What is Carnitine?
Carnitine is a naturally occurring vitamin-like compound that helps your body convert fat into energy. By stoking the energy-producing furnaces of your cells, Carnitine helps you to lose weight, feel more energized, increase mental energy, and relieve depression. It has also been shown to lower triglyceride levels and raise "good" HDL cholesterol levels, helping to prevent heart disease.
How can this book help?
With expert information on dosage and brands, including how carnitine is used for specific problems, THE CARNITINE CONNECTION is your ultimate source for facts about this amazing supplement–where to find it, how it is used, and how it can improve your health and your life.
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About the Author
Winifred Conkling is a freelance writer specializing in history and health and consumer topics. Her articles have appeared in a number of national magazines including American Health, McCall’s, Consumer Reports, and Reader’s Digest. Winifred lives in northern Virginia with her husband, three children, a dog, two rats, a horse, and quite a few squirrels and chipmunks in the backyard. She is the author of more than 30 nonfiction books, including Passenger on the Pearl: The True Story of Emily Edmonson's Flight from Slavery; Radioactive!: How Irène Curie&Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World; and Votes for Women!: American Suffragists and the Battle for the Ballot. winifredconkling.com
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The Carnitine Connection
By Winifred Conkling
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2000 Lynn Sonberg Book Associates
All rights reserved.
What Is Carnitine?
Carnitine may not enjoy the popular acclaim of other nutritional supplements, but it deserves recognition and appreciation for its essential role in the healthy functioning of the body. Every form of life — from the simplest single-cell organism to the unfathomably complex human body — depends on carnitine for energy production within the cells. Without carnitine, life would not exist in the form that we know it.
Carnitine is essential for energy production and it is found in almost every cell in our bodies. It is present in greatest concentrations in the heart, brain, muscles, and testicles, all of which require the generation of intensive concentrations of energy.
At the most basic level, carnitine shuttles fat (or long-chain fatty acids, to be more precise) into the energy centers or mitochondria of the cells, where the fat can be burned to produce energy. Without enough carnitine, the cell's furnace cannot work at peak efficiency and the cell's energy-production system slows down or stalls. When the body has sufficient carnitine reserves, the cells can burn more fat and generate more energy.
In addition to generating energy, fat burning creates a number of other health benefits. For example, carnitine-enhanced fat burning prevents the accumulation of excess fat in the heart, liver, and muscles; if allowed to build up, this fat can contribute to a number of different health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease, and high triglyceride levels. And, of course, fat that is converted to energy is not stored in the body in the form of excess pounds.
Carnitine helps with weight loss because it allows and encourages the body to burn fat stores and convert them to energy. When carnitine levels dwindle, the mitochondria burn less fat for energy, leaving a person feeling wiped out and susceptible to weight gain. Fat not burned by the mitochondria accumulates in the body tissues. Ultimately, low levels of carnitine can cause both weight gain and a decrease in physical and mental energy.
Because of the essential link between carnitine and energy production, carnitine supplementation holds special promise for athletes eager to improve their physical endurance and sports performance. A number of studies show that carnitine can enhance aerobic performance, allowing athletes to exercise longer without fatigue. In one study, well-trained runners who took 2 grams of carnitine per day in divided dosages increased their maximum running speed by a remarkable 5.7 percent. Keep in mind that these well-conditioned athletes were already performing near their optimal levels; less well-trained athletes may notice even more significant improvements in their performance. All athletes need to have a sufficient amount of carnitine in their cells to optimize performance.
Not Quite a Vitamin, Not Quite an Amino Acid
Carnitine is often referred to as "the energy vitamin," but it is not really a vitamin at all. Strictly speaking, a vitamin is a substance that cannot be produced by the body and must be obtained through food. Because the body can synthesize carnitine from the amino acids lysine and methionine, carnitine is not a true vitamin.
