antioxidant properties in both water and lipids (most antioxidants protect only one, but not the other). Its unique chemical structure makes it soluble in both, which is a physiologically important attribute. Fat-soluble nutrients protect cell membranes (which are made of fats), and water-soluble nutrients protect intracellular fluid.
Another biologically important feature is its ability to regenerate (and therefore activate) other antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, glutathione, cysteine and coenzyme Q10 when they have been “used up.” It can bind to insulin receptors, and consequently enhances glucose uptake into muscles, making it useful in improving glucose tolerance in persons with Type 2 Diabetes. Lipoic Acid can also be effective in the treatment of certain diabetic complications such as peripheral neuropathy. Given its ability to protect against damage to fat-soluble cell structures (lipid peroxidation), it’s not surprising that this antioxidant may also help protect against the neuron injury often seen in Alzheimer’s patients. This powerful micronutrient’s impressive list of roles at the cellular level provides clear justification for its designation as a “supernutrient,” making it an effective therapy in a variety of conditions from cataracts to erectile dysfunction.
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