Carnitine Supplementation Benefits
Carnitine is a supplement that body builders and athletes have been using for some time. It is a substance naturally found in the body, and is created from the amino acids lysine and methionine. It can be found in various foods including red meat, chicken breasts, milk and cheese for example. There are three main forms of carnitine, L-carnitine, acetyl-L-carnitine, and propionyl-Lcarnitine. Most people can naturally produce enough carnitine, however, there are some people who may not be able to due to genetic or medical reasons.
Carnitine and Athletes
So why do athletes and body builders use the supplement if the body naturally produces it? Carnitine has many useful benefits such as it plays a large role in energy production, it’s responsible for transporting fatty acids to the mitochondria (produce the energy that cells need to function) and there is research to support supplementation as a possible benefit for a number of health conditions such as angina, and diabetic neuropathy (as with any supplement you should always consult a physician or appropriate health care professional prior to consuming to avoid any possible health complications).
Over the years there has been some debate over whether supplementation of Carnitine improves athletic performance or whether the body is capable of producing sufficient levels on its own. Recent studies including one published in the Journal of Physiology found[i]:
“muscle carnitine content can be increased in humans by dietary means and, perhaps more importantly, that carnitine plays a dual role in skeletal muscle fuel metabolism that is exercise intensity dependent. Specifically, we have shown that increasing muscle total carnitine content reduces muscle carbohydrate use during low intensity exercise, consistent with an increase in muscle lipid utilisation. However, during high intensity exercise muscle carnitine loading results in a better matching of glycolytic, pyruvate dehydrogenase complex and mitochondrial flux, thereby reducing muscle anaerobic energy generation. Collectively, these metabolic effects resulted in a reduced perception of effort and increased work output during a validated exercise performance test. These findings have significant implications for athletic performance and pathophysiological conditions where fat oxidation is impaired or anaerobic ATP production is increased during exercise.”
In short supplementation of carnitine can increase the muscle content of carnitine allowing the body to produce energy in a more efficient manner. This slows down carbohydrate use and increases usage of fats during low intensity exercise. While during high intensity exercise the ability to produce energy efficiently results in an increase in performance, while decreasing “how hard” the exercise seemed. This would enhance an athletes abilities in both long distance sports (marathons) and in explosive sports (hockey).
Carnitine and Weight Loss
Carnitine as described in the paragraph above enhances energy production, however that is not it’s only benefit, it is also linked to weight loss. For years body builders have used this supplement as a method of “burning fat”. There are many studies that show carnitine supplementation to be helpful in reducing body weight. One study found that supplementation using L-carnitine resulted in significant reduction of free fatty acids, and triglyceride concentration in the body when compared to a control group.[ii] This indicates healthier cholesterol levels, better energy use and changes that will enhance the effects of proper nutrition and exercise.
A new condition that is becoming more prevalent in society is non alcoholic fatty liver disease. This condition causes inflammation and scarring of the liver, and is caused by the accumulation of fat in the liver of people who drink little or no alcohol. The more serious form of this disease is non-alcoholic steatohepatitis which can lead to liver failure. This condition occurs when the liver has trouble breaking down fats. Risk factors for this condition include:
- High cholesterol (see the paragraph above)
- High levels of triglycerides in the blood (see the paragraph above)
- Type 2 diabetes
A study that examined supplementation of carnitine’s effect on regression of a metabolic disorder of the liver (non-alcoholic steatohepatitis) found that it improved liver function, lipid profiles, and blood glucose levels.[iii] This would indicate that not only would supplementation help reduce risk factors of the condition but could also help in the reduction of the disorder.
For many people engaging in a goal of shedding weight, the area of primary concern is usually around the belly. This can be an area of difficulty for many people. Combined with exercise and proper nutrition supplementation of carnitine can help enhance weight loss of visceral body fat. Many of the issues for studies examining the subject is the relatively low dosage a short duration of the studies. The first study quoted published in the journal of physiology found that there was no difference between the two groups at the three month mark, but by the sixth month mark the difference was noticeably significant.
- Improved cognitive performance
- Type 2 diabetes prevention and improved insulin health
- Better skin
- Exercise and stress recovery
Have more questions? Contact us and we would be happy to answer them for you!
To your health,
Keegan Marshall CPT, CES
[i] Wall, B., Stephens, F., Constantin-Teodosiu, D., Marmuthu, K., Macdonald, I., Greenhaff, P. Chronic Oral Ingestion of L-Carnitine and Carbohydrate Increases Muscle Carnitine Content and Alters Muscle Fuel Metabolism During Exercise in Humans. The Journal of Physiology. 2011. 589, 963-973. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1113/jphysiol.2010.201343/full
[ii] Radler, U., Stangle, H., et al. A Combination of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids, Polyphenols, and L-Carnitine Reduces the Plasma Lipid Levels and Increases the Expression of Genes Involved in Fatty Acid Oxidation in Human Peripheral Blood Mononuclear Cells and HepG2 Cells. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism. 2011. 58, 133-140.
[iii] Mariano Malaguarnera AP, Maria Pia Gargante MD, Cristina Russo MD, Tijana Antic MD, Marco Vacante MD, Michele Malaguarnera MD, Teresio Avitabile, Giovanni Li Volti AP and Fabio Galvano AP.l-Carnitine Supplementation to Diet: A New Tool in Treatment of Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis—A Randomized and Controlled Clinical Trial. Am J Gastroenterol 2010; 105:1338–1345; doi:10.1038/ajg.2009.719; published online 12 January 2010