It detoxes your liver, fights cancer, reduces inflammation, protects against infection. . .and of course the medical profession is totally uninterested.
“I am very upset with you…You have no deaths on your service…”
Those were the words of the chief of medicine to Dr. Burt Berkson, internal medicine resident at a teaching hospital in Cleveland.
Berkson asked why — he actually thought the chief was joking.
The chief said, “You have no deaths on your service. Most people have seen several deaths by now and you haven’t seen any.”
To which Berkson replied that he tried to keep people alive.
His chief continued, “It’s very unusual. I’m going to give you two people who will surely die. They have acute liver disease. They ate poisonous mushrooms, and the expert on liver disease said we cannot get a transplant for them, and nothing can save them. So I want you to go upstairs, watch them die, take notes and present this to grand medical rounds.”
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What happens when a doctor refuses
to follow orders?
Now as a medical doctor — especially in internal medicine — you’re supposed to follow the orders of the chief, like a private follows the orders of a lieutenant.
But Berkson had six years of education above his medical training — a Master’s and PhD in microbiology and cell biology — and was always searching for new discoveries.
So he called the National Institutes of Health and spoke to the head of Internal Medicine, Dr. Fred Bartter — and asked if there was anything he knew of that could regenerate a liver.
Dr. Bartter said he was studying alpha lipoic acid because he knew it could reverse diabetic neuropathy and other complications of diabetes. But he was seeing something even more startling: when he gave it to people, it seemed to regenerate their organs. It seemed to stimulate their stem cells and start the growth of new organ tissue.
Dr. Bartter had the lipoic acid sent to Dr. Berkson, who picked it up at the Cleveland airport three hours later.
The pilot handed it off to him. He raced back to the hospital and injected it into the two gravely ill patients for a period of two weeks.
By the end of those two weeks, they’d completely regenerated their livers. (And they’re still alive and well, in their 80s — thirty-some years later.)
Dr. Berkson was all excited. So was Dr. Bartter.
But the chiefs were very upset. They said, “We told the families that these people were going to die, that there was no hope. And now they’re alive and well. You know, it makes us look bad. And you did something without asking us for permission.”
Berkson said, “You told me that these people were my responsibility, so I did what I thought was correct. Do you want to know what I did?”
“No.” They continued, “This is not an approved drug. And it’s not on our formulary. And you did not follow orders like a good internal medicine doctor.”1
“I guess I became the medical outlaw”
Dr. Berkson was chagrined. This was all very different from what he’d experienced as professor of biology. There, when he discovered something new, everyone would pat him on the back and give him awards.
In medicine, if you discovered something new, you were considered some kind of outlaw.
Anyway, he was told not to do this again. But other patients came in with mushroom poisoning. There’s not much you can do in this case except transplant — or take alpha lipoic acid.
After achieving such remarkable results with four patients, Dr. Bartter and several other doctors flew to Cleveland and set up a national conference on organ regeneration. Young Dr. Berkson was the lead speaker.
Eventually Dr. Bartter and Dr. Berkson published a paper on 79 people with so-called terminal liver disease. Of those, 75 regenerated their livers with just intravenous lipoic acid.
Doctors in the United States were almost totally uninterested. But the two authors were invited to Europe as visiting scientists at the prestigious Max Planck Institute, so they published in Europe.
When was alpha lipoic acid discovered?
Sixty years ago, a team of scientists led by Dr. Lester Reed, from the University of Texas in Austin, made a startling discovery. They isolated a compound that could alter the metabolism of glucose.
The term lipoic refers to ‘lipid’ or fat, so they named it alpha-lipoic acid (ALA).
Hundreds of articles have been published on it. At first the focus was on its role in sugar metabolism.
All that changed in the 1980s — when ALA’s powerful antioxidant capabilities were discovered and became the new focus of research. Researchers also became interested in alpha lipoic acid for its ability to fight various diseases and health problems:
- Protecting from infections
- Fighting inflammation
- Protecting nerve cells
- Treating cardiovascular diseases
- Fighting Cancer
- Reducing allergies
- Shielding against stomach ulcers
Is ALA the supreme antioxidant?
