Even though carnitine isn't technically an amino acid, its chemical structure is close enough to amino acids that's it's usually categorized as one. (In the strictest sense, it's more like a B vitamin.) Carnitine is, however, derived from an amino acid.
Carnitine occurs in the two standard forms D and L. These two styles are isomers of each other, meaning they contain the same molecules but that the molecules are arranged differently. They also have different properties. Only L-carnitine is active in the human body (or found in food) so that's the one we're focusing on in this program.
The word carnitine is really a generic term for a number of compounds which includes L-carnitine, acetyl-L-carnitine, and proprionyl-L-carnitine. The name was taken from the Latin word carnus (meaning flesh), because L-carnitine was isolated from meat.
Up to 95 percent of the carnitine in the body will be found in skeletal and cardiac muscle because those muscle systems depend heavily on fatty acids as dietary fuel.
- Acetyl-L-carnitine is a molecule that occurs naturally in the brain, liver, and kidney.
- Acetyl-L-carnitine helps transport fatty acids to cells involved in brain energy metabolism.
- Acetyl-L-carnitine helps promote cognitive function.
- Acetyl-L-carnitine supports nervous system health.
- The combination of alpha lipoic acid and acetyl-L-carnitine helps promote metabolic functioning to fight against free radicals and oxidative stress.
- Carnitine can support levels of natural antioxidants in the body
The primary role of L-carnitine is straightforward and focused its job is to produce energy from fat. It accomplishes this by transporting long-chain fatty acids in cells of the body, where the cell's mitochondria burn the fat (in a process called oxidation) to produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate). It is the ATP which then becomes a source of energy.
After the work is done, carnitine even cleans up after itself. It transports waste compounds produced during oxidation out of the cell so waste doesn't build up.
A decline in mitochondrial function may be a factor in the aging process and carnitine levels may be involved in this. The concentration of carnitine in muscle tissue may decline with age.
Carnitine is primarily found in animal products especially in meat, where the rule is, The redder, the better. The typical U.S. diet contains about 100 mg of carnitine per day, but vegetarians are likely to get much less so may want to consider supplementation. The best dietary sources are:
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