Updated: November 14, 2022
Nutritional science is becoming increasingly interested in the potential of certain micro-nutrients, which appear to be of particular significance in the battle against aging. These so-called anti-aging micro-nutrients include lipoic acid, and the amino acid, carnitine.
Both lipoic acid and carnitine are manufactured naturally by the body through the normal metabolism of food, but what is particularly interesting to anti-aging researchers is that the body’s ability to synthesise both these compounds appears to decline significantly with advancing age.
Both lipoic acid and carnitine, the latter in particular, are very important in the complex processes by which food is converted by the body into energy. Lipoic acid is also a significant anti-oxidant, combatting the free radicals which are an important cause of the cellular damage which can accelerate the aging process and even contribute to the onset of the degenerative diseases which are the source of so much misery in old age. Lipoic acid is quite quickly removed from blood plasma, which to some extent restricts its value as an anti-oxidant in its own right. However, the fact that lipoic acid is quickly taken up by the body’s cells in this way may well be indicative of its significance for other functions. Moreover, there is now good evidence that supplementation with lipoic acid can help reverse the age-related decline in cell concentrations of vitamin C and glutathione, which are respectively the most important water and fat-soluble anti-oxidants, and consequently critical in the anti-aging battle.
Both lipoic acid and carnitine have also been found to be crucial to the proper functioning of the cell mitochondria, the principal producers of energy within the body. What is particularly relevant in the field of anti-aging is that the heart is very densely packed with mitochondria; and this vital organ not only consumes enormous amounts of energy, but is unable to store the energy it needs for more than a few minutes. The proper functioning of the heart, and therefore life itself, is very highly dependent on the proper functioning of these mitochondria, which is particularly prone to decline rapidly with age.
The powerful anti-oxidant functions of lipoic acid appear to be extremely important in protecting the cell mitochondria from damage, whilst carnitine works to maintain the delivery of energy to the mitochondria through the metabolism of the essential fatty acids which are the heart’s principal source of energy; a metabolism which otherwise declines significantly with age. But the potential anti-aging benefits of lipoic acid and carnitine do not end with the heart. Lipoic acid, in particular, is now widely used by nutritional therapists in ameliorating the nerve damage and pain caused by diabetes, and there is some evidence that carnitine may also be useful in this regard. Experiments on old animals, including rats and dogs, have suggested that supplementation with lipoic acid and carnitine may also have significant effects in improving brain function, particularly short-term memory, and this is not really surprising given that mitochondrial damage is strongly associated with age-related dementia and conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
There is evidence that mitochondrial damage in brain cells may be in large part due to increased free radical activity caused by the build up of excess iron, copper, and other minerals occurring naturally within the body. Excitingly, it seem that lipoic acid may actually reverse this build up, returning the levels of these minerals to those found in younger animals. More than this; the capacity of lipoic acid to remove excess metals from the body has led to it being used in the removal of more damaging substances such as lead and mercury; and suggests that the substance may have a more general detoxifying capability, of use even in cases of acute poisoning and alcohol or drug damage.
Finally, it is now widely accepted that many cancers are at root diseases of degeneration, becoming consequently much more prevalent as the population ages; and having their origins in the long-term damage to cells caused by free radical activity. Given this, it is believed that lipoic acid’s anti-oxidant function, and role in stimulating the activity of vitamin and glutathione, may also play an important part in the battle against cancer. Lipoic acid is also known to help activate many of the genes which are vital weapons in this battle. It is conceded even by its advocates that much more research is required, but these are nevertheless exciting findings.
Despite all of this, however, orthodox medicine is characteristically reluctant to endorse the use of supplements of lipoic acid or carnitine, although there appear to be no concerns regarding toxicity with either. Suitable doses appear to be in the range 100mg-300mg of lipoic acid and 500mg-1,000mg of carnitine. But whilst these doses should be sufficient to deliver the general anti-aging benefits in healthy individuals, nutritional therapists and practitioners commonly recommend much higher intakes for the treatment of specific conditions such as diabetes and the promotion of weight loss.
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