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Why alpha lipoic acid may be a miracle nutrient for liver health

According to the Mayo Clinic, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is currently the most common liver ailment in the country. Affecting between 80 and 100 million people, NAFLD constitutes over 75 percent of all chronic liver disease in the United States – a likely byproduct of the increasing national incidence of obesity and type 2 diabetes. But, here comes alpha lipoic acid to the rescue. Powerful nutrition news: exciting new studies on the liver-protective effects of alpha lipoic acid, a natural nutrient and antioxidant compound, are giving rise to hopes that this disturbing trend can be reversed – without resorting to toxic medications.

NAFLD can set the stage for life-threatening liver disease

As the name indicates, NAFLD is simply the accumulation of excess fats in the liver – in the absence of heavy drinking. Although fatty liver disease used to be associated almost exclusively with excessive alcohol intake, the presence of the condition in non- drinkers or light drinkers is becoming increasingly widespread. NAFLD is closely linked to metabolic syndrome – a cluster of harmful conditions such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, abdominal fat, elevated fats in the blood and low levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol. It most commonly affects people in their 40s and 50s.

There are two forms of NAFLD. In steatosis, the milder – and reversible – form, the deposits of fat haven’t yet caused inflammation or tissue damage. In the more serious form, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH, inflammation and liver scarring are present. In severe cases, NASH can progress to liver failure and cirrhosis.

Alpha lipoic acid benefits the liver with multiple methods of action

Alpha lipoic acid (ALA), an organosulfur compound produced naturally by the body, is responsible for turning nutrients into energy. It also protects fragile cell mitochondria, increases cellular energy and promotes efficient metabolism. ALA is a potent antioxidant that can neutralize harmful free radicals. And, it has a unique “superpower” – it is both water-soluble and fat-soluble. This means it is readily biologically available, and can penetrate – and benefit – every cell in the body.

ALA recharges and regenerates other liver-protective antioxidants, including vitamins C and E, glutathione and coQ10. In addition, it binds to and detoxifies heavy metals such as mercury and lead. Burton Berkson, MD, PhD, an expert consultant on ALA for the Centers for Disease Control, is one of the world’s foremost authorities on the use of ALA for liver disease. Dr. Berkson reports that alpha lipoic acid lowers liver enzymes, reduces viral loads and alleviates symptoms of liver disease. Over the past two decades, Dr. Berkson has used ALA to treat a variety of liver disorders, including NAFLD, hepatitis B and C, autoimmune hepatitis and primary biliary cirrhosis.

The research is in: Alpha lipoic acid can help REVERSE NAFLD

In several recent animal and laboratory studies, researchers were able to confirm the therapeutic effects of ALA, and to discover something of the nuts and bolts of how it works. In a study published in Obesity, ALA supplementation prevented the accumulation of triglycerides in the liver. Researchers reported that ALA accomplished this by activating specific AMPK pathways, while stimulating the SIRT1 and SIRT3 genes. The team suggested that ALA could be particularly useful in preventing NAFLD in obese individuals with insulin resistance. In another eye-opening study published in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, researchers discovered that ALA can actually prevent non-alcoholic steatosis brought on by excessive intake of fats. As a bonus: alpha lipoic acid also helped to prevent weight gain.

And, in research published in Nutrition, the team confirmed ALA’s potent antioxidant benefits – which were especially effective when it came to alleviating oxidative stress associated with a high-fat diet. Finally, an extremely promising 2014 animal study, published in Journal of Medicinal Foods, examined the effects of ALA on diet-induced NAFLD. Researchers found that ALA cut levels of malondialdehyde, a biomarker of oxidative stress, and improved the liver’s antioxidant capacity by increasing the activity of superoxide dismutase, manganese, and glutathione. The scientists also found increased amounts of DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid – a beneficial substance that works with ALA as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agent to alleviate liver disease.

How should I take ALA for liver health?

Although ALA is produced naturally in the body – and exists in virtually all foods – experts say that levels decline steadily with age. In fact, Dr. Berkson recommends ALA supplementation for everyone over 45, whether liver ailments are present or not. Many integrative physicians advise ALA intake in the range of 25 to 50 mgs a day for general antioxidant benefits, with higher dosages for liver problems. Dr. Berkson recommends what he calls “triple therapy,” which features 600 mg of ALA, 900 mg of silymarin – derived from milk thistle – and 400 mcg of selenium – an essential mineral. The combination should be taken in divided doses, twice a day.

If you are interested in supplementing with ALA, discuss the matter with a trusted, healthcare provider – who can advise you on correct dosages. If you think you may have liver disease, (obviously) seek medical help. Of course, the encouraging studies (above) shouldn’t be taken as a license to take ALA and then consume excessive fats while miraculously avoiding any damage. The takeaway of the research is that a safe, inexpensive natural nutrient can help to actively prevent fatty liver disease, and NASH from developing and worsening.

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