Antioxidants are the soldiers who defeat free radicals that threaten to wreak havoc on the body’s immune system.  Free radicals are unstable molecules that contribute to aging as well as cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and other serious illnesses. Some free radicals are produced within the body but there are also significant external sources such as air pollution, pesticides, food additives and cigarette smoke.

While all antioxidants are important in the fight against free radicals, alpha lipoic acid (ALA) has emerged as a “super hero.”  ALA is actually a fatty acid that occurs naturally in the cells of our bodies.  It is unique in that it is both fat and water soluble, which enhances its ability to scavenge for free radicals. ALA also helps the body more efficiently use other antioxidants (like vitamin E and vitamin C).

ALA is needed for many functions but is particularly important in converting glucose (blood sugar) into energy. Many physicians and holistic practitioners believe that ALA has a central role to play in the management of diabetes.  Research has shown ALA to be effective in reducing the pain, burning and numbness associated with diabetic neuropathy and it could play a role in the prevention of diabetes because it reduces fat accumulation.

Researchers believe this powerful antioxidant may also be an important weapon in the fight against Alzheimer’s because it has the ability to remove excess aluminum, copper and mercury from the body. Excessive levels of those elements have been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. ALA increases the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain, which helps boost memory potential and enhances cognitive function.  It has also been touted as a key player in the prevention of heart disease, strokes and cancer and it is a popular ingredient in skin care products because of its ability to slow down degeneration of skin cells.

Although ALA is produced by the body, most of us don’t manufacture adequate reserves of it on our own. Small amounts of ALA can be found in foods such as spinach, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and peas. Because it is difficult to obtain enough of ALA from our diets, millions of people take concentrated amounts in supplement form.  The supplements are available as capsules or as a liquid and can be purchased through natural health stores.

While ALA may not be a total magic bullet, it has been hailed as the “universal antioxidant” and clearly has an important role to play.  Talk to your holistic practitioner about including ALA supplements in your stay-well strategy and put this well-armed soldier to work as a shield against the free radicals that attempt to rob the body of health and vitality.