Can Alpha Lipoic Acid Help Restore Smell Post Infection?
Did you know Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) is a natural and versatile antioxidant that can support blood sugar, peripheral neuropathy issues and make other antioxidants like vitamin c, vitamin e, and glutathione function better? Some may even argue that it is one of the most versatile antioxidants out there!
Lately, ALA has been getting a lot of press on its anecdotal ability to help regain smell in some individuals on social media. This article will discuss some research regarding ALA related to taste and smell and give additional background information on alpha-lipoic acid.
Loss of Smell from Covid-19
One common occurrence we hear from previously infected covid patients is that there seems to be a loss of taste and smell for a significant time after the previous infection for some individuals. One 2020 study from The Journal of Laryngoscope considers the loss of taste or smell one of the most common occurrences in early covid 19 infections. (1)
The Journal of Laryngology and Otology (August 2020) examined chemo sensitivities (taste and smell) in covid patients for 60 days. They found that “significant increases regaining taste and smell scores occurred in the first 10 days for taste and between 10 and 20 days for the smell. At the end of the observation period (60 days after symptom onset), 7.2 percent of the patients still had severe dysfunctions.” (2)
Unfortunately, if you were in the unlucky 7.2%, you probably wonder what you can do to start smelling and tasting again. We were given five senses for a reason!
If you struggle with regaining a sense of smell or taste, you would probably be willing to try anything natural to help, right? While there are still minimal large-scale studies regarding regaining taste and smell, I will review a small study regarding smell and alpha-lipoic acid supplementation shortly.
What is Alpha Lipoic Acid?
Alpha Lipoic Acid was first identified in the 1930s, but it wasn’t until the 1950s when Alpha Lipoic Acid was first isolated. The first clinical use of ALA was described in Germany in 1959 to treat acute poisoning with Amanita phalloides, commonly known as death cap [from mushrooms] a deadly poison widely distributed in Europe.
Since the 1950s, many research studies have confirmed its effects and benefits of:
- Recharging antioxidants
- Lowering blood sugar
- Neuron protection
- Supporting peripheral neuropathy
- Recovering from strenuous workouts
- Eye Health
- Memory and Cognition
Alpha-lipoic acid is a naturally occurring organic compound contained in all cells of the human body. It is synthesized enzymatically in the mitochondrion via lipoic acid synthase and also from octanoic acid. ALA is essential for the function of different enzymes that take part in mitochondria’s oxidative metabolism.
ALA, aka lipoic acid and even thioctic acid, is a fantastic compound. While many vitamins exist in only one form- fat-soluble (vitamins ADEK), or water-soluble (b-vitamins, vit c, etc). ALA actually has 3-fold properties of being fat-soluble, water-soluble, and also has sulfhydryl properties, making it one of the only compounds that have multi-factorial properties. Why is this important? Since ALA can exist in these different forms, it can perform various activities, including helping utilize glucose, cell signaling, recharging other antioxidants, and more.
Since ALA is both a fat and water-soluble vitamin, it can practically work in every cell of the body. Alpha-lipoic acid or its reduced form, dihydrolipoic acid, has many biochemical functions acting as biological antioxidants, metal chelators, and reducers of the oxidized forms of other antioxidants such as vitamin C and E, and glutathione.
Because alpha-lipoic acid can protect cells and neurons from oxidative stress, it also offers supports diabetic neuropathies. ALA is considered an effective drug in treating diabetic distal sensory-motor neuropathy, which affects about 50 percent of people with diabetes. (3)
ALA Food Sources
Foods containing high amounts of mitochondria have the highest source of Lipoic Acid (e.g., kidney, heart, liver, and skeletal muscle). Fruit and vegetable sources of ALA include spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, potatoes, and beets. Like other antioxidants found in these foods, ALA scavenges free radicals, fights off inflammation, and slows the aging process. However, one of the most famous uses of ALA is fighting diabetes naturally by lowering blood sugar. It does this by turning glucose into fuel for the body. A study using a dose of 600 mg/ day of ALA over three months demonstrated that ALA helps support healthy lipid levels while improving oxidative stress (reducing free radical damage) by 38%. (4)
ALA’s most valuable role still remains in its ability to fight off free radicals’ bad effects and to combat abnormal cell growth and multiplication.
Alpha Lipoic Acid and Regaining Taste of Smell
While studies are minimal regarding alpha-lipoic acid and regaining smell function, a 2002 study is worth mentioning.
In the 2002 study, researchers wanted to study the potential therapeutic effects of alpha-lipoic acid in olfactory loss following upper respiratory tract infections. Seem familiar?
Possible reasons they wanted to study alpha-lipoic acid in the first place is some of the “mechanisms of action of ALA include: the release of nerve growth factor and antioxidative effects, both of which may be helpful in the regeneration of olfactory receptor neurons.” (5).
The study included 23 adults with a mean ( average) age range of 57 years old; each participant was given 600mg daily for 4.5 months. While 7 participants saw no change after the study, 14 patients saw moderate to remarkable olfactory function at the end of the trial.
Conclusions: Researchers concluded, “The results indicate that alpha-lipoic acid may be helpful in patients with olfactory (smell) loss after upper respiratory tract infection.” (5)
This study was a small sample size, and more studies are needed, but still positive nonetheless.
Before you go out and buy ALA supplements, read this.
Before you go out, buy alpha-lipoic acid from your nearest grocery store; here are a few tips on finding a good brand.
We recommend clinical brands for the most parts, as the raw materials they use are of higher quality. Cheaper is not always better, and in some cases, cheaper supplements could be possibly harmful. Higher quality brands have ALA that is produced via a patented steam-extraction process. This process, while being more expensive, helps ALA stay solvent-free. Lower quality ALA products that use cheaper extraction methods relying on toxic solvents such as benzene. The WHO classifies benzene as a significant public health concern, with human exposure in large doses being associated with multiple long-term adverse health effects.(6)
How would you possibly know this information, you might ask? Asking the manufacturer is the first step, or finding a quality clinical brand doing things the right way that you can trust is another reason for choosing quality brands.
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Disclaimer: Always consult a physician before starting a new rehab exercise, training routine, diet, or dietary supplement. This post is for educational purposes only. Always ask your doctor or physician for personalized medical advice.
- Vaira, LA, Salzano, G, Deiana, G, De Riu, G. Anosmia and ageusia: common findings in COVID-19 patients. Laryngoscope 2020;130:1787Google ScholarPubMed
- Vaira, L., Hopkins, C., Petrocelli, M., Lechien, J., Chiesa-Estomba, C., Salzano, G., . . . De Riu, G. (2020). Smell and taste recovery in coronavirus disease 2019 patients: A 60-day objective and prospective study. The Journal of Laryngology & Otology, 134(8), 703-709. doi:10.1017/S0022215120001826
- Ibrahimpasic K. Alpha-lipoic acid and glycaemic control in diabetic neuropathies at type 2 diabetes treatment. Med Arch. 2013;67(1):7-9. doi:10.5455/medarh.2013.67.7-9
- Ruderman NB, Carling D, Prentki M, Cacicedo JM. Ampk, insulin resistance, and the metabolic syndrome. The Journal of Clinical Investigation. 2013;123:2764-2772.
- Hummel T, Heilmann S, Hüttenbriuk KB. Lipoic acid in the treatment of smell dysfunction following viral infection of the upper respiratory tract. Laryngoscope. 2002;112(11):2076-2080. doi:10.1097/00005537-200211000-00031