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Acetyl-L Carnitine is an essential part of my protocol. I began taking Acetyl-L Carnitine a year ago and have been very pleased with this supplement and the changes I’ve experienced in my health since. All carnitines are antioxidants, and because you can manufacture them yourself, they’re classed as nonessential nutrients. Certain people do have carnitine deficiencies that stem from the inability to process certain dietary nutrients. Supplements can often help these patients (NIH). If you suffer from deficiencies common in EDS such as vitamin D3, magnesium, and B12, it’s likely that you may also have carnitine deficiency. Even though I eat a meat heavy diet due to carbohydrate intolerance of the small bowel, I have found carnitine supplementation to be a huge benefit to my health, as do many people with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and other spoonies.
The Benefits of Acytl-L Carnitine
There are several benefits that can be seen when boosting your carnitine levels. Carnitines carry certain fatty acids to mitochondria to be burned as fuel. The supplement may improve the endurance of patients with emphysema (also known as COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and relieve the fatigue associated with fibromyalgia and celiac disease (HSW) and as someone with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) and Fibromyalgia, it does provide me with a significant boost in energy. So much so, that it gave me the boost I needed to go from being mostly bed bound to beginning therapies that have me operating at or near a level on par with healthy persons the majority of my days.
I not only started taking it for the energy boost, but for the neurological benefits. Acetyl-L Carnitine shows great benefits for people suffering with cognitive degeneration because of it’s ability to repair and produce the myelin sheath and aid in nerve conduction:
Acetyl-L-carnitine contains an acetyl group that is essential for the production of a key neurotransmitter [source: UMHS]. The nervous system depends on fat metabolism. Fat is a major component of the myelin sheath that coats each nerve cell. The chemical composition of the myelin sheath is what allows impulses to jump across synapses (the spaces between nerve cells) and travel through the body to turn into actions, sensations, ideas or feelings. The breakdown of the myelin sheath can prevent the nervous system from being able to communicate effectively with itself. That’s what happens in diseases such as multiple sclerosis. A myelin sheath with a high fat content performs more effectively, insulating the nerve and allowing the impulse to travel faster [source: Nagel].
Because of the way acetyl-L-carnitine seems to aid in fat metabolism, some doctors believe it shows promise as a treatment for certain nervous and cognitive disorders. Among these disorders are dysthymia (mild depression), attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) Alzheimer’s disease, the neural degeneration associated with cirrhosis and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) [sources: Arnold, NAT]. Acetyl-L-carnitine has been studied as a way to reduce the hyperactivity associated with fragile X syndrome, a serious genetic disorder, but results are inconclusive [source: NAT]. (HSW)
I have seen marked improvements in cognitive function while taking Acetyl-L Carnitine. The most notable changes have been to my short term memory and mental clarity. I also have more organized thought processes, find the writing process much easier to manage and have less difficulties doing things like completing math in my head and remembering how to spell words. I rarely ever have difficulty accessing my vocabulary or finding the right words anymore. While I do seem to have some slight increase to access to my past memories, I do still seem to have some blockage there, so it’s not a miracle worker, but some of those could also be blocked due to trauma rather than memory issues, as well.
What else is Acetyl-L Carnitine known to do? A few wonderful things that I’m just finding out about myself. For example, it can help with thyroid and heart issues:
Some research suggests that L-carnitine may help prevent or reduce symptoms of an overactive thyroid, such as insomnia, nervousness, heart palpitations, and tremors. In fact, in one study, a small group of people with hyperthyroidism saw these symptoms improve, and their body temperature become normal, when taking carnitine. But a larger, better-designed clinical trial is needed to see if carnitine really works. In addition, researchers think carnitine may work by blocking the action of thyroid hormone, which could be dangerous for people with low thyroid levels
Research suggests that carnitine can be used along with conventional treatment for stable angina. Several clinical trials show that L-carnitine and propionyl-L-carnitine can help reduce symptoms of angina and improve the ability of people with angina to exercise without chest pain. DO NOT self treat chest pain with carnitine, however. See your health care provider for diagnosis and conventional treatment, and take carnitine only under your provider’s supervision
A few studies suggest that carnitine may help when used with conventional medicines after a heart attack, but not all studies agree. Some small studies suggest that people who take L-carnitine supplements soon after a heart attack may be less likely to have another heart attack, die of heart disease, have chest pain and abnormal heart rhythms, or develop heart failure. However, other studies show no benefit. Treatment with oral carnitine may also improve muscle weakness. Carnitine should be used along with conventional medication under your provider’s supervision.
A few small studies have suggested that carnitine (usually propionyl-L-carnitine) can help reduce symptoms of heart failure and improve exercise capacity in people with heart failure. However, more research is needed. (UMM)
One benefit that I personally experience as a direct result of taking Acetyl-L Carnitine is one that I don’t see listed anywhere in any article that I’ve read; a reduction in pain that isn’t related to small fiber neuropathy. Unfortunately, I can find no information to back up my claim, but I have tested my theory several times to be sure I am not imagining things and every time I stop taking it for a week or longer, sure enough I begin to experience an increase in pain. My neck pain, which radiates from a herniated disc comes back, as does my wrist pain from carpal tunnel. My knee pain, where I have moderate osteoarthritis also returns. I believe it works to quell this pain because in effect, its source is derived from nerves being crushed by these joints.
