For DEEP IMMUNE SUPPORT, research shows that R-Lipoic acid enhances both the adaptive and innate immune systems. It protects against invading microbes, and also boosts immune function to shield the body from cell degeneration and oxidative damage. R-Lipoic acid, or RLA, can thus reduce the risks of infection and of abnormal cell formation, protecting us from chronic disorders and reducing tissue aging.
R-Lipoic acid is sometimes called ‘nature’s perfect antioxidant.’ It is naturally made by every cell in the body, and it has a rare ability to easily cross cell membranes. R-Lipoic acid has unusually broad-ranging immune benefits and neutralizing actions against both water-soluble and fat-soluble free radicals. It is effective both inside cells and in surrounding connective and immune tissues. This powerful but lesser-known antioxidant is actually more potent than vitamins C and E. For deep immune support, it protects the body against the daily assaults that could exacerbate degenerative disease and the aging process.
Immune support encompasses resistance to infection, clearing infective microbes to allow the body to heal; and efficient immune surveillance to detect and remove abnormal cells, and cut degenerative disease and cancer risks. For enhancing deep immune function, R-Lipoic acid works in several ways:
- It inhibits over-activation of inflammatory immune system cells, helping to calm excess inflammation which could impede immune action.
- RLA restores and improves optimal function to natural killer immune system cells.
- It reduces cell damage in intestinal walls from common microbes, protecting the essential barrier of the digestive tract lining.
- RLA reduces over-production of the inflammatory cytokine proteins.
- Also it regulates the brain’s immune response to microbes and certain viruses.
- RLA can boost activity of natural and dietary antioxidants such as glutathione, coenzyme Q10, and vitamin C, to protect healthy tissues.
- It is a potent antioxidant in its own right, and it increases optimal immune activity.
The human immune system is broadly divided into two components: innate and adaptive immunity. Innate immunity is an inborn, immediate response to foreign invaders. The innate immune response is primed and ready to fight at all times. Cytokines are a critical part of the innate immune response, enhanced by R-Lipoic acid. They are a group of small proteins including interleukins, chemokines, and other signaling proteins.
Adaptive immunity requires more time as the body develops complex responses and memorization of pathogens. The adaptive immune response mounts a more gradual response to threats and infections. The adaptive immune system includes B cells and T cells which are lymphocytes derived from specific stem cells. Because the adaptive immune system can learn and remember specific pathogens, it provides long-lasting defense against recurrent infections. When the adaptive immune system is exposed to a new threat, the specifics of the foreign material or antigen are memorized to prevent the disease from developing again. Adaptive immune B and T cells only function if they are able to control their correct iron content and balance.
R-Lipoic acid is a compact, sulfur-rich, vitamin-like molecule that is vital for energy production in all tissues. R-Lipoic acid functions as a cofactor for energy release from ATP in the mitochondria of every cell, which is essential for optimal immune activity. RLA has immune strengthening actions in fatty or protein-rich tissues, and it binds up free radicals. It is fat-soluble, but it works well in watery tissue fluids too. As it can navigate cellular membranes throughout the body, lipoic acid can cross the blood-brain barrier to protect myelin, the fatty protective sheath around nerves.
R-Lipoic acid is the only variant of lipoic acid that exists in nature, and the only effective, bio-identical form. Lipoic can be made in two isomers, the R and S forms, but R-lipoic acid is the sole medically active variety. Because of the difficulty and high cost of isolating natural R-Lipoic acid, many common formulas labelled ‘alpha-lipoic acid’ contain a synthetic 50-50 mixture of R-Lipoic acid and (trans) S-Lipoic acid. These R- and S-isomers are mirror images of each other, but only the R-form brings true medicinal benefits, while the S-form is relatively useless. RLA is at least ten times more potent at a cellular level.
Naturally occurring R-Lipoic acid is present in only tiny amounts in animal and plant tissues, and it is tightly bonded to mitochondria. In our diets, lipoic acid is available in red and organ meats, and vegetables like spinach, broccoli, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, and beets. But in food it is bound up to the amino acid lysine, and digestive enzymes cannot break the lysine bond. This means that it is not very bioavailable, and our bodies cannot obtain much of the small amount that occurs in foods.
R-Lipoic acid has the unique ability to bolster both innate and adaptive aspects of the immune system to act effectively against infection. Humans are exposed to millions of potential pathogens daily, through contact, ingestion, and inhalation. Our ability to avoid infection depends in part on the adaptive immune system which remembers previous encounters with specific pathogens and destroys them when they attack again. Adaptive immune responses, however, are slow to develop on first exposure to a new pathogen, sometimes taking up to a week or so before the responses are effective. By contrast, a single bacterium with a doubling time of one hour can produce almost 20 million progeny, a full-blown infection, in a single day. Therefore, during the first critical hours and days of exposure to a new pathogen, we rely on our innate immune system to protect us from infection. RLA offers the unusual capacity to enhance both innate and adaptive immunity.
Infection and injury increase free radicals in the body. These can alert the immune system to overproduce its army of fighting cells and proteins called cytokines. Excess amounts of inflammatory mediators and free radicals in the body disrupt normal immune responses. Antioxidants are then needed to calm inflammation and restore strong immune system function. Many degenerative conditions lead to a poorly regulated immune system; then reduced immune potency actually contributes to worsened inflammation, a vicious cycle. R-Lipoic acid acts both as an immune supporter and an antioxidant which further helps to encourage healthy immune system function.
Protecting the immune functions and cells from oxidative damage is essential for peak immune activity. Antioxidants work by disarming free radicals before they wreak havoc on tissues in the body. Waste generated by most normal processes in the body–from breathing to digestion–creates toxic free radicals, which are thought to weaken the immune system, increasing degenerative disease and more rapid aging. Cells make less R-Lipoic acid with age, and they may not have enough for optimal immune action or energy generation, tissue protection, or free radical quenching, for which there is greater need as the body ages.
Oxidative stress occurs when the number of damaging free radicals present in tissues overwhelms the body’s neutralizing antioxidant mechanisms. To explain, free radicals are unstable oxygen molecules that form during normal physiological processes, where oxygen splits into single atoms with unpaired electrons. Electrons like to be paired, so these free radicals scour the body to seek out other electrons to bond with. When they attach to electrons in tissues, damage is caused to cells, proteins, fats, and DNA. Antioxidants seek out these rogue free radicals, scavenge and bind to them, neutralizing their harmful effects and helping the body to clear them.
R-Lipoic acid and other antioxidants enhance each other as they participate in a complex antioxidant recycling process in the body. As well as glutathione, RLA restores vitamins C and E, and Coenzyme Q10, making R-Lipoic acid one of the most powerful defensive agents available to encourage robust immunity and reduce vulnerability to disease. Glutathione is the body’s most powerful ‘master’ antioxidant. It is also needed for the lymphoid cells of the immune system to work at full capacity.
R-lipoic acid is the only antioxidant that powerfully helps to regenerate protective glutathione, which keeps all other antioxidants performing at peak levels. With age, the body’s levels of glutathione sharply decline and cannot be replenished with a supplement, since ingested glutathione breaks down in the digestive tract before it can reach cells. RLA is therefore a key nutrient for safeguarding mitochondria from damage. Mitochondria naturally produce oxidant by-products as they generate energy. Adequate antioxidants to clear oxidative waste will lead to better immune function, slow mitochondrial aging and decay, and reduce vulnerability to chronic degenerative disease.
Even moderate changes in the intracellular glutathione level have profound effects on the immune system and white blood cell lymphocyte functions. Glutathione inhibits the inflammatory response caused by oxidative stress and resulting reactive oxygen species (ROS). Several studies have concluded that oxidative stress from infection and other causes increases production of ROS, which then triggers inflammation.2,3
Research now shows that poor immune function can lead to worsening oxidative stress, inflammation, mitochondrial dysfunction, or DNA damage. In turn, these factors increase age-related diseases. These disorders also follow dysfunction and shortening of telomeres, the protective caps at the end of chromosomes. It turns out that R-Lipoic acid not only eliminates free radicals, it can actually lengthen telomeres. An exciting study in 2015 at Emory University School of Medicine investigated the specific mechanism of action of lipoic acid on telomeres. These scientists found that lipoic acid stimulated telomerase, an enzyme that lengthens the chromosome’s telomeres. Longer telomeres mean cells of the immune system and other tissues are healthier and function “younger,” keeping their metabolic processes lively and sprightly as they age.4
Other research confirms that lipoic acid balances natural killer cell activation and cytotoxicity, and stimulates messenger signaling.5 The natural killer cells of our innate immune system are the first line of defense against invading pathogens and against tumor cells. Abnormal regulation of the immune response is an important component of diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and multiple sclerosis. Lipoic acid has been shown to have important immune-enhancing, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties, and is a promising therapy for these conditions.
A 2012 study found that lipoic acid attenuates the immune impairment and oxidative stress and brought on by a high-fat diet. Individuals fed a fatty diet received supplemental lipoic acid. Researchers verified that lipoic acid prevented the buildup of oxidative stress damage. It also upregulated the expression of genes that code for healthy immune activity.6
Clinically, our patients have experienced more robust immunity over time using a high potency of R-Lipoic acid, in the range of 400 to 800 mg daily. They report fewer respiratory tract infections, improvements in recurring or chronic infections, and reduced chronic degenerative symptoms in joints, eyes, or connective tissues. In addition, they experience relief from neuropathy, tinnitus, and other nerve conditions. RLA is also a valuable support nutrient for retina protection and blood sugar balance.
Recommendation: R-Lipoic Acid (as Sodium R-Lipoic Acid) 400mg once or twice daily, taken with any meals, or as directed by your healthcare provider.
- Liu, Wei, Lian-jie Shi, and Sheng-guang Li. “The immunomodulatory effect of alpha-lipoic acid in autoimmune diseases.” BioMed research international 2019 (2019).
- Dröge, Wulf, and Raoul Breitkreutz. “Glutathione and immune function.” Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 59.4 (2000): 595-600.
- Diotallevi, Marina, et al. “Glutathione fine-tunes the innate immune response toward antiviral pathways in a macrophage cell line independently of its antioxidant properties.” Frontiers in immunology 8 (2017): 1239. Diotallevi, Marina, et al. “Glutathione fine-tunes the innate immune response toward antiviral pathways in a macrophage cell line independently of its antioxidant properties.” Frontiers in immunology 8 (2017): 1239.
- Xiong, Shiqin, et al. “PGC-1α modulates telomere function and DNA damage in protecting against aging-related chronic diseases.” Cell reports 12.9 (2015): 1391-1399.
- Salinthone, Sonemany, et al. “Lipoic acid attenuates inflammation via cAMP and protein kinase A signaling.” PLoS One 5.9 (2010).
- Cui, Jue, et al. “Lipoic acid attenuates high-fat-diet–induced oxidative stress and B-cell–related immune depression.” Nutrition 28.3 (2012): 275-280.