Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) has been shown experimentally to be a universally soluble and powerful antioxidant, as well as a “rejuvenator” of other antioxidants. This means that the compound is able to mop up damaging free radicals in its own right and improve the efficiency of other antioxidants that are part of the body’s defense system. One area of the body that shows obvious signs of deterioration due to the action of free radicals is the skin. For this reason alone, ALA should be part of everyone’s skin-care regime.

We take for granted that, as we age, our skin becomes inflexible, less supple, and, consequently, wrinkled. Part of the reason for this is the process of glycation, in which an excess of glucose in our system reacts with proteins like collagen to make them less functional. Alpha lipoic acid, because of its role in glucose metabolism, has been shown to be able to reduce the extent of glycation that occurs, and thus, theoretically, to preserve the skin’s flexibility.

It has also been claimed that abundant levels of alpha lipoic acid in skin tissue will optimize skin health by maximizing cell efficiency and energy production.

For all the above reasons, alpha lipoic acid is currently being touted as an exciting new skin-care solution. At this stage, there is not a lot of clinical data to support the claim, but the limited research available and anecdotal evidence do support the theoretical arguments.

One study showed that mild-to-moderate wrinkles were reduced by up to 50 percent, and also that fine lines were significantly reduced. Another study reported that alpha lipoic acid was responsible for improving the appearance of a type of scarring. A further benefit was that ALA proved to be less irritating to the skin than some other currently used treatments. It should be noted that there was a significant variation in effectiveness between subjects in both trials, so alpha lipoic acid will not be a miracle cure for everybody.

Alpha lipoic acid has been directly linked to skin care as a primary antioxidant that prevents aging and inflammation. Contained in many brands of skin products, this powerful metabolic natural substance has many benefits for skin care, including energy production in skin cells; regeneration of vitamins C and E; inhibiting of the activation of transcription factor NF-kB; reduction of cellular inflammation; stimulation of AP-1, which helps remodel collagen; and protection of the skin from free radical inflammation, including sun exposure.

Universal Antioxidant

The metabolic antioxidant alpha lipoic acid is often called “the universal antioxidant” because it is soluble both in water and in fat. It is 400 times stronger than vitamins E and C combined. What is perhaps the most valuable property of this substance is its ability to penetrate the skin’s surface and the skin cell membrane. Consequently, alpha lipoic acid benefits both the inside and outside of the skin cell.

The production of energy in an enzyme system is called the quruvate dehydrogenase complex, a process which produces energy. The higher the energy levels of a cell, the more youthful the skin remains. In this way, alpha lipoic acid aids cellular metabolism in addition to protecting the skin against free radicals.

Healthy Fat Protection

Polyunsaturated fats, the healthy kind that skin needs to remain young-looking, is protected from free radicals by alpha lipoic acid, which captures the free radicals before they have a chance to enter the cell plasma membrane. This process prevents a very dangerous formation of oxidized fats called lipid peroxides, which damage DNA and activate NF-kB, a proinflammatory cursor to cytokines, such as tumor nectosis factor alpha and interleukins. This kind of deadly damage to DNA transcription, or allowing DNA to give instructions to the cell, is to be avoided at all costs.

Cosmetic Properties

Alpha lipoic acid also has the ability to smooth skin by increasing its exfoliating capacity, or the removal of dead skin cells from the skin’s surface. In addition, this potent little antioxidant regulates the production of oil glands, as under or overproduction can clog pores. It also helps with puffy eyes and helps reduce lines and wrinkles. Skin color is enhanced, and pore size is minimized to give the skin a more polished look. Lastly, alpha lipoic acid was shown to decrease scar tissue in a study performed by Dr. David Genecdov of the International Craniofacial Institute in Dallas, Texas.

Dr. Nicholas Perricone recommends taking alpha lipoic acid internally at the rate of 300 milligrams per day and applying it topically on the face and body. A myriad of skin lotions and creams is available, both in department stores and in health food stores. Often, creams and lotions are sold with alpha lipoic acid in combination with vitamin C Ester and DMAE, a neurochemical that has a tightening effect on the skin.

History and Misconceptions

In the cells of the body, alpha-lipoic acid is converted into dihydrolipoic acid. Alpha-lipoic acid is not the same as alpha linolenic acid, which is an omega-3 fatty acid that contributes to the health of the heart.

Scientists first discovered the relevance of alpha-lipoic acid in the 1950s, and recognized it as an antioxidant in 1988. According to the University of California at Berkeley’s Wellness Guide to Dietary Supplements, alpha-lipoic acid acts as an antioxidant only when there is an excess of it and it is in the “free” state in the cells. There is little free alpha-lipoic acid circulating in your body, unless you consume supplements or get injections.

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