Alpha lipoic is a fabulous antioxidant, offering some benefits not found in other antioxidants.
A leading scientist in antioxidant chemistry, Lester Packer, PhD, from the University of California-Berkeley, published a review article in the journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine in 1995 — in which he reports on the uniqueness of alpha lipoic acid.2
Packer comes close to naming it the ‘ideal’ antioxidant because:
- ALA is readily absorbed from your diet or when taken as a supplement
- It has the uncanny ability to regenerate ‘used-up’ vitamin C, extending C’s value way beyond normal.
- It can potentially regenerate other antioxidants.
- It increases your levels of glutathione, your primary cellular antioxidant. (More on this in a moment.)
- ALA can help replenish your body’s vitamin E
Are you what you eat?
“You are what you eat” has become a common adage. And it’s true. The food you eat impacts your health and wellbeing directly.
Vegetables and fruits supply you with numerous vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, as well as fiber. Natural carbs like those produced by green plants through photosynthesis provide you with sugars your cells burn for energy.
Your mitochondria function as the powerhouses of your cells, producing the energy required for life. The mitochondrion is actually a package of enzymes responsible for the slow and orderly burning of food with oxygen.
Cells with high energy requirements — like your heart and liver cells — have abundant mitochondria. One microscopic liver cell can contain more than 2,000 mitochondrial powerhouses.
All the food you eat is eventually converted to sugar and used as fuel for the mitochondrion.
It’s in this context that ALA does one of its most important jobs. Without alpha lipoic acid, the prepared glucose cannot enter the mitochondrion. So, no ALA — no energy produced — and no life. You aren’t what you eat, because it never gets utilized.
Therefore, ALA is necessary to keep you alive.
Interestingly, ALA’s structure allows it to be both water-soluble and fat-soluble — making it a superb detoxifying antioxidant.
One of ALA’s major roles is to transfer sugar into your powerhouse mitochondrion. It’s impossible to move that fuel across the membrane without ALA.
ALA and the aging process
A major cause of aging is free radical damage. Free radical molecules contain uneven numbers of electrons, making them highly unstable. They’re forever trying to stabilize themselves by stealing electrons from stable molecules.
Stable molecules coming in contact with free radicals are always in danger of losing an electron to this unstable electron thief, causing a chain reaction that destroys the delicate structure of the cell.
Fortunately you can control and counter this destructive process, at least in part.
You can effectively delay aging by following Dr. Berkson’s five rules of healthy living, outlined in The Alpha Lipoic Acid Breakthrough: The Superb Antioxidant:
- Eat a healthy, largely vegetable diet, enhanced with nutritional supplements. Don’t overeat.
- Get on a regular exercise program.
- Get 7-8 hours sleep per night.
- Limit your exposure to environmental toxins — alcohol, cigarette smoke, smog, industrial chemicals, radiation, prescription drugs, etc.
- Relieve your stress
Supplementing with antioxidants can help protect you from free radical bombardment. But the problem is…
What makes ALA such a potent antioxidant?
ALA works double duty. It seeks and heals free radical damage in every setting — whether in brain fluids, your blood, stored fat, your heart, pancreas, kidneys, bone, cartilage, liver… or any other cell in any organ of your body, for that matter.
It is both a hydrophilic and lipophilic molecule. In simple terms, that means it’s water-soluble and fat-soluble — explaining why it does double duty. These remarkable characteristics allow it to pass through the blood-brain barrier — so it increases brain energy.3
What’s more, allow me to introduce you to…
Your body’s incredible ‘recycling’ program…
ALA has a fabulous ability… It can salvage and recycle other antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E and glutathione. Whenever one of these antioxidants is used up, ALA can renew its effectiveness — letting those antioxidants do double duty too. Biochemists call this antioxidant recycling.
Also, ALA protects collagen in your skin, preventing wrinkling and the appearance of aging in your body. Further, it guards your DNA and RNA from damage, neutralizing potentially dangerous chemicals that trigger gene expression leading to cancer.
Last but not least, ALA encourages your body to produce glutathione — an indispensable and powerful antioxidant within your cells. Glutathione protects your body from free radical damage.
