Scientific researchers have discovered a potential explanation for the amazingly large range of biological effects that are linked to a, "micronutrient," known as, "lipoic acid."
Also known as Plus/Minus-lipoic acid and alpha lipoic acid (ALA) and thiotic acid is an organo-sulfur compound derived from octanoic acid. ALA is made in animals normally, and is essential for aerobic metabolism. It is also manufactured and is available as a dietary supplement in some countries where it is marketed as an antioxidant, and is available as a pharmaceutical drug in other countries.
The micronutrient seems to both reset and synchronize circadian rhythms, or the biological clock found in the majority of life forms found on earth. The ability of lipoic acid to assist with restoring a more usual circadian rhythm to animals who are aging might explain its apparent value in a number of important biological functions. The functions include:
The discovery was made by biochemists from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University (OSU) and published in a professional journal called, 'Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications.' The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Lipoic acid has been a focus of increasing research by scientists around the world in recent years.
Scientists continue to find previously unknown effects of this particular micronutrient. Lipoic acid, as an antioxidant and compound necessary for aerobic metabolism, is found at greater levels in leafy vegetables such as broccoli and spinach, as well as organ meats. Helen P. Rumbel Professor for Healthy Aging Research at the Linus Pauling Institute Tory Hagen, who is a professor of biophysics and biochemistry in the OSU College of Science as well stated, "This could be a breakthrough in our understanding of why lipoic acid is so important and how it functions. Circadian rhythms are day-night cycles that affect the daily ebb and flow of critical biological processes. The more we improve our understanding of them, the more we find them involved in so many aspects of life."
OSU researchers said approximately one-third of all of a person's genes are influenced by circadian rhythms. When they are out of balance they can have roles in:
As well as several additional areas which affect a person's health. One area that is particularly important is dysfunction of circadian rhythms as a person ages. According to Dove Keith, a research associate at the Linus Pauling Institute as well as the lead author of the study, in animals that are aging - as well as people who are, it is well-known that circadian rhythms break down and certain enzymes do not function as well or efficiently as they should. Keith also stated, "This is very important, and probably deserves a great deal more study than it is getting. If lipoic acid offers a way to help synchronize and restore circadian rhythms, it could be quite significant."
The scientists studied the circadian clock of the liver in this instance. Lipid metabolism by the liver is relevant to usual energy use, metabolism and when dysfunctional - may help contribute to the, 'metabolic syndrome,' that places millions of people at increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, as well as cancer.
The researchers at OSU fed laboratory animals increased levels of lipoic acid than what might otherwise be attained in an average diet. They monitored proteins known to be affected by disruption of the circadian clock in animals that were older. What they found is that lipoic acid assists with re-mediating some of the liver dysfunction that is often common in aging, significantly improving the function of their circadian rhythms. In prior research scientists discovered that the amount of lipoic acid that could assist liver and usual lipid function was the equivalent of around 600 milligrams each day for a person who weighed 150 pounds - more than could usually be obtained through their diet.
The Linus Pauling Institute at OSU
The Linus Pauling Institute at OSU is a world leader in the study of micronutrients and their role in the promotion of optimum health or the prevention and treatment of disease. The Institute's major areas of research include aging, heart disease, neurodegenerative disease and cancer. A main goal of research at the Linus Pauling Institute and the OSU Center for Healthy Aging Research is to promote what scientists refer to as, 'healthspan.' Healthspan means not simply the ability to live a long life, but to have comparatively good health and usual activities during nearly the entirety of a person's life. Research on lipoic acid - both at OSU and elsewhere, suggests it has value toward this goal. Continued research will explore this process and its role in circadian function, whether it may be sustained, as well as optimal intake levels that might be necessary to improve a person's health.