Acetyl-l-Carnitine (aka ALCAR) is a popular ingredient in many brain health products.  

ALCAR has many claims to fame, from enhancing cognitive processing and protecting the brain from age related cognitive decline, to helping with weight loss. 

What are carnitines?

Your body makes carnitines from the essential amino acids’ lysine and methionine, but generally speaking, you can’t make enough.  This is where your diet comes into play to cover off the shortage.  Carnitines can be found in: 

  • red meat
  • fish
  • poultry 
  • milk

Your body also needs a sufficient amount of vitamins C and B6 to produce carnitine.  

Following ingesting ALCAR supplements, your blood levels peak after about 3 hours and can remain high for the next 15 hours.

Carnitines play a couple of different roles in the body. They are first and foremost known for energy production. Your body uses carnitines to move fat into the mitochondria where the fat is converted into energy.  

So, what does this have to do with my brain?

Neurons need energy too! In fact, your brain uses more energy than any other organ in your body.  The use of ALCAR in the brain doesn’t stop there as it is also used for the production of the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, it’s worth noting that there are different forms of carnitine supplementation, each of which comes with their own unique advantages: 

  • L-carnitine tartrate: popular in sport supplementation for muscle recovery after exercise
  • Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR): effective for brain function, and cognition
  • Propionyl-L-carnitine: important in blood flow

Why We Dig ALCAR

ALCAR is simply a carnitine with the addition of an acetyl group. This makes ALCAR more easily absorbed by the gut as well as the brain.   L-Carnitine on the other hand is not easily absorbed and has a difficult time crossing the blood brain barrier (BBB) - the wall that says what can and cannot enter your brain. 

Depending on what your body needs, L-carnitine and ALCAR can easily be converted into one another.  This means that ALCAR has the potential to do everything L-carnitine can.

ALCAR and the brain

ALCAR is present in high levels in the brain, and it is believed that supplementation with ALCAR can affect brain function and health through:

  1. Helping to produce the neurotransmitter acetylcholine
  2. Helping to create energy
  3. Regulating cortisol levels (...possibly)

Acetylcholine

Studies suggest that ALCAR can enhance the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain.  In cholinergic neurons, acetylcholine is made from choline and acetyl coenzyme A (acetyl-CoA, for short) by the enzyme called choline acetyltransferase.  

Although the mechanism is extremely complicated, scientific studies suggest that ingestion of ALCAR increases acetylcholine by increasing acetyl-CoA. The compounds acetyl-CoA and choline make acetylcholine. To learn more about the acetylcholine mechanism, make sure to check out our blog on choline.

Why is it important to have healthy levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine?  

Acetylcholine has multiple roles in the peripheral and central nervous system, and is important for attention, learning and memory.  

ALCAR in combination with choline can help maintain a healthy level of acetylcholine in the brain. 

alcar-mechanism-in-mitochondria

Energy production

When talking about energy metabolism, we have to talk about the mitochondria, affectionately known as the powerhouse of the cell.  Through a series of chemical reactions, mitochondria convert sugar and fat into energy containing molecules, known as adenosine triphosphate (ATP). 

ALCAR also improves energy production, through acetyl CoA (yes, the same acetyl CoA that can be used to make acetylcholine).  Acetyl CoA can also be used to generate energy (ATP).

Cortisol Regulation

The relationship between prolonged stress, and mental health disorders such as depression has received a lot of attention in the scientific community.  It is safe to say, stress affects mood and cognition.  

Recent studies suggest this might have a lot to do with the “stress hormone”, cortisol. 

Most people hear cortisol and immediately think it is a bad thing.  Cortisol is actually extremely important, if you don’t have cortisol, you die.   Cortisol is a stress hormone, so it acts in a bunch of different ways to prepare your body for a physical and/or emotional challenge.  Cortisol becomes problematic when cortisol levels increase…. and don’t decrease.  What’s interesting about cortisol is that it has a natural circadian rhythm during a 24-hour day.  Normally, cortisol peaks in the morning and decreases as the day advances.  This makes sense, you need your initial “get up and go” to start off your day. 

When cortisol doesn’t start to decline during the day, “aka being stressed all the time”, this can change the neurotransmitter called serotonin.  Serotonin is important for sleep, appetite, and mood, it’s your “feel good” neurotransmitter.  Many of the drugs used to treat clinical depression, like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), change how neurons use serotonin to talk to each other.

Many studies show that the rhythm of cortisol secretion is altered in people, especially the elderly, who suffer from depression. Cortisol stays high during the evening and night. 

Now, so far, this has only been studied in animal studies, but it appears that ALCAR can decrease and stabilize cortisol levels, increase serotonin levels in the brain, and  improve depressive symptoms.  Interestingly, an ALCAR supplementation study in humans shows the effect of ALCAR on the cortisol rhythm in humans and had promising results in relieving depressive symptoms.

ALCAR is also emerging as a potential biomarker for depression. In cases of major depressive disorder, ALCAR appears to be low in the bloodstream. Furthermore, the degree of ALCAR deficiency was associated with treatment-resistant depression and a history of childhood trauma. ALCAR is promising not only as a biomarker for stress-related depression but also as a possible treatment. 

The role of ALCAR as a biomarker or supportive nutrient for depression is still emerging, and there is a long way to go before it can be determined one way or the other, this should not be taken as medical advice.  If you are experiencing depressive symptoms, talk with your healthcare provider. 

ALCAR dose and side effects

ALCAR is considered safe with minimal side effects even with long-term use. The most common side effects are nausea, agitation and vomiting. Oral doses of ALCAR typically range from 1-3 grams a day

ALCAR in MindGain

  • We use ALCAR in MindGain at a dose that is scientifically proven to support brain health. 
  • ALCAR plays a central role in transport of fatty acids into the mitochondria for energy 
  • Facilitate the production of acetylcholine
  • Support membrane integrity by stimulating protein and membrane phospholipid synthesis. 
  • ALCAR may have several benefits which includes treating dementia, depression, and cognitive impairment
  • Improve overall energy levels

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