It may come as a surprise to thyroid patients, but there are plenty of over-the-counter supplements that have the potential to cause problems with your thyroid.
Even though some supplements may be beneficial for certain conditions doesn’t mean they will play well with your thyroid condition.
The supplement we are going to talk about today is one of those nutrients that gets some negative press in the thyroid community: Alpha lipoic acid.
Alpha lipoic acid, abbreviated as ALA, is a very powerful antioxidant that is frequently used to treat various conditions ranging from diabetes to metabolic disorders, and even weight gain.
There is at least one study that shows that it might cause problems with your thyroid.
And in a world where thyroid function should remain top of mind, this can be an issue.
The advice that most practitioners give you would be to just stay away from this ingredient because why take any risks when you don’t need to?
And while I can’t argue with that logic, I think there’s more to the story.
Today you will learn:
- More about what alpha lipoic acid is and how it can benefit your body.
- More about how alpha lipoic acid may interfere with thyroid function.
- Whether or not the pros of using this ingredient outweigh the potential cons to your thyroid.
- How to use it (if you want to).
- And much more…
Let’s jump in:
What is Alpha Lipoic Acid?
First things first, let’s define what we are even talking about here.
Alpha lipoic acid is an antioxidant that is created in your mitochondria.
It serves a vital role as a cofactor and it is essential for the production of ATP in your cells.
ATP, of course, is the currency that your cells use to perform just about every function you can imagine.
Without ATP your cells would cease to function and you’d cease to be alive.
Outside of this mechanism, alpha lipoic acid has a powerful antioxidant capacity.
And this is really what most people use it for.
Antioxidants act to neutralize compounds called oxidants which float around in your cells wreaking havoc.
Antioxidants neutralize these oxidants and prevent cellular damage.
This is important because it is cellular damage and inflammation which is thought to be at the heart of just about every major disease.
Reducing this cellular damage has been shown to have positive benefits in treating conditions like obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and peripheral neuropathy.
And these are the very conditions that patients use alpha lipoic acid for.
In fact, one of the more common is weight gain.
As a thyroid patient, you can probably see where I am going with this.
Thyroid patients tend to experience many of these metabolic problems including weight gain, insulin resistance, and elevated cholesterol which means that alpha lipoic acid is an attractive supplement.
But they are often pushed away from using it because of the fear that it may cause further problems with their thyroid.
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Does Alpha Lipoic Acid Negatively Impact Thyroid Function?
This fear stems from a study that was done in 1994 which showed that the use of alpha lipoic acid may negatively impact thyroid conversion (1).
Thyroid conversion is the process by which your body takes inactive T4 thyroid hormone and converts it to the active T3 thyroid hormone.
Anything that has the potential to negatively impact T4 to T3 conversion has the potential to cause a lot of problems with your thyroid because it may interfere with the production of the most powerful thyroid hormone: T3.
So, in a sense, it’s absolutely correct to exercise some caution before using an ingredient that may interfere.
But there’s more to this story that can be found by dissecting the paper in question.
The first thing to know is that this study was done in an experimental hyperthyroid model in rats (2).
In other words, these rats were caused to be in a hyperthyroid state and then given lipoic acid to see what would happen.
This small bit of knowledge changes things quite a bit, here’s why:
Hyperthyroidism is a state of excess thyroid hormone production where the thyroid conversion process is in overdrive.
In the majority of cases, treatments are given to these patients to slow down or reduce thyroid conversion to reduce how much thyroid hormone is present.
In other words, a treatment for hyperthyroidism is said to be successful if it reduces thyroid conversion (which is what this study showed).
But just because something reduces thyroid conversion in hyperthyroidism does not mean it will do the same in hypothyroidism.
For instance, changing up your diet and eating healthy whole foods has the potential to improve thyroid function if you are hypothyroid but also has the potential to reduce thyroid conversion if you are hyperthyroid.
Would you go around saying that eating fruit and vegetables is harmful to hypothyroid patients if a research paper showed that they reduce thyroid conversion?
Not at all!
Because you’d know (I hope) that natural treatments like diet and exercise have a balancing effect on the body and thyroid.
Their impact isn’t absolute, which is why changing up your diet is pretty much never a bad idea whether you have hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism.
Second, this study was done in rats.
There’s nothing wrong with doing research on rats (3), but you should know that the results from rat studies can’t always be extrapolated to humans.
Animal studies give us a very good idea of what type of things we should look into in humans, but it’s rarely the case that the exact results from animal studies can be replicated in humans.
So in this case, it’s a good idea to take the results from this study and combine them with real-world experience (more on that below).
Third, this is only one study!
I’ve spent some time researching and I’ve only been able to find one study which showed that alpha lipoic acid may cause thyroid conversion problems.
There are also several studies that have shown that alpha lipoic acid may have an overall pro-thyroid effect.
The following studies have shown that alpha lipoic acid may:
- Inhibit the proliferation of thyroid cancer cells (4)
- Have no effect on blood thyroid hormone levels (in pigs) (5)
- Prevent radiation-induced thyroid injury (in rats) (6)
- Enhance the effectiveness of radioactive iodine ablation therapy (7)
- Help restore thyroid hormone levels to normal by treating obesity (8)
- Prevent thyroid cell death in cases of endothelial stress (9)
And in one human study, alpha lipoic acid was shown to:
- Improve endothelial function in women with subclinical hypothyroidism through its impact on free radicals (10)
I’m not saying that any of these studies prove that alpha lipoic acid is safe and effective for those with thyroid disease because they are all fairly weak, but I am saying that there’s no reason to put more weight on one study that showed a potentially negative outcome while there are several others which showed a positive one.
The bottom line is that the jury is still out when it comes to thyroid function and the use of alpha lipoic acid.
