Monday, 21 May 2012

The Ingredient of the Week - Alpha Lipoic Acid or ALA

Alpha lipoic acid is compound found in all living cells that helps body turn glucose into energy.

Its use in health is well documented and it’s widely available to buy as a dietary supplement. Some nutritionists market it as a weight loss supplement, but clinical trials done suggest that ALA is essential for cell function and as such it’s good for wound healing, reducing inflammation, improving and preventing age related cognitive dysfunction.

It’s also found in almost all foods, but still its presence in foods is very low to gain any benefit from eating ALA rich foods so most supplements available to buy are chemically synthesised.

In skincare ALA is treated as one of the antioxidants. We have all heard about antioxidants and free radicals, but do we actually know what that means?

What are antioxidants then? I better explain before going back to ALA.

Antioxidants are molecules that inhibit oxidation of other molecules.
Oxidation is an interaction between oxygen molecules and whatever substances oxygen comes in contact with (loss of at least one electron in contact with a substance).

As much as we need oxygen to exist, the by-product of oxygen intake is production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Therefore all organisms posses antioxidant metabolites and enzymes that prevent the cell damage.
For example, an apple has skin that protects its inner flesh from oxidation, as soon as that skin is broken oxidation happens. In apple’s case, the flesh goes brown.

Some of those by-products of reactive oxygen species are free radicals, the term almost exclusively used in ageing.
Free radicals are unstable electrons that can cause a chain reaction of decay in environment around them. Electrons normally travel in pairs as a molecule, so one single electron is unstable and seeks a molecule from which to steal another electron to be paired with. Homewreckers I say. Hence the damage it can cause as the electron left over from the molecule itself behaves as a single homewrecking free radical.

Hope you get the idea!  

To help us fight oxidative stress we have antioxidants and ALA is one of them.

As an antioxidant that has many health benefits, ALA should also be useful for skin and fight on wrinkles. Well I think so. I love it and I use it in my creams.

The problem is that not many clinical studies were made to prove this. Of course, more pressing experiments were made with ALA in relations to general health, so bothering with vanity did not figure. I suppose they forgot how much money the beauty industry makes.

Actually, one of the scientists did the clinical testing of ALA in skincare and that was Nicolas Perricone, a dermatologist. There would be nothing wrong with it had he not made his own anti-ageing skincare brand Perricone MD. And he wrote a book about it, “The Wrinkle Cure”.
So either he believed in ALA and decided to build a range of products with the ingredient or he found a unique selling point from which to launch his skincare line. The jury is still out.

Here is what Nicolas Perricone says of ALA:
“A topical application of Alpha Lipoic Acid can help to improve the overall appearance in your skin. When used in the proper concentrations, Alpha Lipoic Acid has been found to help patients with acne scars, rosacea, and large pores. Applying ALA  in combination with a Vitamin C Ester topical treatment has shown amazing results in actual patients, helping their skin become more porcelain like in a matter of time. Be sure you have a low carb intake and are drinking plenty of water to help round out the topical treatments you are using”.

I tend to agree up to the “eat the low carb food” point.

Whatever it is, has Perricone not had done his research into ALA and skincare, I would not be using it in my creams. 
For me it works and I have used it extensively in my home made concoctions. It tingles slightly when used first, but you find that you get used to it quickly. Also it's relatively low irritant as not many people are allergic to it.

So if you want to try it you can either get a product from Perricone MD line or buy some ALA powder and use it in a cream. It's inexpensive to buy as an ingredient and you can adjust the strength yourself. Plus you'll be doing your own clinical trials.

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