Today I wanted to introduce you to Alpha lipoic acid which is one of the key nutrients offering some of the biggest breakthroughs in the treatment of kidney disease.
What is Alpha Lipoic Acid?
Alpha lipoic acid is a very unique vitamin like antioxidant. It’s the only antioxidant that is fat soluble and water soluble which has led to it being referred to as a universal antioxidant.
Being both fat and water soluble allows it to travel to all parts of the body and because of these unique properties, it is able to enter certain parts of the cell that most other antioxidants aren’t able to reach as well as crossing the blood brain barrier.
Our bodies can make a small amount of alpha lipoic acid, but the amount produced isn’t enough to fulfill our bodies requirements, so we get most of it from our diet. Food sources of alpha lipoic acid include spinach, broccoli, potatoes, yeast, tomatoes, brussels sprouts, red meat and organ meat.
What does Alpha Lipoic Acid do?
I think the better question might be, what doesn’t it do!
Here’s a bit of an overview of the clinical properties of alpha lipoic acid:
- Involved in glucose and lipid metabolism
- Improves blood sugar levels
- Improves blood flow
- Protects against complications of diabetes
- Lessens heavy metal toxicity
- Involved in energy production
- Inhibits the formation of atherosclerotic plaque (hardening of the arteries)
- Protects nerves and the brain
- Anti-obesity agent
- Protects kidneys
Some of the actions of alpha lipoic acid are particularly important when it comes to kidney health, so these are the one’s I’m going to focus on today.
Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory Actions
As I already mentioned, alpha lipoic acid is a fat- and water-soluble antioxidant but that’s not all. It has the added benefit of being able to regenerate some of the body’s other major antioxidants including vitamin C, vitamin E, CoQ10 and glutathione.
This means that it basically gives these other antioxidants a second chance at life so they can continue to quench free radicals and exert their beneficial effects on the body. It’s ability to increase glutathione levels is a particularly important action as glutathione is the primary antioxidant used by the body.
Antioxidants are substances that can prevent or slow damage to cells caused by free radicals. Left unchecked, free radicals- dangerous unpaired electrons- proliferate throughout the body, damaging cell membranes and organs, impairing immune function, disrupting DNA strands and contributing to the progression of many disease including cancer, diabetes, heart disease and kidney disease as well as causing us to age quicker (and nobody wants that!).
Alpha lipoic acid also has a strong anti-inflammatory action. Remember that inflammation is involved in the development and progression of most chronic diseases including heart disease and high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, autoimmune disease and of course kidney disease.
Alpha lipoic acid has been shown to reduce inflammatory markers including CRP (C-reactive protein), interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumour necrosis factor alpha (THF-a) which are known to upregulate inflammation and contribute to tissue damage.
There is strong evidence showing that alpha lipoic acid helps with diabetes (the leading cause of kidney disease). It improves insulin resistance, lowers blood sugar levels and helps with both the prevention and treatment of diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage caused by diabetes).
Alpha lipoic acid doesn’t just help with treating diabetes (which in itself will protect the kidneys) but also helps to protect the kidneys against the damage diabetes causes.
In diabetic kidney disease, alpha lipoic acid improves blood flow to the kidneys, reduces oxidative stress, can prevent proteinuria (protein loss in urine), and the development of glomerulosclerosis and tubulointerstitial fibrosis associated with diabetic kidney disease.
It is well known that people with CKD have a strong risk of cardiovascular disease which includes high blood pressure (the second leading cause of kidney disease), heart failure, atrial fibrillation, stroke, atherosclerosis and peripheral artery disease, the consequences of which can go on to further damage the kidneys.
Alpha lipoic acid can be particularly effective in treating cardiovascular diseases including ischaemic heart disease, hypertension, heart failure and atherosclerosis.
Many studies have shown that alpha lipoic acid can improve vascular function and decrease atherosclerotic plaques which cause hardening of arteries and increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes while also lowering cholesterol levels.