Some people classify carnitine as an amino acid, but it is not a true amino acid either. While carnitine has a chemical structure similar to many amino acids, technically it is a nitrogen-containing, short-chain carboxylic acid. Confused? In simple terms, carnitine is a water-soluble, vitaminlike compound similar to the B-complex group of vitamins.
Carnitine can be produced by the body or obtained through food. As the parents of healthy young children know, most youngsters have a seemingly endless supply of energy. One of the reasons for this bountiful reserve of energy is that children's bodies tend to be replete with carnitine, provided they eat a well-balanced diet. Unfortunately, the amount of carnitine produced by the body declines with age; by the time a person reaches his 30s or 40s, his carnitine reserves begin to become depleted and that all-too-familiar feeling of fatigue begins to set in. But there is hope: Taking a daily dose of supplemental carnitine may be sufficient to boost carnitine levels back to their youthful levels.
Types of Carnitine
Carnitine is sold in two main forms: L-carnitine and acetyl-L-carnitine. Both forms can be used by the body. In fact, L-carnitine breaks down into acetyl-L-carnitine when it is converted into energy.
Both substances have healing effects. Generally speaking, L-carnitine is most effective at healing the heart; acetyl-L-carnitine is best at enhancing metabolism in the brain. Both forms are useful in encouraging weight loss and boosting overall energy.
A Brief Primer on Carnitine
Researchers first identified carnitine nearly 100 years ago, but they had no idea what the strange substance was or what it did in the body. In 1905 scientists in Russia and Germany isolated carnitine from the muscle tissue of several animals. They named the substance carnitine, using the Latin root carn, meaning flesh or meat.
More than 40 years passed before scientists realized that carnitine was essential for growth and development. In the 1950s, researchers began to appreciate the critical role that carnitine plays in energy production, but they did not yet understand the magnitude of its importance. In fact, it was not until the 1970s that scientists identified the first diseases associated with carnitine deficiency; only then did carnitine first begin to receive the respect it deserved.
Once researchers focused on the role of carnitine and energy, they recognized that people who suffered from severe carnitine deficiency also experienced life-threatening symptoms, such as heart failure and muscle loss. What, they wondered, was the link between muscle tissue and this mysterious substance, carnitine?
Over time, researchers began to put the pieces of the puzzle together, linking carnitine to energy production within the cells. They now know that carnitine levels naturally decline with age, causing a growing feeling of fatigue that often accompanies aging. The gradual depletion of carnitine levels rarely causes dramatic, diagnosable symptoms of carnitine deficiency. Instead, the steady decline causes a gradual erosion of energy, which can be more insidious and more difficult to identify as a consequence of carnitine deficiency.
In simple terms, when the cells of the body don't have enough carnitine to keep their mitochondria fueled with energy-producing fat, the cells become progressively weaker. This weakness eventually causes other medical problems. Many experts believe, for example, that low levels of carnitine may contribute to a number of serious illnesses associated with aging, including heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, and cancer. Some researchers even see carnitine deficiency and damage to the mitochondria as one of the leading causes of aging itself.
What causes carnitine levels to decline? Several factors seem to contribute to the problem:
Many Americans aren't consuming enough carnitine in their daily diets. In attempting to promote good health, many people eschew carnitine-rich foods, such as red meat and dairy products, because these foods tend to contain high levels of unhealthful saturated fats. By rejecting foods rich in carnitine, these people eliminate a major source of this important nutrient.
Americans need to exercise more in order to encourage the use of carnitine by the body. Exercise increases the body's synthesis of carnitine; a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to low levels of carnitine, which, in turn, can contribute to feelings of fatigue. When fatigue sets in, many people find it still more difficult to find the energy to exercise. Countless studies have documented the numerous benefits associated with exercise. (Some of the benefits of exercise are described in Chapter 9.) The improved synthesis of carnitine is yet another reason to get moving.
The body may use up its carnitine reserves in the battle against toxic exposures. Exposure to environmental toxins may contribute to carnitine deficiency. In such cases, the carnitine used to clear toxins from the body cannot be used in the production of energy. The more pollutants the body encounters, the greater the body's demand for carnitine for both energy production and toxic cleanup. The greater your individual exposure to environmental toxins, the greater your need for supplemental carnitine.
