Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) and Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR) are two nutrients that have been the subject of considerable research as of late. Both compounds display many impressive properties, and have many synergistic effects when combined. The ALA and ALCAR combination has significant anti-aging and cognition improving properties and can also be effectively used for fat loss and to increase athletic performance.
ALCAR is the acetylated version of L-carnitine, an important amino acid that improves mitochondrial function and plays a role in fatty acid oxidation. ALCAR may be more bioavailable than l-carnitine, and also provides acetyl groups for synthesis of compounds such as acetylcholine. ALCAR also has a cholinomimetic effect on its own. Both ALCAR and l-carnitine have been successfully used to treat a very wide range of conditions with little or no side effects.
ALA is a naturally occuring antioxidant enzyme that is also an important mitochondrial component. It has many properties that make it superior to most other antioxidants. Like ALCAR, ALA has been used to treat various conditions, particularly diabetes.
Studies with both ALCAR and L-carnitine indicate that they can improve athletic performance. This is because carnitine improves fatty acid oxidation, increasing fuel availability and preserving muscle glycogen. Carnitine also appears to favorably effect markers of recovery and the hormonal response to resistance exercise. Many trials have found that supplemental carnitine improves exercise performance in individuals that are impaired in some way, such as patients with angina, patients with cardiac insufficiency, and hemodialysis patients. In healthy humans, one study found that carnitine increased endurance, an effect that was potentiated further by caffeine. Some animal studies have also found performance increases from carnitine supplementation. ALA may synergize with ALCAR and further increase exercise performance in two ways. First, it may increase glucose transport to muscle, particularly because exercise is associated with a high degree of oxidative stress. Secondly, ALA and ALCAR may synergize to increase fatty acid utilization and cellular energy production.
A second benefit of ALCAR is fat loss. Studies in animals have found it to decrease fat mass and/or increase lean mass, as well as blunt the age-related increase in fat cell size. In a study in humans, 700 mg carnitine and 900 mg choline caused a significant decrease in body fat. Once again, ALA may synergize by improving mitochondrial function and fatty acid oxidation, as well as having a positive nutrient partitioning effect when used around exercise.
In the area of anti-aging research, Dr. Bruce Ames has had very promising results with this combination of nutrients. Mitochondrial damage is a significant factor in the aging process, and ALCAR greatly improves mitochondrial function when given to old rats. Along with this comes improved short term memory and cognitive function, an effect that has also been observed when elderly humans are given ALCAR. However, Dr. Ames also found that when rodents were given high (but not low) doses of ALCAR, hepatic antioxidant status was lowered. ALA prevented this, and also caused an even further improvement in mitochondrial function. Ames concluded, "Supplementing the diet of old rats with ALCAR and LA significantly improves many of the most frequently encountered age-related changes in mammals – namely loss of energy metabolism, increased oxidative stress, decreased physical activity, and impaired cognitive function."
Clearly, this blend of powerful nutrients has a variety of uses. In addition to those covered here, they may improve cardiovascular health, improve hearing and visual function, relieve depression, and have many other benefits. Some other supplements, such as choline and antioxidant vitamins, may provide added benefit.