Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) (also known as thioctic acid) has become a popular supplement, especially for supporting normal blood glucose metabolism, although ALA does occur naturally in the body. ALA primarily functions in the mitochondria as an antioxidant and as a cofactor for key enzymes that facilitate energy production.
The reduced form of ALA, dihydrolipoic acid, may have greater antioxidant activity than vitamin C, vitamin E, coenzyme Q10, and glutathione, which are some of the top antioxidants. Dihydrolipoic acid can regenerate many of these key antioxidants to further enhance antioxidant capacity. Although much research has been conducted on ALA and its impact on health, particularly in relations to diabetes, another body of research indicates that it may help facilitate weight loss.
Does ALA Have an Impact on Weight?
Many of the studies considering the impact of ALA on weight have shown small, but significant reductions in weight. A systematic review and meta-analysis found that taking ALA led to losing an average of 1.27 kg compared to the placebo group, which was statistically significant, and led to a body mass index (BMI) change of −0.43. Many of the changes occurred more in the short-term than in the long-term. Another systematic review also found a small, but significant impact on body weight and BMI, but it did not affect waist circumference.
In one double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, parallel study of overweight, but otherwise healthy adults taking 600 mg/day of R-ALA (the natural form rather than the synthetic form) for 24 weeks led to significant BMI loss, weight loss, body fat loss, reduced inflammation, and an increased antioxidant enzyme synthesis. This impact was more profound on women, with 42% achieving clinically meaningful weight loss equivalent to losing 5% or more body mass.
Studies also demonstrate the role of ALA as a potential adjunct effective in reducing body weight and triglycerides in patients with diabetes on metformin. Although some studies have not shown a dose-dependent relationship, one study found that 1,800 mg/day led to a significantly greater reduction in weight loss compared to 1,200 mg/day.
How Does ALA Contribute to Weight Loss?
The antioxidant capabilities of ALA may provide some benefits to body composition, however, many of the proposed mechanisms for weight loss revolve around its suppression of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), or 5’-adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase, a key regulator of energy production and consumption, appetite, and food intake. This effect on AMPK may increase satiety, thereby reducing food intake, stimulating energy expenditure, inhibiting lipogenesis, and encouraging fat oxidation.
Although studies demonstrate the potential for ALA to facilitate weight loss, especially in women, the effects are still minimal. In many of the studies, taking ALA was a complement to caloric restriction, exercise, and other actions for weight loss, increasing the overall effect. Thus, ALA is not a miracle supplement, but rather one potential and beneficial component in a comprehensive weight-loss regiment that incorporates diet, exercise, and other lifestyle factors.
By Kendra Whitmire, MS, CNS