Taken together, these factors help to explain why we tend to experience both an energy shortage and a carnitine shortage as we grow older. Once again, these deficiencies can be overcome with simple carnitine supplementation as described in Chapter 9.
Carnitine in the Body
While most Americans don't know much about carnitine and how it works, scientists have spent several decades studying this nutrient. Thousands of studies have found carnitine to be both safe and highly effective in the treatment of a number of medical problems. For example, for more than 20 years, doctors have prescribed carnitine and CoQ10 (both separately and together) to treat heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other ailments.
Many of the studies explored the role of carnitine in early childhood development. Human beings need a reliable supply of carnitine from our earliest days in the womb to our final moments of life. Because fetuses obtain carnitine from their mothers, carnitine levels can drop in women during pregnancy. During the first six months of life, infants cannot produce a sufficient supply of carnitine; they must obtain carnitine from breast milk, cow milk-based formula, or carnitine-enriched soy formula.
Without enough carnitine, a child's growth and development may be stunted. These carnitine-deficient children may develop muscle weakness, heart disorders, excessive fatigue, learning disabilities, and countless other life-threatening problems. Although carnitine deficiency is relatively rare in children, approximately 375,000 infants are born each year with one of several medical disorders that interfere with the body's ability to produce carnitine. For these children, doctors prescribe carnitine supplements, sold under the brand name Carnitor; carnitine is one of a few nutritional supplements that is sold as a prescription medicine as well as an over-the-counter supplement.
What makes carnitine so important to the human body? To appreciate this simple nutrient, you must understand the many essential roles it plays in the body.
Carnitine stokes the energy-producing furnaces of the cells. Carnitine literally moves fatty acids (the fuel) across the membrane of the energy-producing organs in the cells known as mitochondria (the furnace) where the fat can be converted into energy. Carnitine is absolutely essential for energy production; your body could have all the fuel (fat) it needs, but without carnitine to transfer it into the mitochondria, the system breaks down and energy isn't produced.
Carnitine keeps the mitochondria cleared of the waste products caused by energy production. Carnitine also transfers out of the cells the waste generated by burning fatty acids. If the body lacks enough carnitine to keep the mitochondria furnaces clean, energy production will suffer and toxins will collect in the mitochondria. Over time, these toxins can damage the DNA in the mitochondria, which can alter the function of the cell. When the mitochondria are damaged, they can no longer contribute to energy production.
Carnitine plays an essential role in the production of hormones. Carnitine is required in the chemical production of many hormones, which, in turn, orchestrate a number of functions within the body. Carnitine deficiency can create hormonal havoc in the body.
Carnitine helps prevent the buildup of excessive fat reserves. Carnitine helps the body maintain healthy levels of triglycerides and cholesterol. High levels of these blood lipids (or fats) contribute to heart disease and stroke. Carnitine also helps prevent the buildup of fat in the tissues, which causes obesity and a wide range of weight-related health problems.
Carnitine helps prevent dangerous blood clots, including those that cause stroke or heart attack. Carnitine prevents the red blood cells from clumping together to form clots. Blood clots can block the arteries, restricting blood flow to the heart (causing a heart attack) or to the brain (causing a stroke).
Carnitine strengthens the cell membranes. Strong membranes keep cells functioning at peak capacity and protect against viral infections. Weak cell walls can cause a number of health problems.
Carnitine assists in the production of red blood cells. Carnitine is necessary for the production of porphyrin, which is needed to make red blood cells.
Where Does Carnitine Come From?
The body can get carnitine in one of three ways:
Your body can make it. Carnitine can be synthesized in relatively small amounts from the amino acids lysine and methionine. To do so, however, the liver needs sufficient amounts of vitamin C, vitamin B6 niacin, thiamin, and iron. (A deficiency in any of these nutrients can halt the production of carnitine in the body.) Typically, our bodies use amino acids to produce about 25 percent of the carnitine we need; the rest must be obtained through food or supplements.
