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Restore Mitochondrial Function with Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALC) and Lipoic Acid

There are several theories of why aging actually happens and each of these theories seems to explain part of the story.

The Free Radical Theory of Aging

In the mid 1950s, Denham Harman, MD, PhD developed the Free Radical Theory of Aging, which explains that cells eventually break down due to free radical attack resulting from oxidative stress.

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If you can imagine the body as a battlefield in which the cells are attacked by free radicals (a molecule or atom that is missing an electron) and damaged by the enemy—oxidation—then you have a pretty good idea of the scenario.

By-products of free radical damage can result in cancer, Alzheimer's, arthritis and numerous other diseases associated with aging. Overtime, the cells die, and inevitably we age and die too.

Mitochondrial Theory of Aging

A fairly recent theory (1972)—which is gaining increasing acceptance and was also proposed by Dr. Denham Harman—is the "mitochondrial damage" theory of aging.

What are mitochondria?

Mitochondria are the energy producing structures inside cells that enable them to function and repair and maintain themselves. In many ways, mitochondria are like car engines. A cell cannot function without mitochondria and a car cannot function without an engine. A car may look great on the outside and have a lousy engine. Inevitably, though, the car will end up in the shop more often than it is on the road.

Likewise, a human body with aging mitochondria will lose its ability to stay young and healthy … because those mitochondria will negatively affect the cells that make up tissues and organs, resulting in a slowing down of the entire system. Even a very slight drop in mitochondrial energy output can result in weakness, fatigue and impaired cognitive function.

Mitochondrial DNA are susceptible to free radical damage

Mitochondria contain their own DNA or genetic material, which is more susceptible to free radical damage than our cells' DNA because its protective and repair mechanisms are less efficient. Additionally, mitochondria play a major role in programmed cell death (apoptosis), which helps to destroy damaged cells before they become either cancerous and/or less able to deal with their own production of damaging free radicals.

One of the biggest surprises about the fundamental role mitochondria play in aging was a result of early cloning experiments. One study done at Lund University, Sweden showed that cloned sheep aged prematurely because they inherited cells with aged, damaged mitochondria.

As a result of these types of studies done in the past decade, the Free Radical Theory of Aging has evolved into the Mitochondrial Theory of Aging. This theory states that over time mitochondria accumulate damage to their own genetic material. This results in a progressive loss of mitochondria capable of providing sufficient energy for the optimal functioning of the cells. Ultimately, this leads to cell aging and death.

Not surprisingly, with the knowledge gained from mitochondrial aging and its consequences, scientists have sought the means to protect and rejuvenate mitochondrial functions as a potential anti-aging treatment. Luckily, some major findings have shown that it is possible to restore and maintain youthful energy production of mitochondria, even in old animals, opening up a new chapter in humankind's quest for the ability to extend the human life span.

It makes sense then, if aging starts in the mitochondria, a program to help resuscitate and protect mitochondria could have profound and long-range benefits.

Breakthrough research

Dr. Bruce Ames, professor of molecular and cellular biology at UC Berkeley, put this idea to the test by giving rats a supplement designed to stimulate and protect mitochondria. The results so far have been very impressive.

Dr. Ames and his team fed older rats two chemicals normally found in the body's cells and available as dietary supplements: Acetyl-L-Carnitine and Lipoic Acid. The research was reported in three articles that appeared in the February 19, 2002 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.1 

Not only did the older rats do better on memory tests, they had more pep, and the energy-producing organelles in their cells worked better.

"With the two supplements together, these old rats got up and did the Macarena," said Ames. "The brain looks better, they are full of energy—everything we looked at looks more like a young animal."2 

Based on Ames' research, we now know that the combination of these two antioxidant dietary supplements supercharges the cells' energy production in order to maximize memory, health and longevity. This breakthrough research has even shown that the combination of these nutrients has the potential of not only slowing down aging, but of even reversing some signs of aging.

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Editor's Note:

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These articles are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Always consult with a physician before embarking on a dietary supplement program.


  1. Ames, Bruce, et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Feb. 19, 2002, 99, 4:2356-61, 2002, 99, 4:1876-81, 2002, 99, 4:1870-5, 2002 

  2. Functional Foodnet press release, "Dietary supplements make old rats youthful, may help rejuvenate aging humans, according to UC Berkeley, study," Feb. 18, 2002.

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i am going to try lipoic acid and acetyl-l-carnitine for schizophrenia

What is the appropriate dosage and frequency of usage?

How long is recommended usage until effects-beneficial-are observed?

Start at 600 mg of ALC and 60 mg of lipoic acid. Increase the dosage each week until you are taking 2400 mg ALC and 240 mg of lipoic acid. The product from HFN called MitoPlex has them already mixed in the correct ratio. See

I can not help but wonder regardingf the effect of these supplements on people witrh so called Chronic Fatigue”, which appears to be related directly to the mitochondria.
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I wonder if you would be better off taking supplementation in the morning than in the evening, so as to avoid staying awake at night(?)

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