Carnosine – Amazing Benefits for Athletes, Heart, Brain, Eyes, and Diabetes

Linda J. Dobberstein, Chiropractor, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

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Carnosine – Amazing Benefits for Athletes, Heart, Brain, Eyes, and Diabetes
Carnosine has a long exemplary track record in clinical nutrition. Research presented in the last several months is equally astonishing as its history. Individuals with heart, diabetes and blood sugar damage, eye, and brain health concerns must absolutely be aware of these findings.

Carnosine, discovered in 1900, is an abundant non-protein nitrogen-containing di-peptide (beta-alanyl-L-Histidine) found in meat. In humans, it is primarily found in skeletal muscle, heart muscle, brain, and the olfactory bulb (the part of the brain involved with smell interpretation). Carnosine provides major, powerful antioxidant properties against one of the most damaging radicals, the hydroxyl radical. It protects one of the body’s most powerful antioxidant systems, SOD, from damage and peroxidation. It also provides highly favorable acid buffering activity and aids in electron transport activity within the muscle tissue. This means that carnosine buffers lactic acid and improves muscle contraction. This has enormous potential for athletes and others who want to improve their recovery and performance.

Athletes, Lactic Acid, and Antioxidant Status

Athletes involved in high intensity exercise provoke high amounts of lactic acid within their muscle tissues. Lactic acid elevations results in fatigue, cramps, and breakdown in performance. Carnosine buffers lactic acid production and helps stabilize the electrolyte calcium. This application and benefit of carnosine allows athletes a safe, natural way to increase high-intensity exercise capacity and performance without dangerous side effects. On the other end of the spectrum, individuals with mitochondrial disorders, other metabolic or muscle disorders, or misdiagnosed fibromyalgia that cause abnormal lactic acid build-up may benefit from using carnosine to buffer against lactic acid and improve muscle tone.

A different study with elite national kayak and canoe teams showed other benefits of carnosine. The athletes took 4000 mg of carnosine per day for fourteen days. The results showed fantastic antioxidant protection against exercise-induced glutathione loss and other oxidative stress responses.

Heart Health

The antioxidant protection, acid pH buffering, and electrolyte support is of particular interest for heart health. The heart is a fast twitch muscle that is a high energy demand tissue. It does not get the same rest as other fast twitch skeletal muscles. Fast twitch muscles have higher concentrations of carnosine to engage in faster, better muscle contractions. These tissues must have proper electrolyte mechanisms, pH buffers, and plentiful antioxidants to manage daily demands. Individuals with cardiac concerns such as a history of myocardial infarction, bundle branch blocks, angina, congestive heart failure (CHF), or other cardiomyopathies may find that improving cardiac levels of carnosine offers an influential strategy for cardiac protection. This can potentially help with the loss of contractility of the heart muscle/reduced ejection fraction, the chest pain felt from increased lactic acid in the cardiac tissue, and improve antioxidant stores to help with cardiac protection.

Congestive heart failure and carnosine is of particular interest. CHF patients are often amongst the most ill individuals and have little capacity for stressors. A study that will be published in the January 2015 issue of Nutrition, studied the effects of carnosine on CHF patients. The study involved 50 patients with stable CHF and severe left-ventricular systolic dysfunction who were already on optimal levels of medications. Individuals who received 500 mg carnosine over a course of six months had significant improvements in their VO2 scores, their cardiopulmonary stress tests, exercise performance, and quality of life. This is remarkable because many times CHF patients minimally respond or fail to respond to treatment.

Diabetes, Atherosclerosis, and Kidney Health

Diabetics often have high levels of oxidative stress stemming from the diabetes. Frequently, diabetes causes marked problems with atherosclerosis and kidney disease. Diabetes causes a stiffening of tissues through Advanced Glycation End products (AGEs) and is linked with a lack of carnosine. Carnosine is well known for its protection against damage from elevated blood sugar. Research published just days ago demonstrated that in animal studies, carnosine protected against diabetes induced atherosclerosis and renal damage. When given early in the disease process, carnosine intake markedly blunted the inflammation and oxidative stress leading to overwhelmingly less lesions, tissue damage, and tissue death. Another study demonstrated that in mice with diabetes, carnosine was also able to lower triglyceride levels by 23 percent regardless of blood sugar status. It also improved atherosclerotic plaque stability and reduced the area occupied by the plaque by 60 percent!

Eye Health – Lens, Ocular Pressure, Retina

Carnosine plays a protective role in eye health. In the last year alone, several animal studies demonstrate that carnosine helps to shield the eye from oxidative damage of the lens and retina. One study showed that carnosine protected the retina from ischemia or lack of oxygenation when the eye tissue was under increased intraocular pressure, thus reducing risk for glaucoma. Brass players may want consider using carnosine to protect their eyes from increased intraocular pressure and the development of glaucoma. Eye pressure elevates in brass players more than wind instrumentalists when playing in middle and high frequencies leading to a higher risk of glaucoma. Using carnosine proactively may help reduce this ischemia and oxidative stress from the increased eye pressure occurring in this occupational setting. Others who face retinal stressors from severe nearsightedness and diabetes may also want to consider using carnosine for ocular protection.

Senior Citizens, Autism, Seizures, and Brain Health

Carnosine has been studied extensively with brain and neurological health. A study published earlier this fall demonstrated that carnosine helped improve cognitive function and physical capacity in the elderly. The senior citizens in this test received 1000 mg of carnosine for eleven weeks. Body mass index (BMI) went down, mental status scores improved in the areas of memory and cognition, and overall less perceived exertion occurred. Sounds like the fountain of youth!

In other areas of research, carnosine is being investigated for its use in Autism Spectrum Disorders and seizures. Carnosine is able to cross the blood brain barrier and may provide benefit in these difficult disorders. Carnosine has been shown to improve scores in autism without adverse effects. It also improved management of seizures acting as an anticonvulsant in animal studies. The authors of the study acknowledged that carnosine may be a promising therapy for individuals with autism spectrum disorder and seizures.

The studies that have been briefly described are just the tip of the iceberg in understanding the benefits of carnosine. Evidence of carnosine’s multiple benefits is overwhelming. Benefits range from helping a number of very serious disorders to naturally improving elite athletes’ performance. Carnosine may very well provide a functional ability to help restore youth in the heart, muscles, brain, eyes, and more. As a number of studies noted, use of carnosine in the early disease states provides far more benefit and improvement in function rather than late disease stages. Doing something is always better than not, but being proactive is more favorable than reactive.

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