Can alpha lipoic acid treat fatty liver disease and cholesterol gallstones?
DISCLAIMER: CONSULT WITH A DOCTOR BEFORE DECIDING ON A TREATMENT PLAN FOR ANY DISEASE OR INJURY.
Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is an antioxidant compound found in every cell in the body. It is an essential part of cellular respiration (turning glucose into energy) and may be able to not only attack free radicals, but may also be able to “reactivate” antioxidants that have already expended their resources targeting harmful ROS. Unlike some other compounds that are ONLY fat or water soluble, alpha lipoic acid is BOTH fat-soluble and water-soluble, meaning that it can function as an antioxidant throughout the entire body without being limited to only watery or fatty areas. In addition, alpha lipoic has a special ability to be able to pass into the brain, so it can help target toxic free radicals in the brain as well (unlike many other antioxidants that may not have access to the brain as easily).
Some of the various scientifically studied therapeutic applications of alpha lipoic acid (besides those related directly to the liver and gallbladder) may include:
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Insulin resistance
- Dementia and memory loss
- Heavy metal detoxification (specifically detox from mercury and arsenic, and from iron toxicity)
- Erectile dysfunction (ED)
- Some forms of cancer
- Ear infections
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Lyme disease
- Retina damage
- Cardiovascular disease
- And More…
Applications of Alpha Lipoic Acid for Gallbladder Disease
As an antioxidant with regenerative capabilities, alpha lipoic acid can reach the liver and gallbladder with relative ease to repair oxidative damage or problems related to heavy metal toxicity. Since these two organs are, of course, closely related, what benefits one almost always benefits the other. The scientific research is somewhat limited in regard to ALA’s effects on the gallbladder specifically, however there is some literature on how ALA can help heal some liver problems. For this reason, I’ll talk more about the liver than the gallbladder in this article, but I’ll connect the dots between how ALA’s documented effects on liver health may affect the gallbladder too.
One study observed that a combination of flaxseed oil with ALA was able to stop the progression of fatty liver disease in rats by reducing hepatic lipid accumulation and by minimizing the negative effects of oxidation in the liver. The alpha-linolenic acid (abbreviated as LNA here to avoid confusion with alpha lipoic acid) in flaxseed oil has been shown to reduce serum lipid levels, as well as the lipid levels in the liver specifically. LNA in flaxseed oil can also decrease the size of an enlarged liver (hepatomegaly). Unfortunately, flaxseed oil can be oxidized quickly in the body, sometimes leading to an increase in lipids rather than a decrease. When administered together with ALA, an antioxidant, studies demonstrated that the LNA can do its job appropriately to reduce lipid accumulation in the liver (in the study mentioned, the ALA was dissolved in flaxseed oil).
Though not a gallbladder problem, fatty liver disease (or undiagnosed, early fat accumulation in the liver) can be a contributing factor in the development of cholesterol gallstones. The increase of fat in the liver also indicates an increase in cholesterol. This cholesterol increase ultimately affects the composition of the bile acids that the liver produces and sends to the gallbladder for storage. High cholesterol levels in bile decreases the fluidity of the bile, therefore leading to gallbladder sludge and, eventually, gallstone development. Thus, through the treatment of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease using ALA and flaxseed, gallstone formation can be prevented.
One potentially gallbladder- and liver-healing recipe that applies the principles of this study is the Budwig Smoothie, taken with an ALA supplement at the same time (IMPORTANT NOTE: Do not take alpha lipoic acid powder on its own! Always put it in a capsule. Taking the powder will cause a burning sensation in your throat). The Budwig Smoothie combines the perfect ratio of proteins and fats and uses flaxseed oil in combination with cottage cheese (this can be replaced with another fatty substitute, like full-fat coconut cream, for example).
How to Take Alpha Lipoic Acid for Gallbladder Complaints
Alpha lipoic acid is produced naturally in the body already (most ALA is produced in the liver), but certain health issues may result in lower-than-normal ALA levels (or in some cases, be caused by low ALA levels in the first place). Nevertheless, ALA can be taken in supplement form, or can be consumed in dietary sources, such as grass-fed red meats, organ meats, and yeast (brewer’s yeast in particular is a good source of this nutrient). Spinach, broccoli, and potatoes may also have decent amounts of alpha lipoic acid.
Alpha lipoic acid is available in capsule form for at-home use, or as an injection or IV treatment done by a doctor or another licensed professional (ALA injections/IV therapies are most likely to be more accessible in boutique clinics that offer other IV treatments; some may be able to provide this upon request even if it isn’t marketed in their normal marketing materials).
Most sources recommend taking between 600-1200mg of alpha lipoic acid per day in capsule form, but this dose has even gone up to a dose as high as 1800mg daily in some cases. Since this is an antioxidant medicine, it should not be taken with oxidant medicines like MMS/CDS, hydrogen peroxide, or other similar medicines. Ideally, add ALA into a gallbladder healing protocol that includes other antioxidant medicines.
People taking alpha lipoic acid should also take a B-complex vitamin and a vitamin B1 supplement. Some studies have indicated that alpha lipoic acid use in the presence of a vitamin B1 deficieny may produce negative effects. In addition, alpha lipoic acid supplementation has been shown to reduce vitamin B1 levels in the body. Therefore, supplementation with a high quality B-complex supplement (like a B-100 supplement) and a dedicated vitamin B1 supplement is recommended for people who choose to supplement with alpha lipoic acid to avoid the potential effects of a vitamin B1 deficiency. The B-complex vitamin work best together, and all are very safe to take in higher doses in this way, which is why I advise taking a B-100 supplement AND a vitamin B1 supplement with alpha lipoic acid.
Safety Indications for Alpha Lipoic Acid Use
Alpha lipoic acid is a very safe supplement to take for most people in most situations. Nevertheless, there are some side effects that some people may experience, and some specific situations when alpha lipoic acid should be avoided.
Here are some side effects of higher dose alpha lipoic acid (note that these side effects are fairly rare, though, even when taking a larger amount of alpha lipoic acid):
- Skin rash
Peopele with diabetes should be aware that alpha lipoic acid can lower blood sugar levels. While this medicine can be used therapeutically to treat diabetes, it should only be used in this way with the supervision of a medical professional to avoid any potentially negative consequences.
Alpha lipoic acid supplements may interfere with the following types of medications:
- Diabetes medications (ALA may combine with these, thereby further lower blood sugar levels and increasing the risk of hypoglycemia)
- Chemotherapy medications
- Thyroid medications (specifically, ALA may interfere with levothyroxine; ALA can lower thyroid hormone levels)
 Mount Sinai (n.d). Alpha-lipoic acid. Retrieved June 22, 2022 from: https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/supplement/alpha-lipoic-acid
 N.A. (2021). Alpha-Lipoic Acid. Retrieved June 22, 2022 from: https://www.rxlist.com/alpha-lipoic_acid/supplements.htm
 Chanin, Pundee (n.d). Fatty Liver: A Contributing Factor to Gallstones. Retrieved June 22, 2022 from: https://www.bangkokhospital.com/en/content/fatty-liver-risk-of-gallstone
 Xu, Jiqu, et. al. (2013). Flaxseed oil and alpha-lipoic acid combination ameliorates hepatic oxidative stress and lipid accumulation in comparison to lard. Retrieved June 22, 2022 from: https://lipidworld.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1476-511X-12-58