Alpha-lipoic acid in liver metabolism and disease

Free Radic Biol Med. 1998 Apr;24(6):1023-39. doi: 10.1016/s0891-5849(97)00371-7.


R-alpha-Lipoic acid is found naturally occurring as a prosthetic group in alpha-keto acid dehydrogenase complexes of the mitochondria, and as such plays a fundamental role in metabolism. Although this has been known for decades, only recently has free supplemented alpha-lipoic acid been found to affect cellular metabolic processes in vitro, as it has the ability to alter the redox status of cells and interact with thiols and other antioxidants. Therefore, it appears that this compound has important therapeutic potential in conditions where oxidative stress is involved. Early case studies with alpha-lipoic acid were performed with little knowledge of the action of alpha-lipoic acid at a cellular level, but with the rationale that because the naturally occurring protein bound form of alpha-lipoic acid has a pivotal role in metabolism, that supplementation may have some beneficial effect. Such studies sought to evaluate the effect of supplemented alpha-lipoic acid, using low doses, on lipid or carbohydrate metabolism, but little or no effect was observed. A common response in these trials was an increase in glucose uptake, but increased plasma levels of pyruvate and lactate were also observed, suggesting that an inhibitory effect on the pyruvate dehydrogenase complex was occurring. During the same period, alpha-lipoic acid was also used as a therapeutic agent in a number of conditions relating to liver disease, including alcohol-induced damage, mushroom poisoning, metal intoxification, and CCl4 poisoning. Alpha-Lipoic acid supplementation was successful in the treatment for these conditions in many cases. Experimental studies and clinical trials in the last 5 years using high doses of alpha-lipoic acid (600 mg in humans) have provided new and consistent evidence for the therapeutic role of antioxidant alpha-lipoic acid in the treatment of insulin resistance and diabetic polyneuropathy. This new insight should encourage clinicians to use alpha-lipoic acid in diseases affecting liver in which oxidative stress is involved.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Liver / drug effects
  • Liver / metabolism*
  • Liver Diseases / drug therapy
  • Liver Diseases / metabolism*
  • Thioctic Acid / metabolism*
  • Thioctic Acid / physiology
  • Thioctic Acid / therapeutic use


  • Thioctic Acid