We all age - it’s a part of life.
But one of the greatest pains we can endure is to watch someone we love experience the debilitating and often rapid effects of aging.
And of all the age-related conditions, the one that seems to cut the greatest wound is dementia. A disease like Alzheimer’s can steal treasured memories from the sufferer, not to mention their feelings of safety, security and joy for family and loved ones.
The good news is that scientific research has revealed numerous dietary and lifestyle factors that can prevent (and sometimes reverse) the effects of this illness. Researchers have also identified specific nutrients that can slow the effects of dementia and other age-related chronic conditions.
And one of these nutrients – found primarily in red meat – shows exceptional promise in the field of anti-aging. That nutrient is L-carnitine.
Researchers from the Department of Internal Medicine in Italy conducted a controlled double-blind study on a group of patients over 65 years old who had been diagnosed with dementia.
The results of the three-month study were published in the International Journal of Pharmacology Research. They found that the patients treated with acetyl-l-carnitine showed statistically significant improvements in behavior, memory, attention and verbal fluency (the ability to quickly choose the right words).1
The researchers theorize the positive results may be related to the fact that acetyl-l-carnitine is a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Studies show that acetylcholine dysfunction can contribute to the effects of Alzheimer’s.2,3
But that’s only one way that L-carnitine can benefit the aging process.
Let’s now take a closer look at some other anti-aging L-carnitine benefits and how to get this age-defying nutrient through nature’s richest source.
Aging: How Our Cells Eventually ‘Power Down’
The powerhouse of most cells within your body is called the mitochondria. The “mitochondrial theory of aging” asserts that free radicals damage the cell’s energy source and that over time the cell simply ‘powers down’.
A review published in Clinical Science explains this process:
“The ensuing state of oxidative stress results in damage to ETC [electron transport chain] components and mtDNA [mitochondrial DNA]. This further increases the production of reactive oxygen species. Ultimately, this 'vicious cycle' leads to a physiological decline in function, or aging.” 4
So at a fundamental level, aging is the result of mitochondrial damage.
But L-carnitine levels have been also shown to decline as we age.
Research published in Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications confirms that:
“Analysis of muscle samples of healthy humans of different ages showed a drastic reduction of carnitine and acetyl carnitine in the older subjects with a strong reverse correlation between age and carnitine levels.” 5
L-Carnitine Benefits Battered Cells
L-carnitine is commonly used as a sports supplement. But it is, in fact, a necessary nutrient in day-to-day energy production. Its primary role is as a nutrient ‘shuttle’ – helping to transport essential fats from cell membranes into the mitochondria of the cell to be used as energy.
These tiny factories accept fuel (in the form of carbohydrates and fats) and turn these into the energy molecule ATP. This is done via the electron transport chain (ETC).
Without L-carnitine, we have impaired energy production. Fats have no other way to enter the mitochondria.
During this process, however, a large number of reactive oxygen species (ROS) are produced. These are commonly known as ‘free radicals.’ Over time, they promote inflammation and can damage cells.
Fortunately, L-carnitine also performs an antioxidant role. It helps to mop up the damage from these free radicals as well as help prevent the damage they can do to cells.
A 2014 review published in the journal Gene alerts us to L-carnitine’s ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and provide antioxidant protection for the brain.6 This is another way by which L-carnitine can benefit those with Alzheimer’s.
And it is not just dementia that has scientists looking closely at this anti-aging nutrient…
Protection at the Heart of this Number One Killer
Carnitine is concentrated in tissues that utilize fatty acids as their primary dietary fuel, including skeletal and cardiac (heart) muscles.7 Therefore it is no surprise that it also reaches to the heart of the number one cause of death: cardiovascular disease.
A 2015 study conducted in Taiwan found that treatment with L-carnitine significantly lowered markers of inflammation among subjects with coronary artery disease due to its antioxidant benefits.8
This study joins more than 20 placebo-controlled studies that also support the heart protective benefits of L-carnitine.
