Carnitine is an amino acid produced in the liver & kidneys. The carnitine requirement is met by the foods we consume but in certain conditions it becomes essential to supplement with L-carnitine. The non vegetarian foods such as beef, cod fish, poultry is rich in carnitine and on other hand vegetables hardly have any carnitine in it, that’s why vegetarians are prone to carnitine deficiency. Only dairy products contain fair amount of carnitine in vegetarian diet. Carnitine is usually stored in large quantities where there is higher requirement of energy on regular basis, such as muscle, brain and heart tissue.
Three variants of Carnitine supplements are available in market:
- L- Carnitine tartrate
- Acetyl L-Carnitine
- Propionyl L-Carnitine
All of them are metabolised differently, affect different tissues and has different uses. Tartrate is mainly used in energy production, diseases and for fat loss purpose. Acetyl form is used for brain and cognitive functions while propionyl form us used to enhance blood supply to organs or tissues. The benefits of Carnitine can be divided into 5 categories:
- Metabolic support – Carnitine has shown to reduce Insulin Resistance by increasing glucose uptake by cells thereby keeping sugar and insulin levels in check. Due to this reason it has been used as a fat loss aid when combined with diet and exercise. It helps to breakdown fats and boost fat uptake by liver cells for oxidation leading to fat loss. It also helps to improve energy level, mood and sleep quality. In one study it has shown to reduce physical and mental fatigue by improving oxygen supply to tissues and reducing oxidative stress by neutralising free radicals.
- Brain Support – Carnitine especially Acetyl form helps in improving memory and reverse cognitive decline in elderly patients. It improves brain function by increasing ATP production in brain cells. It also provides Acetyl group which is substrate for Acetylcholine production. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter primarily responsible for memory and cognition in brain.
- Male infertility – Sperm quality and motility is directly correlated to the carnitine levels. In various studies carnitine increases the motility and quality of sperm by providing them more ATP and energy for survival. It also acts as free radical scavenger as free radical can damage the sperms and affect their motility and quality. Carnitine levels are also positively correlated to the testosterone levels, higher the carnitine levels and so is testosterone.
- Cardiovascular support – Carnitine supports cardiovascular function by increasing blood, sugar and oxygen levels to heart tissues. Since heart has highest number of mitochondria and require continuous supply of blood, oxygen and sugar, carnitine serves an important function as a carrier molecule by increasing uptake of these substrates in heart tissue. Carnitine also helps relieve sleep apnea in which people has obstructive airways and hence lack of oxygen supply to brain and heart. Sleep apnea is considered one of the risk factor for heart related issues.
- Performance enhancement – Carnitine boosts Athletic Performance by increasing blood, oxygen and glucose uptake by muscle tissue. It also helps to recover faster and delay fatigue due to enhanced removal of ammonia and lactic acid from muscle tissue. It usually benefits endurance athletes like swimmers, cyclists and marathoners rather than strength athletes. It prevents muscle moss under strenuous physical endurance activity.
Dosage: Carnitine tartrate 3000-4000 mg per day, Acetyl carnitine 1000-2000 mg day and propionyl carnitine 500-2000mg/day in divided doses. Carnitine is best absorbed with foods which stimulate insulin release such as carbohydrates. When combined with BCAA (specially leucine) the carnitine absorption increases because leucine stimulate insulin production with raising blood sugar levels.
Contraindication: Higher doses can cause side effects such as diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting or abdominal cramps. It interferes with thyroid hormones so its contraindicated in hypothyroidism and kidney disorders as well. Better to cycle it off for 8 weeks on and 4 weeks off when planning to use it for fat loss purpose.