Lipoic acid supplements may help obese patients lose weight

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A compound given as a dietary supplement to overweight but otherwise healthy people in a clinical trial caused many of the patients to lose weight, according to new research by Oregon State University and Oregon Health and Science University, and published in the Journal of Nutrition.

For the study, researchers analyzed the effects of 24 weeks of daily, 600-milligram doses of lipoic acid supplements on 31 people, with a similarly sized control group receiving a placebo.

Produced by both plants and animals, lipoic acid sets up shop in cells' mitochondria, where it's normally attached to proteins involved in energy and amino acid metabolism. A specialized, medium-chain fatty acid, it's unique in having two sulfur atoms at one end of the chain, allowing for the transfer of electrons from other sources.

The body generally produces enough lipoic acid to supply the enzymes whose proper function requires it. When taken as a dietary supplement, lipoic acid displays additional properties that might be unrelated to the function in the mitochondria, the researchers said. They include the stimulation of glucose metabolism, antioxidant defenses and anti-inflammatory responses, making it a possible complementary treatment for people with diabetes, heart disease, and age-related cognitive decline.

By the end of the study, some markers of inflammation declined, the researchers said. Contrary to what was expected by the researchers, decreased levels of triglycerides, a type of fat, or lipid, found in the blood, were not seen in all the participants taking lipoic acid. The findings also suggest that lipoic acid supplementation provides a mild reduction in oxidative stress, the researchers said.