Another Piece of the Bone Density Matrix
Researchers from Florida State University and the University of Connecticut found that L-carnitine decreased bone turnover and slowed the rate of bone loss in rats, which holds promise for helping post-menopausal women to maintain bone density.9
And it is not just women that can benefit. Other research, published in the International Journal of Pharmacology stated that men can expect the same bone-protecting attributes:
“Treatment with L-carnitine in this population was associated with significant increases in BMD [Bone Mineral Density] at the lumbar spine, femoral neck, total hip and ASM throughout the study compared with placebo. BMD can predict osteoporotic fracture in men, independent of age, body weight, or prevalent fracture.”10
So let’s look at…
The Most Absorbable Sources of L-Carnitine for Healthy Aging
You can certainly take L-carnitine as a supplement. Many people do. But there’s a chance you’ll only absorb around 14-18% of its goodness.
But according to a summary published by the National Institutes of Health, food-based sources can increase your absorption of L-carnitine by up to 87%.11
And the very name of this nutrient gives us a clue as to its richest sources…
In order of abundance, per 100g (3.5oz), the foods richest in carnitine include:
Following an ancestral diet that includes the food sources above will provide the highest levels - and the best absorption - of L-carnitine. Eating these alongside organic vegetables will ensure you’re getting plenty of antioxidants and not taking in pesticides, antibiotics or hormones that compromise cellular health.
Consume plenty of gut-loving fermented foods like sauerkraut or kefir from pastured dairy along with good fats that also assist in keeping inflammation down in the body.
And don’t forget to add vigorous exercise, restorative sleep, sunshine, love and laughter to these nutrition staples for a long and healthy life!
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1 Passeri, M. Cucinotta, D. Bonati, PA. Iannuccelli, M. Parnetti, L. Senin, U. Acetyl-L-carnitine in the treatment of mildly demented elderly patients. International Journal of Clinical Pharmacology Research. 1990;10(1-2):75-79.
2 Francis, PT. Palmer, AM. Snape, M. Wilcock, GK. The cholinergic hypothesis of Alzheimers disease: a review of progress. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry. 1999;66:137-147. http://jnnp.bmj.com/content/66/2/137.full
3 Alzheimer’s, Memory And Acetylcholine. 2015. http://www.psyweb.com/Documents/00000003.jsp
4 Alexeyev, MF. Ledoux, SP. Wilson, GL. Mitochondrial DNA and aging. Clinical Science. 2004;107(4):355-364. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15279618
5 Costell, M. O’Connor, JE. Grisolia, S. Age-dependent decrease of carnitine content in muscle of mice and humans. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications. 1989;161 (3):1135-1143. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2742580
6 Ribas, GS. Vargas, CR. Wajner, M. L-carnitine supplementation as a potential antioxidant therapy for inherited neurometabolic disorders. Gene. 2014;533(2):469-476.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24148561
7 National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Carnitine, The science behind a conditionally essential nutrient. 2004.
8 Lee, BJ. Lin, JS. Lin, YC. Lin, PT. Antiinflammatory effects of L-carnitine supplementation (1000mg/d) in coronary artery disease patients. Nutrition. 2015;31(3):475-479. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25701337
9 Hooshmand, S. Balakrishnana, A. Clark, RM. Owen, KQ. Koo, SI. Arjmandi, BH. Dietary L-carnitine supplementation improves bone mineral density by suppressing bone turnover in aged ovariectomized rats. Phytomedicine. 2008;15(8):595-601.
10 Wang, L. Wang,C. Efficacy of L-Carnitine in the Treatment of Osteoporosis in Men. International Journal of Pharmacology. 2015;11:148-151. http://www.scialert.net/fulltext/?doi=ijp.2015.148.151&org=11
11 National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Carnitine, The science behind a conditionally essential nutrient. 2004. https://ods.od.nih.gov/News/Carnitine_Conference_Summary.aspx
12 Carnitine, Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnitine