Acetyl-L-Carnitine Helps Anti-Age Your Metabolism & Brain

Friday, April 13, 2012
By: Byron J. Richards,
Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist
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Faltering energy production is the common issue involved with faulty metabolism leading to weight gain as well as cognitive decline and memory loss.  Central to this issue is the ability of your cellular engines (mitochondria) to produce energy from food, an ability that declines with age.  Acetyl-l-carnitine (ALC) is proving to be a remarkable nutrient for rejuvenating the ability of a cell to make energy, with direct implications for better metabolism and brain function.

How ALC Improves Fat and Sugar Metabolism

Human cellular engines have the potential to crank out significant horsepower, which is the primary reason humans have evolved as superior to other mammals.  However, there is a price to pay for this unique energy producing ability.  In a healthy person, the combustion of fuel from calories has a 5 percent inefficiency, which means some free radicals are generated as energy is made.  If a person has adequate antioxidants, then those free radicals are neutralized and nothing adverse happens.

As we age, this problem within cells increases, even from normal energy production.  If we add stress, toxins, and poor quality diet to this equation, then the issue can be magnified rather dramatically.  This leads to loss of energy, calories that aren’t burned well and so pile up as fat, as well as a decline in brain function (which needs a lot of energy to function well).

A major problem today is the overconsumption of food.  Our bodies are best suited to run on lower calorie intake.  When too much fat is coming at cells, then cell engines struggle to break it down and use it as fuel (a process called beta oxidation).  This causes fragments of fat to pile up and clog metabolism.  The aging process implies that the process of beta oxidation is becoming more inefficient at the very same time there are extra fat calories to try to burn as fuel. 

Interestingly, as fat fragments pile up in cells, blood sugar metabolism is also disturbed.  It has long been known that carnitine (part of ALC) is required for healthy beta oxidation so that fat can be burned as fuel and unmetabolized fat fragments don’t build up and clog metabolic function.  A number of new studies show that ALC can reverse the problems of fat metabolism associated with age and simultaneously improve blood sugar metabolism.  In fact, ALC tends to rejuvenate the mitochondria of cells, making energy production more youthful. 

Several animal studies help prove this point.  In one study scientists showed that depletion of carnitine led to a build up of age-associated fat fragments along with insulin resistance and high blood sugar.  Eight weeks of carnitine supplementation reversed the adverse changes in the mitochondria and returned metabolism of fat and sugar to normal.  Another study documented the adverse metabolic changes in aging mitochondria, including the alteration of 31 cellular proteins involved with metabolism.  ALC supplementation reversed 26 of these proteins, including 10 proteins that directly impacted mitochondrial function.  In other words, ALC was turning back the metabolic clock.

A 24 week human study used 1,000 mg of ALC, twice per day.  This study compared the effects of ALC on healthy people to those with insulin resistance and elevating blood pressure.  ALC lowered systolic blood pressure eight points during the course of the study.  It significantly helped blood sugar metabolism in any person having a problem, whereas it did not excessively lower blood sugar in those with normal function.  Of particular importance is that ALC boosted the level of adiponectin (a vital hormone needed to prevent insulin resistance in the liver) from white adipose tissue. 

Collectively, these studies as well as many previous studies show that ALC is a fantastic nutrient to assist the healthy metabolism of fat.  It has a direct anti-aging effect on mitochondria, the cell engines you rely on for calorie combustion and energy production.  It is now proven that ALC rejuvenation of fat metabolism also leads to a rejuvenation of blood sugar metabolism by improving the function of multiple genes as well as hormone regulation.  The benefits of ALC are likely to increase with age as well as with the degree of “broken” metabolism. 

ALC’s Remarkable Ability to Help Your Brain & Nerves

Excess body weight is highly associated with accelerated cognitive decline.  It is certainly not the only issue that causes cognitive decline, but if people are overweight then they are at much higher risk for loss of cognitive ability and memory.  The simple explanation for this is that your brain needs a lot of energy to function properly.  The energetic problems of being overweight imply that energy production within your brain is also compromised.  This results in slower thinking and more forgetfulness in the early stages.  As time goes along, problems can worsen rapidly if nothing is done. 

Scientists have found that ALC can turn on genes in the mitochondria of your brain cells that enable them to handle more stress without malfunctioning and losing their ability to make energy, thereby preventing neurodegeneration.  They have also found that ALC helps stabilize the myelin sheathing of nerves that is required for brain speed and optimal brain function (both learning and memory).

In one recent animal study ALC prevented damage to neurons from an experimentally induced stroke.  Not only did ALC prevent damage when it was happening (smaller amount of stroke damage) but it also protected nerves after the fact as well (which will enable a better healing response).  Another animal study shows that ALC reduces the inflammation in the glial cells of the brain in animals with high blood pressure, simultaneously boosting antioxidant enzymes so their brains have higher levels of protection against experimentally-induced stroke.  These researchers also found that ALC had a big impact on old rats with memory and learning problems.  Of course, the original claim-to-fame for ALC is the reversal of memory loss.

In addition to simply protecting against brain damage and decline, ALC has been found to have a rather dramatic effect on nerve regeneration.  In one experiment rats were given ALC for 14 days and then subjected to sciatic nerve injury.  The ALC-treated rats not only had much less nerve injury but also had superior nerve regeneration.  Another study induced sciatic nerve injury and then began ALC supplementation for 12 weeks.  Rats treated with ALC had significantly more new nerve growth, better overall quality of nerve repair, and better nerve connections as part of healing (resulting in the prevention of muscle loss). 

In a newly published landmark study researchers from the Spinal Cord and Brain Injury Research Center of the University of Kentucky have proven that ALC can dramatically enhance the recovery from traumatic spinal cord injury, to the point of regained walking (animal study).  A key aspect of ALC’s ability to do this was found to be the way in which ALC enabled mitochondria to continue to produce energy under such high stress.  Under “normal” conditions of such injury, the nerves involved lose mitochondrial energy production and die.  The researchers were astounded by the fact that ALC kept the nerves alive and producing energy as well as the unprecedented recovery of movement.

Italian researchers are documenting yet another mechanism, involving neurotrophic factors, by which ALC helps rejuvenate the brain.  I have previously written about exciting discoveries centered on brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).  This research is based on a different neutrophic factor called artemin.  Their research has shown that ALC can directly boost the levels of artemin in stressed animals, which has a pronounced anti-depressant effect.  Other research shows that ALC can boost artemin under conditions of neuropathy, helping lower pain while improving nerve function.

Summary

ALC is a unique nutrient that supports fat metabolism with the net result of improving blood sugar metabolism.  It is highly protective to your nerves and even helps rejuvenate aging or injured nerves.  Since overweight people experience memory loss and a decline of mental skills at faster rates than do normal weight people, ALC is an ideal nutrient to assist in the recovery of metabolism and brain function that is not up to par.  ALC has a direct anti-aging effect on how your cells make energy – something of interest to anyone.

Helpful dose amounts of ALC range from 1,000 mg per day to 3,000 mg per day.  I personally like to take 1,000 mg of ALC before I jog, because it helps burn fat more efficiently during exercise.  Those with slow or stuck metabolism and problems with memory or cognitive function should target the higher level of ALC intake for best results.  Benefits will continue as the months go by, as it takes time to truly improve the function of nerves.

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