Vitamin C and vitamin E tend to get the most attention as antioxidants. But there are numerous others found in plants or produced within the body that contribute to health, including alpha-lipoic acid (ALA). Though it may not be as prominently known as other antioxidants, research has linked ALA supplementation with improved cholesterol measures, blood sugar control, inflammation, and possibly weight status.
Here’s what you need to know about ALA supplements.
What is alpha-lipoid acid or ALA?
ALA is a short-chain fatty acid found in some foods and naturally in the body. It’s produced by cells’ mitochondria, where it also plays an essential role in converting nutrients into energy. In addition, ALA is involved in both glucose (sugar) and lipid (fat) metabolism and acts as an antioxidant, scavenging free radicals—unstable molecules—in the body.  When there’s an imbalance between free radicals and the body’s antioxidant defenses, oxidative stress occurs. 
The uniqueness of ALA is that it’s both water and fat-soluble, whereas other antioxidants are either one or the other. So ALA can move throughout the body with less restriction to exert its benefits. 
What are the food sources of ALA?
Vegetables like spinach, broccoli, tomato, and Brussels sprouts as well as red meat and organ meats (liver and kidney) contain ALA. However, the overall contribution of ALA from foods is low, especially compared to the doses needed for a therapeutic effect. For this reason, ALA is often consumed in supplement form. 
Why might ALA supplements be recommended?
The purpose of ALA supplements is to provide the body with a therapeutic dose of the antioxidant, which is otherwise not possible to obtain through food or what the body produces naturally. Research on ALA focuses on the effects of supplementation ranging from 600-1,000 mg per day on various health outcomes. This is what the data say about the potential benefits—or lack thereof—of ALA supplements. 
ALA supplements may reduce markers of inflammation
Oxidative stress and inflammation are closely intertwined, each one with the capacity to trigger the other. Because ALA acts as an antioxidant, there’s been particular interest in its role in reducing inflammation. Two 2018 reviews of scientific studies found that ALA supplementation reduced inflammatory markers. [4,5]
One study was a systematic review and meta-analysis of 11 clinical trials with a total of 264 participants. Analyses found that ALA supplementation could significantly reduce levels of hsCRP—a marker of general inflammation throughout the body—after eight weeks in people whose hsCRP levels were elevated (greater than 3 mg/L) at baseline. 
The other review of 18 randomized controlled trials also found that ALA supplements significantly reduced hsCRP in people with metabolic syndrome (a set of traits that indicate a higher risk for heart disease and type II diabetes). Researchers speculated that ALA may reduce inflammation by: 
- Neutralizing (stabilizing) unstable and harmful free radicals
- Suppressing pro-inflammatory process
- Improving cellular antioxidant capacity
Increased inflammation is a risk factor for developing metabolic disorders (like heart disease and type II diabetes) and controlling inflammation can be protective. 
Key takeaway: ALA supplements can help reduce elevated markers of inflammation.
ALA supplements may improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels
Studies show that daily ALA supplementation helps lower the “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides (a type of fat that circulates in the bloodstream). Researchers speculate that ALA inhibits the creation of fatty acids—which are a component of triglycerides and LDL particles
Authors of a 2018 review of 24 studies found that ALA supplementation significantly decreased triglyceride levels, LDL, and total cholesterol compared to a placebo in those with elevated lipid levels. ALA was not found to have any effect, positive or negative, on “good" cholesterol (HDL) levels. 
Key takeaway: ALA supplements may help lower triglycerides, LDL, and total cholesterol for those with elevated lipid levels.
ALA supplements can support blood glucose levels
ALA supplements may help lower elevated glucose.  Research indicates that this effect may be due to its positive effects on insulin sensitivity. Insulin is a hormone that helps the body utilize glucose, therefore lowering blood glucose when it starts to creep up. Insulin sensitivity is a term used to describe the efficiency at which the body responds to insulin. So, improved insulin sensitivity equals improved blood sugar control. 
Studies show that ALA supplementation can significantly lower fasting glucose levels and HbA1c—an indicator of average blood sugar levels over the last three to four months—and insulin resistance in people with metabolic syndrome and diabetes. [6,8]
Key takeaway: ALA supplements may help lower blood glucose in people with diminished blood glucose control.
ALA supplementation may improve body composition
Scientists have also investigated the impact of ALA supplements on measures like weight, waist circumference, and body mass index (BMI). The effect of this supplementation on body composition is statistically significant, however, it’s rather small in actuality. For example, a systematic review and meta-analysis of 12 clinical trials found that supplementation only reduced weight, on average, by less two pounds compared to the placebo group. 
While ALA supplementation may be an appropriate complementary approach for someone whose goal is to improve their body composition, it should not take the place of dietary and lifestyle modifications, nor would it have the same impact. 
Are there any side effects to ALA supplements?
ALA is generally considered safe and well-tolerated. While a safe dose ranges between 1,200-2,400 mg per day, higher doses don’t necessarily provide stronger benefits. Most studies have evaluated the effects of doses of 600 to 1,000 mg per day. 
Before adding any supplement to your regimen, it’s best to consult with a healthcare professional and have objective insights to whether that supplement will be effective for your body and your goals. For tips on supplement safety check out this article.
What you should know before starting an ALA supplement
- Alpha-lipoic acid or ALA is an antioxidant that can be obtained through foods, but it’s also a dietary supplement.
- ALA supplements have been researched for their role in quelling inflammation, lowering cholesterol, reducing blood glucose, and improving body composition.
- While it’s generally considered safe, ALA supplements may not be effective or the right supplement choice for everyone.
- Always seek personalized, guidance before incorporating new supplements into your routine.
- Always select supplements with third party verification
There is sufficient evidence for InsideTracker to include ALA supplement in some personalized recommendations. Based on your unique blood chemistry, diet, and lifestyle, InsideTracker may recommend an ALA supplement to improve cholesterol, inflammation, and/or blood sugar.
In addition, InsideTracker customers may see the recommendation in their Action Plan if they select the Lose Fat or Heart Health goals. The Ultimate Plan—InsideTracker’s most comprehensive and popular plan—measures cholesterol, inflammatory, and blood sugar biomarkers and is compatible with selecting either of those goals.
InsideTracker believes in a targeted approach to dietary supplements to address deficiencies and inadequacies.
Seek personalized guidance for supplementation recommendations.
Molly is a Content Writer and Team Nutritionist at InsideTracker. As a Registered Dietitian, Molly enjoys connecting people to the food they eat and how it influences their biomarkers. When she’s not writing about the latest nutrition science, she’s likely in the middle of a yoga flow or at the beach with a good book.