January is basically the “Monday” of a new year. We’re tired and grumpy from trying to get back into some type of familiar routine, not-to-mention that extra holiday weight that decided to stick around. Our energy levels seem like they’re at an all-time low and the extra cup of coffee just isn’t cutting it. What else can we do? What might be missing from our bodies that could give us an overall boost?
L-carnitine is a co-enzyme that plays a central role in the delivery and transport of fuel into the cell to be used in the production of energy. L-carnitine has recently been approved for public use by Health Canada and has a large body of research supporting its health benefits. As a supplement, it has been studied in angina, heart damage, peripheral vascular disease, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, kidney failure, and athletic performance. Let’s explore this powerful nutrient in more detail.
What’s the difference between Acetyl L-Carnitine and Carnitine?
Acetyl L-Carnitine which is a unique form of carnitine because it contains the acetyl group allowing for better absorption past the blood brain barrier and into the nervous tissue. The acetyl group can also act as precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine which plays a key role in memory formation. In fact, published research has found acetyl L-carnitine to be capable of reducing the symptoms of mild cognitive impairment by improving memory, attention, mood and other brain functions. It can also support health mood and mental energy.
|L-Carnitine||ALCAR (Acetyl L-Carnitine)|
|Studies show it can improve fatty liver, heart and kidney function.||Studied to improve cognitive function and mood|
|Improves energy, weight loss, athletic performance and reduces muscle soreness||Reduces symptoms of peripheral neuropathy|
|Studied to shown improvement in peripheral vascular disease associated with diabetes||Precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine which is responsible for memory formation.|
|Summary: specific to metabolism, heart function and energy production||Summary: Brain and nerve specific|
Did You Know? Vegans and vegetarians, the elderly, people with chronic disease, and athletes are susceptible to carnitine deficiency so they should consider extra supplementation.
There are a number of situations where L-carnitine levels can become deficient. The optimal amount of daily carnitine is 200-500 mg but today the average carnitine intake is estimated at a mere 30 to 50 mg a day. L-carnitine is synthesized by the body from the essential amino acids lysine and methionine and can also be obtained from red meat - particularly lamb. Strict vegetarians may be lacking dietary sources of lysine and methionine, and are more likely to be deficient in carnitine. The elderly require higher amounts of carnitine since their oxygen delivery through the body is diminished. L-carnitine allows cells to function well even under conditions of decreased oxygen.
There is also research supporting the benefits of supplementing with L-carnitine in heart disease chronic fatigue syndrome, fatty liver, infertility, erectile dysfunction and diabetes. Some of the more specific cardiovascular benefits include: increased survival after heart failure, increased exercise tolerance in patients with chronic angina, decreased total cholesterol and increased HDL cholesterol in patients with high blood pressure.
A number of studies using human subjects have found that L-carnitine supplementation reduces damage to muscle and decreases muscle soreness especially after exhaustive exercise when oxygen is limited. The primary mechanisms responsible for the positive results is the increase in energy formation in the mitochondria and the reduced buildup of lactic acid and free radical damage to muscle cells. A new aspect being explored is that L-carnitine improves blood flow in areas of the body with poor oxygen levels, which can be beneficial in intense exercise and conditions such as chronic pain, diabetes or peripheral artery disease.
The reason carnitine has such a wide range of beneficial qualities centres around its ability to transport fats into the cell. Specifically, it transports fatty acids that are broken down from the food we eat into a part of the cell called the mitochondria. The mitochondria are responsible for producing the energy that powers every cellular process. While their primary role is to produce energy the latest evidence is clearly showing they also are intimately connected to inflammation, oxidative damage and regulating cell life span. It is not surprising that any state of mitochondrial dysfunction is associated with a host of disease including chronic pain, aging, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular and neurological diseases, amongst many others. Due to its ability to support optimal mitochondrial function, this explains why carnitine is such a powerful nutrient. This is the precise mechanism that helps not only to increase energy production but to also promote more weight loss.
Clinicians Tip: Think of taking carnitine along with omega 3 oils (i.e. fish oil) since carnitine can help transport the good fats into the mitochondria for energy production and function. This is a tip that many high performance trainers use to help their athletes lose weight.
It is important to note that since carnitine increases energy production that means a greater generation of free radicals, so they should be taken together with other antioxidants especially in the elderly or people with chronic illness. There is a potent synergy between carnitine and R-lipoic acid, CoQ10 and all 8 forms of vitamin E. For more info on the safety of carnitine and its connection to heart disease risk see the following blogs:
To get the most out of your carnitine supplement, it should be taken on an empty stomach.Since it stimulates energy production it should not be taken later than mid-afternoon, otherwise it can interrupt sleep. What makes L-carnitine so unique is that it has been studied in people of all ages, from babies to centenarians, making it an ideal supplement that can be safely used to enhance health and energy levels in almost anyone. And who couldn’t use more energy these days?