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A Dietary Supplement That May Fight Aging

The dietary supplement alpha lipoic acid (ALA) can stimulate an anti-aging process in mice, according to scientists at the Emory University School of Medicine. The discovery indicates a potential path to treatment of chronic diseases.

The investigators found that ALA can stimulate telomerase, an enzyme that helps lengthen telomeres (the protective caps at the end of chromosomes). In human cells, shortened telomeres are a sign of aging and contribute to it.

The results were published in the journal Cell Reports.

“Alpha-lipoic acid has an essential role in mitochondria, the energy-generating elements of the cell,” said senior author Wayne Alexander, MD, PhD, professor of medicine at Emory. “It is widely available and has been called a ‘natural antioxidant’. Yet ALA’s effects in human clinical studies have been a mixed bag.”

But the investigators’ discovery, Alexander said, was a strong indicator that ALA can have a positive influence on the aging process. “The effects of chronic diseases such as atherosclerosis and diabetes on blood vessels can be traced back to telomere shortening,” Alexander says. “This means that treatments that can restore healthy telomeres have great potential.”

ALA is a sulfur-containing fatty acid used to treat diabetic neuropathy in Germany, and has previously been shown to combat atherosclerosis in animal models.

“While ALA is present in many foods and its effects in animal models look promising, it may be problematic for clinical use because of its poor solubility, stability and bioavailability,” said  Shiqin Xiong, PhD, instructor in the division of cardiology and first author of the paper. “We are designing new ways to formulate and deliver ALA-related compounds to resolve these issues.”


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