In settings such as these, personal opinion, patient experience, and anecdotes can be helpful.
My Personal Experience & Opinion
I’ve had the advantage of seeing and helping thousands of thyroid patients over the years because of my website and my supplement line.
One of my supplements, Berberine 500+, contains a combination of berberine and alpha lipoic acid.
This supplement has been used successfully on thousands of thyroid patients and not once have I ever seen any issues relating to thyroid conversion in thyroid patients who have used it.
This leads me to believe a few things:
#1. The potential benefits outweigh the potential cons.
Let’s assume for a minute that alpha lipoic acid does reduce T4 to T3 conversion.
I’m not convinced it does based on the information that I presented above, but let’s assume that it does for argument’s sake.
Even if there is a small amount of reduced T4 to T3 conversion, it seems clear that the benefits of alpha lipoic’s antioxidant potential outweigh this potential negative outcome.
And if you think about it, this sort of thing happens all of the time with natural therapies.
Think about exercise.
The entire goal of exercise is to cause minor stress to the body and muscles so that it rebuilds stronger than before.
Your muscles rebuild bigger and stronger than they were before which improves their metabolic function.
You then experience the benefits of a higher metabolism and a better-looking physique.
Knowing this, I think we would all agree that the potential negative side effect of muscle damage from moderate exercise are outweighed by the potential positive side effects.
I think this is very likely what is occurring when alpha lipoic acid is used in thyroid patients.
Even though there may be a temporary decline in thyroid conversion (again, this is debatable), the other positive effects experienced with its use outweigh this small problem.
#2. Using alpha lipoic acid for weight loss has a net positive effect on thyroid function.
In my opinion, one of the best use cases of alpha lipoic acid is to treat obesity.
Weight gain and obesity may result in an inflammatory condition of the fat cells known as adiposopathy (11).
This inflammatory condition of your fat cells predisposes you to develop hormone-related issues like leptin resistance.
It also makes fat loss more difficult because the function of your fat cells is dysregulated.
We also know that weight gain causes issues with thyroid function more generally.
So anything that impacts your weight will ultimately impact your thyroid.
If you use alpha lipoic acid to assist with weight loss, and you are successful in losing weight, then you will experience a net positive benefit on thyroid function.
Losing weight has the potential to improve thyroid function which makes weight loss easier which improves thyroid function further and so on.
Anything that pushes this cycle into motion would be considered a good thing.
#3. Reducing inflammation has a net positive effect on T4 to T3 conversion in cases of hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s.
Because of its antioxidant potential, alpha lipoic acid has been shown to act as an anti-inflammatory agent in certain situations (12).
This is important because general widespread inflammation in your body and cells is a known deterrent to thyroid conversion.
The more inflammation that you have in your body, the less active your T3 will be.
With this in mind, reducing inflammation is one way that you can increase your T3 levels and one way you can do that is with the use of anti-inflammatory agents like alpha lipoic acid.
It’s not the only one, of course, but it has the potential to be helpful.
My experience suggests that using alpha lipoic acid to reduce general widespread inflammation in the body has a net positive effect on T4 to T3 conversion.
What this suggests to me is that even if there is some minor inhibition of thyroid conversion when using alpha lipoic acid, the reduction in inflammation is more important and has a more profound negative effect on thyroid conversion compared to alpha lipoic acid.
In other words, your focus should be on reducing inflammation if you want to increase thyroid function and conversion.
#4. Protecting the thyroid gland from thyroid gland-induced inflammation has a net positive effect on thyroid function in cases of Hashimoto’s.
Finally, it is well known that thyroid gland inflammation is the hallmark of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
And this thyroid gland inflammation is primarily mediated by the immune system.
The best treatments for those with Hashimoto’s are those treatments that directly reduce thyroid gland inflammation or which reduce the autoimmune attack on the thyroid gland or do both simultaneously.
Alpha lipoic acid may also be included in this list.
If you can do anything to reduce thyroid gland inflammation then you will naturally improve thyroid function.
After all, it’s hard for the thyroid gland to do its job when it’s inflamed.
It’s been my experience that using alpha lipoic acid to assist in reducing thyroid gland inflammation provides an overall boost to thyroid function even if there is a small decline in thyroid conversion from its use.
Should You Use ALA (Alpha Lipoic Acid)?
So, as a thyroid patient, what are you to do?
Should you risk taking a therapy that may cause potential issues for your thyroid in hopes that you may get some benefit that outweighs this problem?
Or should you completely avoid it and opt for therapies that you know are 100% safe for your thyroid?
I think it depends on the situation and there is no right or wrong answer.
I wouldn’t fault you at all as a thyroid patient if you just wanted to leave alpha lipoic acid alone because why bother with something if there’s even a small chance it may cause issues for your thyroid?
On the other hand, avoiding alpha lipoic acid as a treatment means that you are losing one potential therapy that can be used to treat some of the most concerning and pressing symptoms that thyroid patients face including:
Given the fairly weak evidence that alpha lipoic acid causes issues with thyroid conversion, and the other evidence that it may have an overall pro-thyroid effect, I personally believe that it’s a safe therapy to use in thyroid patients.
I make this statement based on my experience and a fairly large database of thousands of thyroid patients who have used my own supplements with alpha lipoic acid in the past.
But, as always, you should spend the time to do your own research and make your own educated decisions.
After all, it is your body we are talking about!
Now I want to hear from you:
Have you used alpha lipoic acid in the past?
Did you notice any overall benefit when using it? Or did you notice a decline in thyroid function?
Were you aware of this controversy (not many thyroid patients are!)?
Are you planning on giving alpha lipoic acid a try after reading this?
Leave your questions or comments below to keep the conversation going!