It defends against free radical waste products — as well as toxins produced by alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, cancer chemotherapy, and exposure to damaging radiation. (Note: Don’t take this as a license to consume alcohol or smoke cigarettes. There’s no point in increasing toxins in your body.)
I first learned about glutathione years ago, when I was doing some work for Dr. David Williams, a well known authority on alternative medicine. He regarded glutathione as a critical anti-aging nutrient, but our levels go down as we age. In his opinion, the higher your glutathione levels, the longer you’re likely to live. Many patients with diseases have low glutathione levels.
My good friend Dr. Keith Scott-Mumby regards glutathione as critical to liver health, and good liver health is critical to overall good health. The problem is, you can’t supplement directly with glutathione because it’s broken down in the stomach. Dr. Williams says the same thing.
Since it’s useless to take straight glutathione supplements, you need to supplement with the building blocks of glutathione. Then your body will have what it needs to manufacture glutathione for itself. One of those key building blocks is alpha lipoic acid.
As Dr. Berkson found in his research, your liver can regenerate itself if you give it the tools, including alpha lipoic acid. But you need other nutrients, too.
Glutathione’s ability to guard against free radical damage extends not only to your liver but also to your blood vessels, nervous system, immune system, lungs and kidneys.
ALA and radiation
Nuclear radiation is a huge promoter of free radicals with high potential to kill you. In animal experiments, ALA was shown to protect the bone marrow of mice from radiation injuries.4
One of the worst nuclear accidents in history occurred in Chernobyl, Russia in 1986. It exposed local residents to constant radiation. Soil was contaminated more than 1,000 miles away. The Russian government administered ALA by itself and also with vitamin E — and reported that abnormal liver and kidney functions became normal again with ALA.5
Alpha lipoic acid as a chelating agent
The fact that ALA can reverse radiation damage suggests it might also function as a chelation agent for heavy metals such as lead and mercury.
Certain substances can grasp and bind metals, neutralize them, and carry them out of your system. Excessive heavy metals can cause oxidative stress (basically, free radical damage), and promote unhealthy changes, kill healthy cells, or lead to disease. Some heavy metals, like mercury and arsenic, can cause serious organ damage.
Alpha lipoic acid chelates mercury, arsenic, copper, excess iron, cadmium, excess calcium, zinc and lead. Dr. Lester Packer continues to do exciting research on antioxidant biochemistry. But the research so far suggests that ALA is a great therapeutic agent for heavy metal poisoning.
Can ALA treat or prevent cancer?
Traditional medicine’s view of cancer treatment continues to consist of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation… despite the incredible discoveries of natural cures in the past twenty years.
Dr. Berkson notes that sensible cell biologists know everyone forms cancer cells during their lifetime, but only 30% are diagnosed with clinical cancer — suggesting that you’re born with the capacity to destroy cancer cells using your immune system… and that disease occurs when something disrupts your normal immune response.
Though cancer usually develops over a long time period, the disease begins with damage to either genes or mitochondria in a cell — along with a weakened immune system that allows these abnormal cells to proliferate.
The first — and best — line of defense against cancer is a good offense… through a sound, high-antioxidant, mostly raw diet full of nourishing enzymes.
Dr. Berkson believes that despite the grim prospects painted for cancer, there’s mounting scientific evidence that various nutrients can stop and possibly reverse cancer.
But be aware, it’s a very rare day when a doctor will give you a nutritional plan to prevent cancer. That starts and ends with you!
Can ALA discourage cancer?
Alpha lipoic acid is a potent antioxidant that’s incredibly effective at stopping free radicals and dangerous toxins from taking over.
It’s been reported to neutralize the toxic effects of radiation therapy in animal studies, and shown to alleviate harmful effects of chemo in cancer patients.6
Scientists speculate that ALA might actually discourage cancer development, or may reverse or hold off the malignant syndrome.
In very simple terms, it does that by stopping the damaging messages that flow from messenger molecules outside of cells to the nucleus inside cells. It appears ALA can do this both indirectly by quenching free radicals, and directly by stabilizing these messengers.
