Many molecules used by the body have a specific "handedness" (chirality). For example, alpha-tocopherol, or essential fatty acids.
In some cases, synthetic versions of these molecules have a different "handedness" than the natural molecule.
Some of these unnatural molecules are merely less potent than the natural forms, such as dl-alpha-tocopherol. Others are actually harmful - for example, trans-fatty acids.
Unless they specify otherwise, "lipoic acid" supplements are a 50/50 mixture of the natural R(+)-lipoic acid, and the synthetic S(-)-lipoic acid. These mixtures are called "racemates."
In some cases, S(-)-lipoic acid - or the racemate in nearly all supplements - is simply less effective than R(+)-lipoic acid. In other cases, the S(-)-form actually acts in opposition to the effects of R(+)-lipoic acid.
Common "lipoic acid" supplements are thus like a house at war with itself. The S(-)-form should be removed from supplements in favor of pure R(+)-lipoic acid.
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