PORTLAND, Ore. Researchers said today they have identified the mechanism of action of lipoic acid, a remarkable compound that in animal experiments appears to slow down the process of aging, improve blood flow, enhance immune function and perform many other functions.
The findings, discussed at the "Diet and Optimum Health" conference sponsored by the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, shed light on how this micronutrient might perform such a wide range of beneficial functions.
"The evidence suggests that lipoic acid is actually a low-level stressor that turns on the basic cellular defenses of the body, including some of those that naturally decline with age," said Tory Hagen, an LPI researcher and associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics at OSU. "In particular, it tends to restore levels of glutathione, a protective antioxidant and detoxification compound, to those of a young animal. It also acts as a strong anti-inflammatory agent, which is relevant to many degenerative diseases."
Researchers at LPI are studying vitamins, dietary approaches and micronutrients that may be implicated in the aging or degenerative disease process, and say that lipoic acid appears to be one of those with the most compelling promise. It's normally found at low levels in green leafy vegetables, but can also be taken as a supplement.
According to Hagen, research on the natural processes of aging, and steps that could slow it or improve health until near the end of life, are of growing importance.
"We're coming into the middle of an aging epidemic in the country," he said. "In a short time more than 70 million Americans will be over 65. This is partly because of the Baby Boom, but also people are living longer, being saved with antibiotics and other medical treatments. In any case, it will be an unprecedented number of elderly people in this nation."