It has to do with the myelin sheath; “Myelin loss causes remarkable nerve dysfunction because nerve conduction can be slowed or blocked, resulting in the damaged information networks between the brain and the body or within the brain itself,” (Nature). Such nerve dysfunction inevitably leads to pain and/or numbness. The Acetyl-L Carnitine can help heal the damage, but so long as it’s still being caused, it will only keep recurring, calling for the need to keep taking the substance long term. However, since we suffer from fatigue as a near perpetual state anyway due to mitochondrial dysfunction, we need a constant supply of antioxidants, anyway. We may as well take one which aids in healing the nerve damage caused by mechanical forces (the break down of our joints due to faulty collagen).
Carnitines also carry away the waste products of this fuel burning process, known as oxidation. Oxidative stress is part of the aging process and everyone suffers its ill effects, but our exposure to oxidative stress varies from what drugs we take to the foods we eat to our environment and overall health. Antioxidants like Acetyl-L Carnitine can help us fight this oxidative stress and keep us young.
The kidneys regulate the level of carnitine. If you have too much carnitine, they get rid of what you don’t need. If your diet is low in carnitine, the kidneys hang on to what you have (NIH). If your kidneys are in proper working order, there shouldn’t be any risk associated with carnitine supplementation, however you should always follow precautions and check with your doctor before beginning any supplement to be sure it’s right for you.
How to Take Acytl-L Carnitine
According to the Maryland Medical Center, these are the prescribed guidelines for taking Acetyl-L Carnitine:
DO NOT give carnitine supplements to a child without your child’s health care provider’s supervision. Your child’s provider should first make sure that the child has a carnitine deficiency.
Recommended doses of L-carnitine vary depending on the health condition being treated. The usual dose is between 1 to 3 g per day. (UMM)
I started out taking 3 grams per day and gradually reduced down to 1 gram a day as my body healed and required less of the substance. A year in, a 1 gram dose does everything I need it to. A month ago, I even tried to discontinue it to see if I could get away with no longer taking it, however within a week my neck pain returned, my migraines increased, and my husband and I noticed a slight down turn in my short term memory, so I reinstated use and will probably remain on it so long as I continue to sustain brain and spinal damage. After a few weeks, I decided to increase my dose back to 2g per day, as well and saw a significant boost in energy, though no changes in pain levels. Its a good idea to play with the dosage a little (up to 3g) to find the optimal level for you so that you aren’t wasting your money by taking too much, but are getting the most benefit from it.
Precautions & Interactions
There are a number of known side effects and interactions with this antioxidant. Review them carefully and be sure to speak with your doctor about this and all supplements before adding them to your protocol. For more information on supplement safety, testing and guidelines, see my article, here.
Side effects are generally mild. High doses (5 or more grams per day) may cause diarrhea. Other rare side effects include increased appetite, body odor, and rash.
People with the following conditions should talk to their provider before taking carnitine:
- Peripheral vascular disease
- High blood pressure
- Liver disease from alcoholism (cirrhosis)
- Kidney disease
- History of seizures
If you are being treated with any of the following medications, you should not use carnitine without first talking to your health care provider.
AZT: In a laboratory study, L-carnitine supplements protected muscle tissue against toxic side effects from AZT, a medication used to treat HIV and AIDS. More studies are needed to know whether L-carnitine would have the same effect in people.
Doxorubicin: Treatment with L-carnitine may protect heart cells against the toxic side effects of doxorubicin, a chemotherapy medication used to treat cancer, without making the medication any less effective. Always talk to your oncologist before using complementary or alternative (CAM) therapies with chemotherapy.
Isotretinoin (Accutane): Accutane, a strong medication used for severe acne, can cause liver problems, as measured by a blood test, as well as high cholesterol, and muscle pain and weakness. These symptoms are like those seen with carnitine deficiency. Researchers in Greece showed that a large group of people who had side effects from Accutane got better when taking L-carnitine compared to those who took a placebo.
Thyroid hormone: Carnitine may stop thyroid hormone from getting into cells, and theoretically may make thyroid hormone replacement less effective. If you take thyroid replacement hormone, talk to your provider before taking carnitine.
Valproic acid (Depakote): The antiseizure medication valproic acid may lower blood levels of carnitine. Taking L-carnitine supplements may prevent any deficiency and may also reduce the side effects of valproic acid. However, taking carnitine may increase the risk of seizures in people with a history of seizures.
Blood Thinning Medications: Carnitine may increase the risk of bleeding in people taking blood thinning medications. (UMM)
Tips for Purchasing Acetyl-L Carnitine
Whenever available, I try to purchase my supplements in powder form rather than tablets or capsules, as it can save a significant amount of money while helping you to better digest the substance. The Acetyl-L Carnitine I take is in pure powder form with no fillers. I mix it into a small glass of water with my other powered supplements and drink it every morning as part of my regular routine. It’s pretty affordable this way, much more so than in pill form. The only drawback is that it’s a little on the bitter side, but can easily be camouflaged in a glass of juice or mixed in with food. I don’t recommend mixing it with dairy. It seems to curdle it. I simply take it with water as I can’t drink anything else and I’m so used to the taste by now I barely bat an eyelash about it. Here are the brands I’ve bought and feel are of good quality:
If you prefer to try to supplement carnitine naturally, it can also be found in red meat (especially lamb), dairy and in lesser quanties in fish, poultry, tempeh, wheat, asparagus, avocados, and peanut butter. However, it takes a lot of these foods to get as much as you’re able to get through a supplement, so I recommend buying a pure powder instead.
Looking for other supplements to help you feel better? Take a look at our protocol for some ideas.
Resources and Further Reading: