Oregon State University (OSU) researchers have found the mechanism through which lipoic acid may help people live a long life with comparatively good health and vigour, free of degenerative disease, until very near death.
Lipoic acid has been found to slow down the process of ageing, improve blood flow, enhance immune function, and perform many other functions in animals.
"The evidence suggests that lipoic acid is actually a low-level stressor that turns on the basic cellular defences of the body, including some of those that naturally decline with age," said Dr. Tory Hagen, Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics.
"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," he added.
The researchers say that lipoic acid seems to be one of the most promising micronutrients that may be implicated in the ageing or degenerative disease process. They say that it is normally found at low levels in green leafy vegetables, but can also be taken as a supplement.
"Our studies have shown that mice supplemented with lipoic acid have a cognitive ability, behaviour, and genetic expression of almost 100 detoxification and antioxidant genes that are comparable to that of young animals. They aren't just living longer, they are living better - and that's the goal we're after," Hagen said.
The scientists say that lipoic acid reduces mitochondrial decay in cells, which is closely linked to the symptoms of ageing.
They say that with age, glutathione levels naturally decline and make older animals more susceptible to both free radicals and other environmental toxins, but lipoic acid can restore glutathione function to near normal.
"We never really expected such a surprising range of benefits from one compound. This is really unprecedented, and we're pretty excited about it," Hagen said.
The findings were discussed at the Linus Pauling Institute sponsored 'Diet and Optimum Health' conference.