This article was originally written by Raj Khatri
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Carnitine Nutrition can play an important role in promoting brain wellness. The older we are, the more likely we are to suffer from cognitive loss. While some survive into their sixth and seventh decades with good mental function, this becomes less likely as we age further. Decline is almost universal in at least one cognitive area among those over .
Certain nutrients have also undergone examination for their role in promoting brain health in older adults. One of the most extensively researched nutrients for its role in promoting brain wellness is Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR). ALCAR has demonstrated marked positive effects on brain aging, both from a preventive and therapeutic standpoint.
There is also a great deal of evidence that age-related memory loss is cholinergic in nature. Therefore, maintaining healthy acetylcholine levels must be the centerpiece of any brain antiaging strategy. ALCAR levels decline markedly as we age, even in healthy adults. Restoring ALCAR levels to those seen in twenty-year olds may be desirable for older adults. Declining ALCAR levels may in fact be one of the causes of the cognitive decline seen with aging.
What other benefits does carnitine have?
Improved cognitive function – ALCAR plays a strong role in the brain in many ways, and has beneficial effects in many conditions including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Studies in aged rodents show markedly improved memory and learning capacities, , while studies in younger rodents show a variety of promising effects as well. Other rodent studies have shown that ALCAR significantly protects the brain against a variety of stresses, such as ischemia and repurfusion and mitochondrial uncoupling. It also protects against peripheral nerve trauma, “almost eliminating neuron loss, and in vitro neuronal apoptosis. ALCAR also increases levels of dopamine, amino acids, and acetylcholine in the brain, as well as facilitating cholinergic activity.
Cardiovascular benefits – The carnitine have considerable potential in the treatment of cardiovascular disease. Rodent studies with L-carnitine have shown decreased triglyceride and cholesterol levels and protection against arrhythmia and ischemia, and a study with ALCAR found a reversal of the age-related decline in mitochondrial function in the heart.
Improved hearing and visual function – Two animal studies indicate a significant reduction in noise-induced and age-induced hearing loss with ALCAR. One measured outer hair cell (OHC) density after three weeks of noise exposure, and found less than a 10% reduction with ALCAR as opposed to 60% with placebo, and noise induced threshold shifts were less than 10 dB in the ALCAR group as opposed to 30-35 dB with placebo. A six-week study with aged rats found ALCAR to improve auditory thresholds by upregulating mitochondrial function and reducing oxidative stress.
Reduced stress and depression – In rats, ALCAR protects against the decreases in dopamine and testosterone that normally occur after exposure to both acute and chronic stress and decreases other markers of stress, and no tolerance develops to this effect. Preliminary human studies in the elderly and those undergoing treatment for certain conditions indicate a reduction in depression and fatigue and an improvement in quality of life.
Are there any side effects?
Carnitine has no toxicity, teratogenicity, contraindications, or drug integrations. There are very few side effects associated with carnitine use, and no serious side effects have been reported (58, 64, 65). Some users report nausea or stimulation, but these tend to be transient and disappear with time (65). There are also many anecdotal reports of more vivid dreams.
Increasing Molecules Needed for Memory
ALCAR increases levels of nerve growth factor (NGF)–an important brain healing compound. In the central nervous system, nerve growth factor (NGF) protects cholinergic neurons. NGF helps increase levels of choline acetyltransferase (ChAT), which makes the valuable neurotransmitter acetylcholine. The aging process reduces both nerve growth factor levels and the ability of neurons to bind to this valuable cellular messenger. ALCAR ameliorates these age-related deficits, therefore demonstrating another way it naturally helps create more acetylcholine needed for neuronal transmission, learning, and recall. ALCAR has been found to optimize the response of the NMDA receptors and lessen their decline in number.
In summary, ALCAR has proven itself safe and effective in ameliorating the symptoms of cognitive loss in older adults, relieving depression, speeding stroke recovery, and slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. What are now needed are prospective, randomized trials of ALCAR in subjects who take it from middle age onward to see if ALCAR can prevent the cognitive loss in healthy adults.
Other Benefits of Acetyl-L-Carnitine
Protects and Enhances Mitochondrial Function
Enhances Immune Function and IGF-1 levels
Protects against the loss and reduction in axonal transport of substance P
Reduces HPA axis hyperactivity
Increases hippocampal synaptic contact zones
Protects against stress-induced neuroendocrine changes
Enhances long-term memory
Increases learning capacity
Prevents age-related memory deterioration
Helps maintain a normal number of both axosomatic synapses and giant bouton vesicles
Increases membrane fluidity and counters the increase in membrane viscosity seen both in aging and in neuronal lipid peroxidation
Protects cell membranes from physical stress
Reduces lipofuscin accumulation in neurons
Helps neurons remain energetic by using alternate energy sources such as lipids and ketones
Increases the efficiency of neuronal transmission
Protects against ischemia/reperfusion induced cellular damage and lowers lactic acid levels and speeds recovery from ischemic events
Protects neuronal RNA from damage
Helps maintain cholinergic transmission between neurons
Protects against DNA breakage
We studied the effects of acetyl-L-carnitine on pain in 16 HIV+ patients affected by painful distal symmetrical neuropathy. Patients were treated with 0.5-1 gr per day of acetyl-L-carnitine either i.m. or i.v. for 3 weeks. Pain intensity was measured before and after the treatment by the Huskisson’s analogic scale. Ten patients (62.5%)reported an improvement of symptoms, five patients (31.25%) were unchanged, one patient worsened. The results of this open study show that acetyl-L-camitine can have a role in the treatment of pain in distal symmetrical polyneuropathy related to HIV infection. However, further double-blind, placebo-controlled studies are needed to confirm these preliminary results.