Lipoic acid is also know as lipoate, alpha-lipoic acid and thioctic acid, and is a co-enzyme for some chemical reactions in the body. As a supplement, it is said to aid the anabolic hormone insulin in its actions. In vivo, lipoic acid has a role in glycolysis, which is the process of conversion of blood sugar into energy. Lipoic acid supports the activity of enzymes in mitochondria (small energy producing structures within cells) in muscle cells.
Lipoic acid is produced naturally in the body in sufficient amounts for its actions, but like creatine, some studies suggest that by supplementing with it, there is improved utilisation of blood sugar. Most studies have been performed clinically on diabetics, and lipoic acid has been demonstrated to improve blood sugar level control (Passwater 1995), by aiding muscular uptake of sugar for storage as glycogen. In diabetics, studies have also suggested that whilst there is an increase in glucose uptake by muscle cells, there is actually a decrease in glucose uptake by fat cells at the same time (Tritschler 1995). The result of this may be more energy production in muscles and less fat stored in the body.
There are few tests on healthy, exercising subjects, but the hypothesis is that it will work in the same way. Remember from Chapter 3, where I discussed insulin not only aids glucose uptake by cells, but also uptake of amino acids? Well, lipoic acid may also aid insulin here. Lipoic acid may therefore help to build muscle, lose fat, speed recovery and give fuller, more pumpable, muscles.
Like insulin, there is the side effect with lipoic acid of hypoglycaemia, i.e. low blood sugar levels, especially when you have not used the supplement before. Symptoms may be fatigue, intense hunger, jitteriness, confusion, anxiety and sweating (like those experienced by diabetics who do not plan their insulin dose correctly). Therefore, on commencing its use, start on a low dose and build up gradually. Always consume carbohydrate foods after taking it.
Whilst I do not know anyone who has used this product, the theory behind its action is sound, and it may be a useful aid in muscle building. Direct research on supplementing with lipoic acid on improving performance parameters is needed to be conclusive. Like always, however, it is very expensive.
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All you need is a proper diet of fresh fruits and vegetables and get plenty of exercise and you'll be fine. Ever heard those words from your doctor? If that's all heshe recommends then you're missing out an important ingredient for health that he's not telling you. Fact is that you can adhere to the strictest diet, watch everything you eat and get the exercise of amarathon runner and still come down with diabetic complications. Diet, exercise and standard drug treatments simply aren't enough to help keep your diabetes under control.