Would you like to have the brainpower you had 10, 20 or even 40 years ago? Research says it’s quite possible that a combo of acetyl L-carnitine and lipoic acid can restore cognitive ability to what it was in your prime.
It all started with a landmark study back in 2008. Study director Bruce Ames found that old lab rats given a combination of acetyl L-carnitine and alpha-lipoic acid regained so much of their youth and vigor they “got up to do the Macarena”. Since then other research has confirmed Ames’ findings and found even more ways in which these two compounds can turn back the clock.
Free radicals and aging
Current thinking says aging is a product of free radical damage to cells and the DNA housed in them. Free radicals are atoms or molecules with a single unpaired electron in the outer shell. Most of them are highly reactive, bouncing around in the body and wrecking havoc until their unpaired electrons find a partner. In the process, oxidative damage occurs which produces the signs of what we call aging, and antioxidants limit this oxidative damage. Think of oxidation as leaving bare metal out in the rain, and antioxidants as a barrier between the metal and water.
This theory was first proposed in the 1950’s, and in the 1970’s it was extended to implicate mitochondrial production of free radicals. As a theory, it has not been successfully challenged in all these years.
What’s a mitochondria? It’s like a tiny furnace contained in each cell, and the place where food is burned to generate energy for the body to use. This process requires oxygen, and the more oxygen the better. But as you’ve probably figured out by now, oxygen can be both friend and enemy to the body. The firing up of the cellular furnaces also creates free radical damage. As time goes buy, mitochondria can become so damaged that they lose their ability to function as intended. When this happens, energy levels plummet, and aging and its sidekick, degenerative disease, become real problems.
Discovering a way to limit the downward spiral of aging
In the Ames study, scientists looked at mitochondrial damage and oxidative stress in the brains of rats of varying ages. The brain mitochondria of the old rats when compared to that of the young rats showed significantly decreased levels of endogenous antioxidants including the powerful SOD (superoxide dismutase). Increased levels of oxidative damage to fats and proteins, and overall decreased activity were also revealed.
Feeding these old rats acetyl L-carnitine and lipoic acid partially or completely restored mitochondrial function to the level had by young rats, documenting that mitochondria deterioration plays center stage in the aging brain. In addition, they support the conclusion that acetyl L-carnitine and lipoic acid can help ameliorate mitochondrial decay by preventing oxidative stress.
Other studies have added to this knowledge base. A recent study found that augmenting neuroprotective pathways with natural substances such as acetyl L-carnitine can induce health-promoting genes and reduce the expression of disease-promoting genes in the brain.
Another study found supplementing with acetyl L-carnitine and lipoic acid can protect against neurotoxicity generated by glutamate.
Brain abnormalities coexist with mitochondrial structural alteration and DNA overproliferation and/or depletion in all brain cellular compartments, according to another research team. They found that spatial and temporal memory tests showed positive for improving cognitive function in mice fed acetyl L-carnitine and lipoic acid.
Findings in other research suggest that mitochondrial changes and associated structural damage may explain the age-dependent pathology seen in Alzheimer’s disease.
Mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative damage are also involved in the pathogenesis of Parkinson’s disease. Researchers have found that treatment with a combination of acetyl L-carnitine and lipoic acid increased mitochondrial biogenesis and decreased production of reactive free radicals. Study authors noted that their findings provide important evidence that combining mitochondrial antioxidants/nutrients at optimal doses may be an effective and safe prevention strategy for Parkinson’s.
Beyond the brain
Another study found that mitochondrial nutrient supplementation can reduce exhaustive exercise-induced oxidative damage and mitochondrial dysfunction, leading to enhancement of physical performance and fatigue recovery.
The latest study found that supplementing with acetyl L-carnitine and lipoic acid in chickens improved antioxidative ability, energy, lipid metabolism, levels of liver SOD, and serum glucose and triglyceride levels
Abnormalities in the mitochondria are thought to be behind the development of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. In another recent study, mice with induced nonalcoholic fatty liver disease who received acetyl L carnitine and lipoic acid showed significant improvement in liver mitochondrial content and function, and reduction in oxidative stress, insulin resistance, and liver fat accumulation.
According to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, where research on acetyl L caritine and lipoic acid has been ongoing, when combined, these two compounds work at 100 to 1000 fold lower concentrations than would be needed if taking them separately.