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Acetyl L-Carnitine and L-Carnitine

[Brain Wellness and Anti-Aging | Cardiovascular Health]
[Weight Management | Sports Nutrition | References]

Acetyl-L-Carnitine is the acetyl derivative of L-Carnitine. Supplemental Acetyl-L-Carnitine can cross the blood-brain barrier and acts as a source of acetyl groups for synthesis of acetylcholine. Acetyl-L-Carnitine has therefore found a niche in “brain food” products.

L-Carnitine is a vitamin-like nutrient related to vitamins of the B-group (vitamin BT).  L-Carnitine is a physiological substance, essential for energy production and for fat metabolism.  L-Carnitine can be synthesized in the human liver, but insufficient amounts may be produced in infants, in adolescents and in adults under certain physiological conditions.

The primary role of L-Carnitine within the body is to shuttle long chain fatty acids into the mitochondria, the ‘furnace of the cell’. Within the ‘furnace’, the fatty acids are broken down or burned and energy is produced. Thus, L-Carnitine is essential for the production of energy from fat!

Extensive research has shown the effectiveness of L-Carnitine in applications such as exercise, heart health, weight management, brain wellness and infant nutrition.

Brain Wellness and Anti-Aging

Acetyl L-Carnitine (ALC), the acetyl derivative of L-Carnitine, is found throughout the central nervous system (CNS). Acetyl L-Carnitine plays a broad role in central nervous system metabolism as a source of acetyl groups both for the synthesis of acetylcholine (a neurotransmitter which is vital to proper brain function) and for energy-producing reactions. ALC is capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier. Thus, Acetyl L-Carnitine has somewhat different applications to ‘regular’ L-Carnitine and has found a suitable niche in ‘brain food’ products.

ALC has a variety of properties that include restorative or even protective actions against aging processes and neuro-degeneration. In more simple terms, this means that Acetyl L-Carnitine has a vital role in maintaining brain function as we age. In fact, numerous sound clinical studies have shown that ALC supplementation may help in reducing the mental decline under certain conditions.

Recent research showed that when supplemented with a combination of L-Carnitine and alpha-lipoic-acid, aged rats perform better than usual on memory tests and show marked improvements in their level of activity. These results further support a role of Acetyl L-Carnitine in maintaining brain function as we age.

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Cardiovascular Health

Most people don’t realize that the heart obtains 70% of its energy from fat breakdown. The fundamental role that L-Carnitine plays in energy metabolism together with the dependence of the heart on fatty acid breakdown for energy production, make L-Carnitine a crucial energy provider for the heart. Scientific evidence has shown that L-Carnitine supplementation has beneficial effects in maintaining cardiovascular wellness.

Clinical data indicates that L-Carnitine supplementation can positively support healthy heart muscle, can significantly increase heart muscle viability and is beneficial in supporting a healthy heartbeat. Other clinical research data indicate that L-Carnitine supplementation is helpful in maintaining healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

It is important to bear in mind that the dietary supplement L-Carnitine is not recommended to treat cardiovascular disease which requires intervention by a health professional. However, clinical studies provide evidence that supplementary L-Carnitine may be beneficial in maintaining a healthy heart.

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Weight Management

Overweight and obesity are a serious health problem in Western societies affecting more than 50% of the adult population in the United States. This is where the dietary supplement L-Carnitine comes as good news as it helps to promote a healthier body weight and favor muscle (lean tissue) deposition.

A number of studies have shown the beneficial effects of dietary L-Carnitine for weight management in both animals and humans.  For example, Friedmann and colleagues suggest that a shortage of L-Carnitine in rats may increase food intake and another study showed that L-Carnitine fed obese dogs increased their lean muscle mass.  In obese adolescents, L-Carnitine supplementation promotes weight loss, decreases BMI and body fat content. When used in conjunction with a reduced calorie diet and moderate exercise, L-Carnitine supplementation resulted in a much greater loss in body weight in obese people, a decrease in low density lipoprotein (LDL) and blood sugar levels and a reduction in blood pressure.

It is important to bear in mind that the dietary supplement L-Carnitine is not recommended to treat obesity. This is a disease that requires intervention by a health professional. However, clinical studies provide evidence that supplementary L-Carnitine may contribute to optimal fat oxidation and along with dietary changes and exercise, L-Carnitine supplementation may promote a healthier body weight. It therefore can be an important part of a healthy weight management program for individuals concerned about their weight.

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Sports Nutrition

Fat and carbohydrate are the primary fuels used to meet the energy demands for physical exercise. In addition to supporting the cardiovascular system and promoting a healthier weight, L-Carnitine’s fundamental role in fat metabolism may result in multiple benefits for athletes and physically active people:

  • optimization of performance

  • delayed onset of fatigue

  • improved recovery process

An increasing body of scientific evidence illustrates the favorable effects of L-Carnitine for athletes and physically active people in regard to performance, fatigue and recovery.


L-Carnitine supplementation increased the peak treadmill running speed in marathon runners and increased VO2max in cyclists and long distance walkers. Positive effects on VO2max are good news because it is one of the most important measures of a person’s ability to perform high intensity exercise for longer than 4 to 5 minutes.


Early onset of fatigue during exercise performance is detrimental to both the high performance athlete and the physically active person. Two factors can cause fatigue during exercise: lactic acid accumulation and muscle glycogen depletion. Research indicates that L-Carnitine supplementation decreases lactic acid accumulation and spares glycogen and therefore plays a role in delaying fatigue, as described by various research groups.


The most recent clinical study opens new avenues in regard to a role for L-Carnitine apart from its classical muscle energetic function: daily L-Carnitine consumption prior to high intensity exercise significantly reduced muscle pain and decreased muscle damage in untrained subjects. In simple terms, this means that L-Carnitine supplementation can help in the recovery process. The protective effects might be partly due to enhancement of oxygen supply to the muscle via increased blood flow.

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Hagen TM, Ingersoll RT, Wehr CM, Lykkesfeldt J, Vinarsky V, Bartholomew JC, Song MH, Ames BN; Acetyl-L-carnitine fed to old rats partially restores mitochondrial function and ambulatory activity Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1998 Aug 4;95(16):9562-6.

Borum, P.R., and Bennett, S.G. Carnitine as an Essential Nutrient.J. American College of Nutrition, Vol. 5, pp. 177-182 (1986).

Ceretelli, P. and Marconi, C. L-Carnitine Supplementation in Humans. The Effects on Physical Performance. Int. J. Sports Med., Vol. 11, pp. 1-14 (1990). 

Siliprandi, N., et al. Metabolic Changes Induced by Maximal Exercise in Human Subjects Following L-Carnitine Administration. Biochim. Biophys. Acta, Vol. 1034, pp. 17-21 (1990).

Reprinted with exclusive permission from Lonza, Inc.

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