Exercise and Alpha Lipoic Acid – the Antioxidant Controversy

Can antioxidants reduce the benefits of exercise? Find out what a controversial new study says.

If you're vigorously exercising to shed pounds you're burning more oxygen — which creates more free radicals. Antioxidants such as alpha lipoic acid can help neutralize and protect your body from those excess free radicals. (iv.111)

However, currently there is considerable disagreement amongst researchers about the benefits of using antioxidant supplements with an exercise program. In fact, some even suggest that antioxidants could be bad for you when combined with exercise. (iv.118)

How Can Antioxidants Be Detrimental?

Even though free radicals are often harmful to the body, they also are helpful in certain circumstances. For example, during exercise they serve as signals for the body's muscle cells to adapt and respond to the increased demand for energy: (iv.111118)

Exercise - Free Radicals - Muscle cells stimulated to develop more mitochondria - Mitochondria generate more cell energy

Figure IV.4: Exercise, Free Radicals, and Cell Energy

Studies show that antioxidant supplements (including alpha lipoic acid) block the free radicals generated by exercise. In addition, some studies suggest that oral antioxidants could cause one or more of the following negative effects:

The Positive Effects of Alpha Lipoic Acid and Exercise

The assertions that antioxidants are ineffective or detrimental when combined with exercise are controversial. (iv.119136)

Other researchers found that alpha lipoic acid:

The Bottom Line

The final word isn't in yet on using alpha lipoic acid in combination with exercise. On the surface it can be difficult to understand why there is so much conflicting data between studies. However, it's not as murky as it seems if you consider all the factors that can change the results. For example: (iv.136139)

Your specific individual health condition and any medications you're taking may be factors that impact the safety of any exercise regimen. And as always, we recommend you consult with your healthcare provider before starting or taking any nutritional supplements.