Lipoic acid, found at higher levels in organ meats and leafy vegetables such as spinach and broccoli, may help reset and synchronise circadian rhythms or the "biological clock" found in most life forms, says a study.
"This could be a breakthrough in our understanding of why lipoic acid is so important and how it functions," said Tory Hagen, a professor at the Oregon State University in the US.
Almost one-third of all genes are influenced by circadian rhythms, and when out of balance they can play roles in cancer, heart disease, inflammation, hormonal imbalance and many other areas.
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The scientists studied the "circadian clock" of the liver. Lipid metabolism by the liver is relevant to normal energy use, metabolism, and its dysfunction can contribute to the "metabolic syndrome" that puts millions of people at higher risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Researchers fed laboratory animals higher levels of lipoic acid than might be attained in a normal diet, while monitoring proteins known to be affected by disruption of the circadian clock in the older animals.
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They found that lipoic acid helped remediate some of the liver dysfunctions that are often common in old age, and significantly improved the function of their circadian rhythms.
The study appeared in the journal Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications.