Upwards of 16 million Americans suffer from depression. That’s a staggering number and just reflective of the United States. Consider the number worldwide and then consider that most pharmaceutical medications offer little hope for these patients. In fact, the response rate is often so dismal that there is a need to ‘piggyback’ other pharmaceuticals on top of one another to even make a dent. In truth, there are other solutions, some quite effective based on research. One of which is an amino acid called Acetyl L-Carnitine. If you are seeking options to manage your depression, this natural remedy is well worth a look.
I have talked about depression in another article, detailing some cellular mechanisms and herbal options that have promise in research. If you have not taken a look at that one, I highly recommend it because the herbs mentioned have other positive benefits upon your health and can be often combined with other regimens for increased efficacy. Here today, I’d like to review the amino acid, Acetyl L-Carnitine (L-Acetylcarnitine) and how it can benefit depression.
Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR) is the acetylated form of L-carnitine, which is an amino acid nutrient found in many foods and created within our bodies based on demand. Acetyl-L-Carnitine was originally researched and found to be involved with cellular energy production within our cells, linking it will mitochondrial function and ATP production. It was also linked with fatty acid metabolism, which for some studies indicated a benefit to metabolism and possibly weight management. Further research however, has discovered many more benefits to our health when it comes to this amino acid.
Amino acids, including Acetyl-L-Carnitine, are the building blocks of protein. They are found in many foods from meats, to nuts, to various vegetables and even fruits. Most people just associate muscle growth or strength with amino acids and protein, and while this is true, those incredible macro-nutrients can do way more for your health! It is not a wonder that more recent research is recommending higher levels of protein intake for most adults, especially with aging. Protein and amino acids impact cellular function and tissue repair on all levels, not just your muscles!
Acetyl-L-Carnitine and Research on Depression
Outside of its ability to impact cellular energy production, Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR) has been demonstrated to have antioxidant, neuromodulatory, and neuroprotective effects which can impact gene expression. This implies that ALCAR can impact nerve function, which includes both peripheral nerves outside of the spinal cord and the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord. Pretty fascinating stuff! In fact, ALCAR has been researched for its ability to impact peripheral nerve pain, associated with a few medical conditions, demonstrating clinical benefits and a good safety profile. ALCAR has been researched in carpal tunnel syndrome (Cruccu,2017) and peripheral neuropathy (Stefano,2019).
When it comes to depression, acetyl-L-carnitine has been found in research to impact the function of nerve growth factor (NGF) and the expression of receptors in various areas of the brain for NGF. This could then impart regenerative capabilities to nerve cells, helping to repair damage and restore function on certain levels. In addition, ALCAR has been found to impact various neurotransmitters, which are chemicals used in nerve cell signaling, including GABA and dopamine. Going one step further, ALCAR has been shown to impact gene expression and inflammatory pathways through various chemical reactions within the body. (Chiechio,2017)
ALCAR has been researched in many mood disorders, but in one trial, ALCAR was tested against the medication fluoxetine, which is a common antidepressant, in a group of elderly patients with depression. Both ALCAR and fluoxetine provided clinical benefits and improvement, seen as being equal, which is interesting by itself, however, it gets better. The time for patients receiving ALCAR to demonstrate improvement in their depression was one week, while those taking fluoxetine took two weeks. This implies that acetyl-L-carnitine worked equally and faster than the traditional pharmaceutical in cases of depression. (Bersani, 2012)
Overall, when reviewing published research, acetyl-L-carnitine has demonstrated efficacy when it comes to depression symptoms, comparable with typical antidepressant medications. Additionally, there were significantly fewer side effects and adverse events, as compared to traditional pharmaceuticals used to manage depression. (Veronese, 2019)
Depression and other mood altering medical conditions are becoming highly prevalent in society and can be severely debilitating. Despite the high number of pharmaceutical medications available and being utilized to manage these patients, two-thirds of patients do not achieve satisfactory remission or improvement of clinical symptoms. In addition, there is often a lag time of 2-6 weeks between taking a medication and achieving benefits, which opens the door for continued symptoms and suffering. In many instances, even if clinical symptoms are improved, many patients continue to contend with other problems including chronic pain and mental impairment.
Nutrition, including proteins and specific amino acids like acetyl-L-carnitine may offer hope and clinical benefits to many that contend with mood disorders and depression. Based on the research completed to date, the ongoing clinical benefits of acetyl-L-carnitine on overall health, the low cost, and the safety profile, ALCAR may be a promising option for many!
Author: Tom Schell, D.V.M, CVCH, CHN