Dr. Berkson, a brilliant physician working in New Mexico, recounts a harrowing story from his earlier career. A patient had accidentally eaten a death cap mushroom.
These fungi are very bad and typically cause acute and severe liver failure. His patient was actively dying from these exact symptoms in his ICU. Berkson had a hunch (he had previously studied mycology) and had alpha lipoic acid (ALA) flown in from across the country. It was infused as a last ditch effort to save his patient’s life. After some time the liver stabilized and the patient recovered without needing a transplant! ALA had saved the day- and Berkson went on to continue using ALA in new roles of therapy, as well as saving dozens of other similar poisoned people.
Actions and Origins
Alpha lipoic acid, also known as thioctic acid, is an essential compound involved in aerobic respiration. It has two sulphur groups and serves as a cofactor for mitochondrial energy production deep in every cell. Nutritionally we obtain lipoic acid from food- organ meats are relatively high as is cruciferous vegetables and spinach. But though we obtain ALA from simply eating, it is in almost trace amounts compared to supplementation. For instance a person would need to eat 200 pounds of spinach to consume the equivalent of 300mg of alpha lipoic acid, the starting dose used in most of our infusions. Flooding the body with this essential cofactor to mitochondrial health can have many positive health effects.
Dr. Berkson’s presentation notes multiple actions of ALA.
The sulphur containing ALA promotes the generation of glutathione directly in the cell.
ALA works in the pyruvate cycle and works to recycle vitamin c and other antioxidants.
Free Radical Scavenger
Both the reduced and oxidized forms of ALA work to scrub up free radicals in the body.
Modifies Gene Expression
The sulphur components have been shown to acetylate histones (sort of like the suitcase that DNA comes in) so cancer promoting genes are not expressed. It has also been shown to stabilize NF KB, a major cancer promoter.
Prevents Reperfusion Injury
Alpha lipoic acid generates hydrogen sulphide in ischemic cells which protects them from lack of blood supply.
Enhance Insulin Sensitivity
Insulin resistance is a key contributor to many disease processes including Diabetes Mellitus and fatty liver disease. Insulin levels independently drive tumor growth and propagation. ALA has been shown to counter insulin resistance, lowering insulin levels. This study found women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (associated with insulin resistance) benefited from ALA.
Restores T Cell Function
The immune system is complex. ALA has been found to modulate against autoimmune responses from an overactive Th1 response in T cells and Natural Killer cells. This effect can have a role in Multiple Sclerosis and many other disease processes. This study on chickens showed that ALA protected a group of chickens with inflammatory toxins in their food. They were protected from an inflammatory cascade that occurred in the non-ALA group. Though I advocate for eating as clean a diet as possible it is important to be able to counter any toxins that we are exposed to through the nature of the times we live in.
A phase 2 study is looking at the immune restorative benefit of alpha lipoic acid in treatment resistant AIDS patients.
Chelates Heavy Metals
As if all the above were not enough of a job well done, ALA has also been found to remove heavy metals from the body through chelation.
Alpha lipoic acid crosses the blood brain barrier (so it can have effects on our brain and central nervous system). The helpful effects in ischemic damage also are of help in heart attack and stroke. There is limited but evolving data here: this rat study is intriguing. Rats had an artery feeding their brains occluded to mimic stroke. One group was given ALA the other was a control. The control group experienced over 50% mortality while the ALA group had less than 30%. The ALA group had much greater recovery of function and there was found to be increased neuro-regeneration.
Use in Cancer
The above effects of alpha lipoic acid provide a basis for trials in cancer treatment. ALA is an essential cofactor for healthy mitochondrial processes. It would logically play a role especially in metabolic tuning of the body (use of ketogenic diet, intermittent fasting). It recycles vitamin C so would make sense to use around this widely used therapy. Cancer cells have a broken or altered metabolic pathway. There are researchers who propose (and attempt) to fix these pathways and thus reverse the propensity for cancer growth. Berkson’s later work involved clinically administering ALA to patients with cancer. He never proposed this was the cure for cancer. It is clear that much of the ALA data is basic science and clinical data is limited to case reports and case studies. Berkson had several case reports of long term survival from nearly 100% quickly fatal cancers, with good quality of life and no side effects from ALA. Berkson presented this case report of several such cases treated with a healthy diet, Low Dose Naltrexone and ALA.
This case series was performed on patients with terminal cancers with no hope even of shorter term survival. ALA was given with Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN) and Hydroxycitrate (HCA). Though several patients did succumb to their cancer, many patients had tumor responses, benefit and survival. Clearly a balance of potential risk versus potential benefit weighs very favorably toward this protocol.