This is exciting because — if true — it means ALA can potentially stop cells that are genetically programmed to become cancerous, causing them to remain non-cancerous.
We’ve found a huge amount of research and clinical medical papers on this.7
Vitamins needed for ALA to perform well…
As often happens, one nutrient (or hormone, or whatever) does not operate solo. ALA works better when combined with various vitamins.8
Vitamin A. Shown to reduce the risk of many cancers by supporting immune function. Sometimes used as a complementary treatment with conventional cancer therapy. Upholds the integrity of your skin, mucous membranes, and other barriers to invading alien cells.
Vitamin C. Improves the strength of your blood. Can destroy cancer cells, neutralize toxins that can influence cancer, and strengthen your immune system. And remember — ALA can recycle and reuse used-up vitamin C. With ALA, vitamin C works over and over.
Vitamin E. Works in fatty environments. Helps prevent normal cells from becoming cancerous. ALA recycles vitamin C, which in turn recycles used-up vitamin E. So both vitamin C and E are optimized in the presence of ALA. Be aware that too much vitamin E can be harmful, according to some experts.
Glutathione. The most important intra-cellular antioxidant. Mops up toxins and free radicals. Forms systems that defend against cancer-causing free radicals. ALA has been shown to increase production of and recycle glutathione.
Selenium. Found through eating green leafy plants. Scientists believe selenium fights cancer directly as a powerful antioxidant, and indirectly by increasing glutathione activity. You need small amounts to stay healthy. But caution — selenium is toxic in large amounts.
Taking alpha lipoic acid…
Because it’s such a potent antioxidant, it seems logical to consider taking ALA along with other supplements you take. ALA is readily available at health food and supplement stores.
The ideal dose of ALA has not been established.
Dr. Berkson stresses that the proper dose varies from one person to another, and you should develop your ALA plan with the help of a well-informed doctor who is truly committed to disease prevention.
Reminder: ALA will do the most for you in the context of eating at least six servings of fresh fruits and veggies per day.
Which form should you take? R-ALA is more potent than the commonly sold synthetic ALA which usually contains both the R and S forms. The S form is a mirror image of the R form and not easily utilized by the body.
The bottom line…
Alpha lipoic acid is an exciting addition to the list of nutrients, herbs and hormones that can treat disease in a safer, more natural way than conventional drugs — and help you to become healthier.
But, as with any medicine… ALA is not a magic bullet that can cure disease in the face of poor diet, lack of exercise and other lifestyle choices.
Your body — like everyone’s — is complicated, involving countless biochemical reactions occurring at every moment.
Give ALA its due, but use it as one part of an overall strategy for maximum health. That is when ALA can really shine.
1 Adapted from Interview with Dr. Berkson, available at http://www.wellsphere.com/patient-empowerment-article/burt-berkson-md-phd-talks-with-honest-medicine-about-his-work-and-our-medical-system-the-interview-transcribed/616922
3 Barbiroli, B., et al. 1995. Lipoic (thictic) acid increases brain energy availability and skeletal muscle performance as show by in vivo 31P-MRS in a patient with mitochondrial cytopathy. Journal of Neurology 242:472-477.
4Ramakrishnan, N., et al. 1992. Radioprotection of hematopoietic tissues in mice by lipoic acid. Radiation Research 130:360-365.
5Cadenas, E., and Packer, L. 1995. Handbook of Antioxidants. Dekker, New York.
6Berger, V., et al. 1983. Influence of thioctic acid on the chemotherapeutic efficacy of cyclophosphamide and vincristine sulfate. Arzneimittel-Forschung 33:1286-1288.
7 Dirsch, V., Gerbes, A., and Vollmar, A. 1998. Ajoene, a compound of garlic, inducesapoptosis in human promyeloleukemic cells, accompanied by generation of reactive oxygen species and activation of NF kappa B. Molecular Pharmacology 53(3):402-407.
8Berkson, Burt, MD, PhD, The Alpha Lipoic Acid Breakthrough: The Superb Antioxidant that May Slow Aging, Repair Liver Damage, and Reduce the Risk of Cancer, Heart Disease, and Diabetes.