Acetyl-L-carnitine is a naturally-occurring substance in the body which is made up, unsurprisingly, of carnitine and what is known as a acetyl group. Carnitine facilitates the transport of fat in the body’s cells into the miniature ‘powerhouses’ called the ‘mitochondria’ where fat is converted into energy.
The ‘acetyl’ part of acetyl-L-carnitine may participate in the formation of a substance called acetyl-Coenzyme A, which plays a crucial role in the production of energy within the mitochondria. Is that enough biochemistry for you?
The point is that acetyl-L-carnitine has the ability to assist in the production of energy in the body’s cells, which might have benefits for body and brain wellbeing. Also, studies suggest that acetyl-L-carnitine has the ability to promote health in and prevent damage of the nerve cells, including those in the brain. All-in-all, one the face of it, acetyl-L-carnitine would seem like something that might have very broad benefits for health.
In a study conducted recently in Catania, Italy, the effect of acetyl-L-carnitine was tested in a group of almost 100 individuals aged more than 70. Subjects in this study were supplemented with 2 grams of acetyl-L-carnitine, twice a day, or placebo (inactive medication) for a period of 180 days. All subjects in the study started the study with a diagnosis of fatigue as defined by standard testing criteria.
At the end of the study, those taking the acetyl-L-carnitine were found to be less physically and mentally fatigued, and enjoy improvements in their physical and mental function. Other improvements seen by those taking the active treatment included reduced muscle pain and a reduction in fatigue after exercise. All of the benefits associated with acetyl-L-carnitine were statistically significant.
The authors of this study conclude that: Our data show that administering ALC (acetyl-L-carntine) may reduce both physical and mental fatigue in elderly and improves both the cognitive status and physical functions.
I think this study is important because ‘fatigue’ is a symptom which is common, especially in the elderly, and yet it’s underlying mechanisms are generally poorly understood. Also, quite often doctors have little to offer individuals suffering from debilitating fatigue. In the ideal world, individuals would be assessed for issues such as low thyroid function, anaemia and iron and/or B12 deficiency and that these are treated if appropriate. However, the results of this study suggest to me that acetyl-L-carnitine might prove to be a useful agent in the treatment of fatigue, and is certainly worthy of consideration. Acetyl-L-carnitine is generally safe, though side-effects such as rash, increased appetite and nausea have been known to occur in those supplementing with this nutrient.
Malaguarnera M, et al. Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALC) treatment in Elderly Patients with Fatigue. Gerontol Geriatr, 2007 Jul 19; [Epub ahead of print].