Since the early 1970`s, scientists have postulated that a lifetime of exposure to toxic chemicals, poor diet, and harsh pharmaceutical medications leads to increased free radicals, decreased cellular energy production and chronic disease. Excess accumulation of free radicals causes changes in mitochondrial structure and function that we now know leads to a variety of medical conditions (fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, coronary artery disease, and Parkinson’s disease). This progression is frequently referred to as the “Mitochondrial Theory of Ageing and Disease”.
Scientific support for the use of micronutrient-based mitochondrial support as a means of protecting cells from progressive oxidative damage is accumulating. Such therapies are intended to scavenge for toxic free radicals and aid critical enzyme reactions in performing their important functions.
Studies have shown that patients suffering with chronic fatigue caused by mitochondrial dysfunction have improved with supplementation of mitochondrial nutrients and antioxidants, including acetyl-L carnitine, alpha-lipoic acid, and N-acetyl cysteine (NAC). This triad has been shown to reduce damage to mitochondrial membranes, restore mitochondrial energy production, protect cellular structures from oxidative damage, and decrease fatigue.
The Key Triad
Acetyl-L Carnitine (ALCAR)
Acetyl-L-carnitine is an amino acid, which plays a critical role in energy production by transporting long-chain fatty acids into the mitochondria so they can be metabolized to produce energy. This key amino acid also transports toxic compounds out of this cellular organelle to prevent their accumulation. ALCAR is commonly supplemented in combination with other vitamins and cofactors.
Research in aged rats has found that supplementation with high doses of acetyl-L-carnitine and alpha-lipoic acid (an antioxidant) improved oxidative stress levels, restored mitochondrial functioning, lowered neuron RNA oxidation, and increased rat ambulatory activity and cognition (as assayed with the Skinner box and Morris water maze).
A meta-analysis of double-blind, placebo-controlled studies suggests that supplements of acetyl-L-carnitine may improve mental function and reduce deterioration in older adults with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease. Additionally, acetyl L-carnitine has been shown in studies to improve memory and brain function in people who are suffering from type 2 diabetes
Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA)
Alpha-lipoic acid acts as an enzymatic “cofactor” and is essential for healthy mitochondrial function. First, alpha-lipoic acid helps support enzymes that are vital for transforming foods in the form of sugars, proteins, and fats into usable cellular energy (ATP). Second, as a potent antioxidant, ALA scavenges free radicals and peroxides that cause widespread oxidative stress and cellular damage. Finally, alpha-lipoic acid blocks inflammatory signals and boosts levels of pro-oxidant destroying molecules.
Studies have shown that ALA supplementation improves energy expenditure in aged mice. Researchers examined aging mice that were broken into two groups: one supplemented with alpha-lipoic acid and the other served as a control group for a period of 30 days. Both groups were tested for metabolic functions relating to glucose metabolism, energy production and antioxidant status. Results showed that the alpha-lipoic acid supplemented group experienced mitochondrial biogenesis, a process that replaces damaged and aging mitochondria.
N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)
N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) replenishes intracellular levels of the natural antioxidant glutathione (GSH) that is often deficient in ageing individuals and those with chronic illness. This critically important precursor to glutathione synthesis also helps restore cells’ ability to fight free radical damage and protect mitochondrial proteins.
NAC has also been in clinical use for the treatment of acetaminophen (Tylenol©) overdose and liver failure for many years.
Mitochondrial enzymatic reactions require a wide range of vitamins and mineral cofactors to function. Therefore, when attempting to support mitochondrial health and energy production, all micronutrients required for increased mitochondrial metabolism may need to be supplemented in a broad-based fashion to achieve optimal results. In addition to taking a high-potency multivitamin, the addition of therapeutic dosages of this key triad - NAC, alpha lipoic acid and acetyl-L-carnitine - have solid research supporting their use as part of an effective mitochondrial support supplement program.