You can consume carnitine in your daily diet. The average person consumes between 50 and 200 milligrams of carnitine per day as part of the daily diet. The best sources of carnitine include meat (beef, sheep, lamb) and dairy products; it is also found in avocados. As a general rule, though, plant-based foods contain very little carnitine. Clearly, it is essential that people consume a diet containing sufficient amounts of essential amino acids in order to allow the body to produce sufficient amounts of carnitine.
You can take carnitine supplements. Supplemental carnitine can be helpful in obtaining sufficient levels of this important nutrient. Vegetarians in particular should consider carnitine supplementation since many of them eat neither meat nor dairy products. Many experts believe that virtually everyone could benefit from carnitine supplementation from age 40, because the body produces less carnitine as it ages.
It can be difficult to know if you are getting enough carnitine through your daily diet. Symptoms of possible carnitine deficiency include confusion, heart pain, weak muscles, and obesity.
As this brief description of the role of carnitine in the body shows, carnitine performs essential functions in the body. Optimal amounts of carnitine are needed to achieve optimal health. While carnitine taken alone provides important health benefits, researchers have found that carnitine supplements can be made still more effective when combined with the antioxidant CoQ10. Chapter 2 describes in detail the synergy between carnitine and CoQ10.CHAPTER 2
The One-Two Punch: Carnitine and CoQ10
Carnitine offers incredible health benefits when taken alone — and researchers now recognize that those benefits can be reinforced and strengthened when carnitine is taken in combination with a second supplement known as coenzyme Q10. There are 10 types of CoQ; CoQ10 is the most active form for humans.
The body uses both carnitine and CoQ10 in the production of energy at the cellular level. A coenzyme is a chemical that works with an enzyme to complete a chemical reaction. While carnitine helps to transport fatty acids into the mitochondria of the cells, where they can be converted into energy, CoQ10 actually helps in the chemical reaction that causes the production of energy within the cell. An inadequate supply of either carnitine or CoQ10 can thwart energy production and compromise overall health.
For more than two decades, researchers and doctors in Europe and Japan have recommended the combination of carnitine and CoQ10 to their patients. Studies have repeatedly shown that the two supplements work together safely and effectively, with no known negative side effects. In recent years, physicians in the United States have begun to appreciate the value of these supplements, especially when used together.
CoQ10 is a fascinating molecule that can be produced by every cell in the body. Because of its ubiquitous presence in the body, it is sometimes referred to as ubiquinone. Like carnitine, CoQ10 can be synthesized by the body or consumed in the daily diet.
Excerpted from The Carnitine Connection by Winifred Conkling. Copyright © 2000 Lynn Sonberg Book Associates. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
FOREWORD BY KENNETH SINGLETON, M.D.,
ONE: WHAT IS CARNITINE?,
TWO: THE ONE-TWO PUNCH: CARNITINE AND COQ10,
THREE: NO MORE FATIGUE: CARNITINE AND OPTIMAL ENERGY,
FOUR: ACHIEVE YOUR PERSONAL BEST: CARNITINE AND SPORTS PERFORMANCE,
FIVE: BURN UP THE FAT: CARNITINE AND WEIGHT LOSS,
SIX: HEART OF THE MATTER: CARNITINE AND HEART HEALTH,
SEVEN: MENTAL SHARPNESS: CARNITINE AND BRAIN HEALTH,
EIGHT: CARNITINE AND OTHER HEALTH ISSUES,
NINE: THE SAFE AND EFFECTIVE USE OF CARNITINE,
TEN: QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ABOUT CARNITINE,
ORGANIZATIONS OF INTEREST,
WEBSITES OF INTEREST,
ARTICLES OF INTEREST,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,
ST. MARTIN'S PAPERBACKS TITLES BY WINIFRED CONKLING,