It also improves endothelial function and vasodilation which may assist with lowering blood pressure as well as increasing blood flow to all areas of the body including the kidneys.
What this means is that alpha lipoic acid has benefits both in protecting the kidneys from cardiovascular disease and improving kidney function which lowers the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Alpha lipoic acid is one of the key mitochondrial antioxidants, mitochondria are found in all cells of the body and known as the ‘energy centres’ of the cell. This is where energy (ATP) is produced. Alpha lipoic acid helps to increase ATP production which isn’t just beneficial in reducing fatigue but also helps to increase the cellular energy of the kidney to facilitate healing.
Heavy metal toxicity
Heavy metal toxicity is one of the causes of kidney damage and contributes to oxidative damage and inflammation throughout the body. Alpha lipoic acid can bind to heavy metals so they can be removed from the body without exerting a negative effect as well as reducing the oxidative damage that heavy metals have on the body and the kidneys.
The use of Alpha lipoic acid in kidney disease
So, what does this all mean for people with kidney disease?
Well, as you can see, alpha lipoic acid provides benefits for people regardless of the cause of their kidney damage and can help to prevent and treat some of the typical consequences of kidney disease.
Alpha lipoic acid also protects the kidneys against acute kidney injury by eliminating free radicals, improving glomerular function, reducing renal inflammation and improving blood flow to the kidneys. It has also been shown to offer protection from chemotherapy induced kidney damage.
Supplementing with Alpha lipoic acid
As I mentioned earlier, the body does produce small amounts of alpha lipoic acid and we also get some through our diet however there are certain circumstances where the body can’t keep up with the amount of alpha lipoic acid it needs and kidney disease is one of them.
Luckily, alpha lipoic acid is available as a supplement and is one of the key nutrients we recommend for the treatment of kidney disease.
Choosing the best form of alpha lipoic acid
There are three forms of alpha lipoic acid supplements.
- R-Lipoic acid: this is the natural form of alpha lipoic acid that occurs naturally in plants, animals and the human body and is responsible for the specific beneficial effects of alpha lipoic acid.
- S-Lipoic acid: this is the synthetic form of alpha lipoic acid produced from chemical manufacture and is not as biologically active within the body.
- Alpha Lipoic Acid: this contains a 50:50 blend of the R (natural) and S (synthetic) forms of alpha lipoic acid. That means, a 100mg alpha lipoic acid supplement is providing 50mg of the active ‘R’ form and 50mg of the synthetic ‘S’ form.
Studies indicate that supplements containing only the R-lipoic acid appear to be better absorbed than supplements containing the blend of R-lipoic acid and S-lipoic acid or S-lipoic acid alone.
So, what does this mean?
We recommend using the ‘R’ form of alpha lipoic acid as it is the natural and most active form of alpha lipoic acid and is also better absorbed by the body than the ‘S’ form. The R-lipoic acid is generally more expensive than the synthetic form or the blend but with that you get a better-quality supplement with a greater therapeutic value.
R-form: 300mg-700mg a day
Blend: 400mg- 600mg a day
S-form: 400mg-800mg a day
To improve absorption, it is better to take alpha lipoic acid in divided doses. For example, if taking 400mg a day, break that up into 200mg twice a day.
Alpha lipoic acid may need to be avoided in people with hypothyroidism as it reduces conversion of thyroid hormone T4 into the active form T3.
And don’t forget…..
Before starting supplementation with alpha lipoic acid please consult your doctor or naturopath. Alpha lipoic acid may potentiate the effect of diabetic medication and anti-hypertensive medication so closer monitoring of blood sugar levels and blood pressure is needed.
So there you have it, there’s a snapshot of the benefits of alpha lipoic acid in the treatment of kidney disease. I’m sure you can see why we love this nutrient and consider it to be one of the key supplements involved in protecting and healing the kidneys regardless of the cause of damage.
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Until next week, take care.